§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Richard Crossman)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill gives effect to one of our most important Election promises—but with one difference. We promised to repeal the Rent Act and to replace it with a new Measure for the protection of tenants. Instead of this clean sweep, however, I have had to have recourse to legislation by reference. Actually, I am annulling all the evil consequences of the Rent Act. Formally, I am adding another Rent Bill to the long series.
The Lord Chancellor, the other day, in another place, had some caustic things to say about this form of legislation. He called its first Clause "as bad a piece of legislation by reference" as he had seen. The use of this strong language by my noble Friend was not, I am sure, intended as a stricture on the Parliamentary draftsman who, as the Lord Chancellor himself told me, has done a miraculous job. But all of us who have been working on this Measure recognise that legislation by reference is peculiarly opaque, and that this is the more regrettable in a Measure of social reform the import of which it is vital that millions of ordinary people should understand.
Why, then, have we chosen an amending Measure instead of a brand new Bill? The answer is quite simply one of time. When we assumed office there was an immediate danger of mass evictions, and we met it by rushing the Protection from Eviction Act through the House. But this was only a stop-gap, and the Government recognised the importance of speedily replacing it with a permanent Measure which would regulate rents as well. That is why we accepted legislation by reference. It is my hope, as well as the Lord Chancellor's, that when the Law Commissioners start work they will make it one of their first jobs to take the appalling jungle of our housing, landlord and tenant legislation and consolidate it into a number of clear, intelligible Measures.
34 I turn to the Bill itself. The restoration of security of tenure is its central purpose. But legal security is a hollow shell if the price which the tenant has to pay is too high. The problem which we have to solve is how to make security real in conditions of scarcity, and that problem, as the Milner Holland Committee agreed, cannot be solved without rent regulation.
But if rent regulation is to be successful in the 1960s, we cannot just revert to the situation before 1957. Let me quote one sentence—it seems to me the key sentence—in the concluding chapter of the Milner Holland Report:Neither a policy of rigid rent restriction, without any mitigation of its adverse effects on the provision and maintenance of rented housing, nor a policy of piecemeal and haphazard decontrol unaccompanied by any provision for security of tenure, have led to any real relief of the stresses in London housing".I agree with every word of that sentence, and in framing the Bill I have tried to follow the precept of the Milner Holland Committee, steering a course between these two extremes which, between them, characterise the whole history of private rented property since 1939. First, we started with 18 years of rigid rent control. When rent control started, along with rationing, direction of labour and price controls, it was a rough-and-ready emergency measure for securing fair shares within a siege economy, when, anyway, repairs and improvements could not be done.
But, after 1945, as we began to leave war-time scarcities behind, there was steadily increased resentment against all these war-time controls. Within the great conurbations, of course, rent control remained the sheet anchor for hundreds of thousands of tenants, but it was clear that, sooner or later, it would have to be replaced by a new system adjusted to peace-time conditions.
This adjustment did not take place. Instead, we had the 1957 Rent Act, and in one fell lurch the nation was dragged out of war-time control into doctrinaire decontrol. I will not waste time talking about that because we debated it in the debate on the Milner Holland Report three weeks ago. It seemed to me then that even those who had introduced the Rent Act—and I am glad to see in his place the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), who was the criminal—no longer dared to defend it in any 35 way in public. This afternoon we shall see the reactions of these right hon. and hon. Gentlemen to a Measure which follows as closely as possible the precepts of the Milner Holland Committee, because the aim of the Bill is to end decontrol without reverting to pre-1957 rigidities and to provide to the good tenant real security in his home, while bringing him and the landlord together in a new climate of conciliation. Those are the objectives.
Now for the scheme itself. I thought that it would be for the convenience of the House if, first, I described as concisely as I can, what the Bill will do for tenants. As soon as it becomes law every decontrolled tenant will have restored to him the full security of tenure which was removed by the 1957 Act. Simultaneously, the rents of all these tenants—I reckon that there are about 800,000 in England and Wales—will be frozen. Straight away, therefore, the Bill will meet the two most immediate needs of the tenant—the restoration of security and the assurance that rents will not be raised any higher. In my view, there will be quite a number of tenants who will be content with this and who will demand no change of rent.
Secondly, since we are not reverting to rigid war-time controls and standard rents, there must be an opportunity for reviewing these frozen rents. Hence the quite new provisions in the Bill for rent regulation by reference, first, to rent officers and—if their conciliation fails—to the tribunal of rent assessment committees. We shall start setting up this machinery as soon as we can, but we shall not be ready with it the moment the Bill becomes law. Rent regulation, therefore, will be brought into operation by Orders in Council covering various parts of the country. The first priority is to get it working in London, where 300,000 of the decontrolled tenants live, and in the other big conurbations; and then, after that, in the rest of the country.
Thirdly, what about the tenants who are still protected by the Rent Act? They will, of course, continue to enjoy the full security which they have always had and which I am restoring to all decontrolled tenancies, but for the time being their rents, also, will stay con- 36 trolled at the present level—generally speaking, twice the 1939 gross value.
I am aware that this means carrying on for some time with the old rigid control, but that is because the first call on our new machinery of flexible rent regulation must obviously be a review of the exorbitant rents which the most exploited of the decontrolled tenants are now paying. When the bulk of this work is out of the way in any particular area we are going to transfer the old tenancies now under the old rent control into our new system of rent regulation and from that moment tenants and landlords will each have the right to put their case to the rent officers and the rent assessment committees.
We shall be able to reach the second stage more quickly in some parts of the country than in others, so I have made arrangements under Clause 15 to bring it into operation area by area by Orders in Council.
Finally, a word about creeping decontrol. Since the Bill guarantees to all tenancies full security of tenure, we virtually put an end to the indefensible aspects of creeping decontrol. Never again will a tenant discover that, by accepting different accommodation from his landlord, he has lost all protection and left himself open to eviction. But since mobility is extremely important to a tenant, we have made provision for any change of tenancy to move from the old control to the new rent regulation so that instead of having creeping decontrol we have got creeping recontrol. When an old controlled house becomes vacant, the old control ceases to operate and the new tenants will enjoy the old security of tenure combined with our new system of rent regulation.
There are the bones of the plan. In the public discussion which followed publication of the Bill I was greatly impressed by the widespread acceptance of its basic principle, that security of tenure should be restored without rigid rent regulation. But I did notice that there were two main points of criticism. First, I was told that I should have restricted this to the Greater London area or, at most, to the main conurbations. Secondly, I was told that the control extends too far up the property scale, that the top limit of £400 rateable 37 value in London and £200 elsewhere is set too high, bringing within the scope of the Measure tenants prosperous enough to defend themselves and properties at a level where the market is not distorted by scarcity.
I must confess that with this first criticism, that we should have confined the Bill to London and one or two other big cities, I have little patience. Of course, the worst of the trouble is massed in the big conurbations; of course, in the country as a whole the statistics show that there are now more dwellings than households; but in terms of security of tenure these global totals, covering all kinds of housing, are almost meaningless. Surely the truth is that in a country of relative housing affluence there is still a desperate shortage of one particular type of housing—accommodation to let at rents which the lower-paid workers with families, and old people on fixed incomes, and immigrants, can afford.
As the White Paper says:For the purpose of measuring the freedom of choice open to the householder of moderate means, for the family man moving to a new job in search of a house for rent, national figures have little relevance.The Government are just not prepared on such doubtful evidence as these statistics to limit the new legislation to London, or even to add only Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham. Of course the bulk of decontrolled tenancies and the worst of the miseries are concentrated in these big cities but there are tenants all over the country who have lost their security under the Rent Act and they have a perfect right to have it back and they must be given it back. That is why we decided to make rent regulation cover the whole country. We also know that there are many areas where the problem can be quickly cleared up, so we have included provisions in the Bill to enable us to close the system down where experience shows that it is not needed.
My reply to the second criticism is very similar. The figures we have chosen, £400 rateable value in London and £200 elsewhere, are a pretty good approximation to the limits of the old rent control before the decontrol provisions of 1957. We took very careful advice on this from many sides. We asked at what level supply and demand were balanced and 38 not distorted by scarcity, and we received, from knowledgeable quarters, very different answers. We preferred to err, if at all, on the side of the safety of the tenant; and no one is going to suffer from this, and some may be benefited. There is, in any case, some advantage, in view of the definition of a fair rent, in having within the purview of the rent assessment committees a wide range of properties, some of them in a market where supply near covers demand.
So much for the end we have set ourselves and the means we have chosen to achieve it. I now turn to the Bill itself, and I select a few of the most important provisions for attention.
I start with those dealing with basic protection and harassment, that is, Clauses 26 and 25. I very much hope that these Clauses, at least, despite their novelty, will prove to be non-controversial. The protection given by previous Rent Acts has always been all or nothing. Either the tenant got very full protection or no protection, and hundreds of thousands of people, for that reason, were deprived of any security in their homes. We consider that it is the minimum duty of a civilised society to protect everyone against harassment in his home and arbitrary eviction. The Bill makes it a crime not only to evict without a court order, but also to harass the tenant or anybody in occupation of the house in an attempt to get rid of him by, or force him to accept, a higher rent. We have written, in fact, the first two Clauses of the tenants' Magna Carta.
Who exactly is covered by this extension of basic protection? First, all tenants of furnished lettings; secondly, all service tenants and licensees; thirdly, all tenants of the Crown; fourthly, all tenants of local authorities, housing associations, and New Town corporations. All are within this basic protection. We included the last group, tenants of local authorities, housing associations and New Town corporations, despite the fact that of all tenants they are probably those who have been treated most fairly. There is no question about that. But the good landlord will not suffer by being legally required to get a court order—indeed, he has always done this—and there is a definite value in universality in granting a basic right.
39 The first of these basic rights was written into our Protection from Eviction Act, last winter. In incorporating these provisions in permanent form we have made one change: we have given the court power to stay execution, not, as the interim Act did, for a period up to 12 months, but for any period of time it thinks reasonable. My legal colleagues advised me against putting fetters on a judge's discretion. Anyway, the period normally given has been from four to six weeks, though, of course, considerably longer suspensions have been awarded.
So much for actual evictions. In the Bill we go one stage further. We deal with the landlord who, without bothering to give notice, tries to get possession by making life intolerable for the tenant or even by kicking him out by brute force. It is a staggering fact that these strongarm procedures, this actual persecution or harassment, have not been hitherto defined as a crime within the criminal law. It was not much consolation to an unfortunate tenant turned out of his house or flat by brute force to be told that he could take action against the landlord in the civil court to get back again. There are not many tenants who would dare to try to take that kind of defence against this kind of landlord persecution.
Milner Holland expressly commended to our attention the New York statute covering harassment, and Clause 25 takes up this suggestion and covers everything in it. If there was a loophole in our Protection from Eviction Act, Clause 25 finally stops it up.
Just a word about service tenants and licensees, who, for the first time, are given basic protection. They range from the lock-keeper and the railwayman to the headmaster—and, I suppose, to the Prime Minister. All of them in future will be protected from harassment. They will only be evicted by court order and will be able to obtain a stay of execution at the discretion of the court.
Of course, the most controversial service tenancy has always been the tied cottage on the farm. During the last election the Labour Party gave a clear pledge to the agricultural workers. My right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State, speaking at Swaffham, on 17th July, 1963, said: 40We will ensure that no occupant of a tied cottage is evicted until alternative accommodation has been provided.I know that many of our supporters expected to see this pledge written into this Measure, but that has proved to be impossible. If I made it a legal obligation for a local authority to provide suitable alternative accommodation for any evicted farm worker that would lead to queue-jumping and would make any kindly farmer feel bound to evict an unwanted worker to get him a local authority house.
What I have tried to do is to draft a subsection which enjoins the courts to consider, among other factors, the availability of suitable accommodation, without making the availability an actual condition of eviction. However, I will not pretend that either the farmers, or the farm workers' representatives, with whom I have discussed it, have given me any thanks for my work. Nevertheless, I commend Clause 27 to the House as a working arrangement which, I think, strikes a fair balance between the interests of both sides.
Having dealt with basic security, I turn now to rent regulation, and here I shall spend quite a number of minutes on Clause 22 which defines a new principle on which rents are to be regulated.
It is natural that this Clause has already received a great deal of public attention, because it is the key Clause of the Bill. If we get this principle right, we shall be well on the way to achieving our main objective by ending the cold war between landlord and tenant. It is the fulcrum on which our whole edifice of rent regulation is based.
In judging its merits, I want the House to look back to those words of Milner Holland which I quoted at the beginning of my speech:We must avoid"—the Committee told us—both the policy of rigid rent restriction and a policy of piecemeal and haphazard decontrol.The Committee was, of course, talking about housing policy generally, but its warning applies just as much to the definition we make of what constitutes a fair rent. That, too, must avoid these two extremes.
That rules out practically all the formulae available when we sat down to 41 the job of preparing the Bill. From 1915 to 1957 there was the standard rent formula which combined an utter simplicity with an equally utter absence of either sense or logic. The standard rent was the legislative expression of a permanent and unchangeable rent freeze. Whatever rents were when rent control began, there they were to remain. Could anything be clearer or more unjust to landlord and tenant alike in periods of peace, when repairs and improvements could be made? Indeed, when I reflect on the absurdities of the standard rent I almost begin to sympathise with the authors of the 1957 Act. I almost do, because if they jumped into the fires of decontrol, at least the standard frying pan from which they escaped was quite intolerable.
Relating rents to gross value was infinitely more just than keeping each rent frozen at the level it happened to be when war broke out, and also it was more logical. Otherwise, it would not have had the support of the right bon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) and so many of my hon. Friends. It was a good and powerful alliance in favour of the Clause, and when I took it out, dusted it up, and had another look at this mathematical formula, at first sight it seemed to provide the kind of simple intelligible yardstick required to protect tenants from exploitation.
Of course the particular 1957 formula—twice the 1939 gross value, would have to be scrapped, but the 1963 revaluation has made it possible to go on relating rents mathematically to gross values, so I shall have to explain to the House why I decided not to adopt it. I know that that question has been asked by many of my hon. Friends.
I have two reasons for rejecting that formula. First, there is the fact that any gross value formula for settling rents is out of date before it starts, and gets steadily more out of date in the years before the next revaluation, however long an interval that may be. But that is not my main objection to the formula. The second, and much bigger, defect relates to the purpose of gross values. Their function is to provide a basis, not for regulating individual rents, but for assessing local tax liabilities. The job of the valuation officer is to obtain about 15 million residential valuations as near a single 42 point of time as possible, while doing broad justice to properties of a similar character.
If one makes such a gigantic number of assessments on the basis of evidence often incomplete and inconsistent, one is bound to paint with what one might call a broad brush. Often, no doubt, in many areas and in many individual cases, gross value and fair rent are, in fact, similar, but there are a number of properties where this is not the case, and all the advice that I took made it clear that to fix rents on the basis of gross values would achieve the worst of both worlds. We would have mathematical rigidity, without mathematical justice. That was the conclusion of the Milner Holland Committee, and if anyone in the House wants to see the basis on which the Committee rejected gross value, I refer him to Appendix 5, on page 349, table 30, which indicates the kind of discrepancies which the Committee found to be occurring in London and which would have reflected themselves in the rents if we fixed them in relation to gross values.
But if gross value had to be dropped, was there no other clear, simple yardstick to adopt? There were plenty of people who suggested a formula linking controlled rents to the level of rents passing in the area. That was a popular formula with some hon. Gentlemen opposite. Others said that we should have with it the concept of a fair return on the landlord's money. Those were really the only two yardsticks, apart from gross rateable value, which I was offered.
I rejected both those, because the whole purpose of rent regulation is to protect the tenant from the market. A formula which related the fair rent to current market values would make nonsense of the idea of regulating rents at all. As for assuring the landlord a fair return on his money—on what money? I consider the classic example of exploitation—the man who buys a dilapidated property as an investment, coldly paying far more that it is worth because he knows that under decontrol he can charge extortionate rents. Now consider the other extreme, to which the Committee called attention, the tenant who, since 1957, has, in thousands of cases, been compelled to buy an almost worthless tumbledown house at treble its value and 43 become its landlord, and to pay the mortgage is compelled to accept tenants and fleece them.
Can anyone really tell me that the rent should be fixed so as to assure to either the rich speculator in my first example, or the poor owner-occupier in my second example, a fair return on his money? If we give them a fair return on their money, we are destroying control and the possibility of a fair rent.
There we have it. If we want—as I think both sides of the House really want—not to revert to the old rigid rent control, but to move forward to a new flexible rent regulation, we have to give up the two most obvious yardsticks, gross value which broadly favours the tenant, and the market price, or the landlord's return, which benefits the landlord.
It is true that only this morning a novel suggestion was put forward in a remarkable editorial in The Times which suggested yet another approach to gross value. Having praised me for refusing to revert to rigid control, it went on to make its own suggestion for getting the best of all worlds. I am told to work out a rateable value formula for 800,000 recontrolled premises, and then I amto allow the rents to rise by regular and predictable steps to the point at which they cover the economic cost of providing the accommodation".I am to introduce rent control in order to decontrol. I am to do both the things which the Milner Holland Committee deplored. First I am to revert to rigid control, and then to carry out doctrinaire decontrol. First bring them in, then shake them out. First peg them down, then peg them up. That is an odd proposal even from those masters of the art of statesmanlike political double talk in Printing House Square. Perhaps I shall get the support of the Opposition in disregarding it.
But at least it might be asked: should not we have a mention of gross rateable values in our formula? In particular, I have been asked by hon. Members to amend the Clause to make it a statutory obligation to take gross value into consideration. This is to me a much more serious thing, and I have to answer this. Of course, any rent officer—or rent assessment committee—will take gross value into consideration wherever it is 44 relevant. On that, there is no disagreement. The question is whether he should be enjoined legally to do so in Clause 22.
The trouble is that if we write the yardstick into the Bill, we produce a lawyers' paradise, with endless prospects of hairsplitting litigation, mostly conducted by barristers for the landlord. We have decided to make the decision of the rent assessment committee final, and the only appeal from its verdict will be on points of law. Now, imagine that I accepted this amendment and made it legally obligatory to consider the gross value in every specific instance.
In very many cases, as we have seen, the committee would have been perfectly right to disregard the gross value because it does not relate to the real rent. Yet, the landlord would be entitled to challenge this verdict in the courts on the ground that the rent assessment committee had disregarded the provision. One of the great advantages of the Clause is that as it is now drafted it reduces the risk of drifting into this lawyers' paradise. That is my answer to those who want me to write more into the first part of the Clause.
I must now turn to those critics who want me to write less into the second part. In Clause 22, subsection (2), we define the one factor which it will be statutorily necessary to disregard in fixing rents. That factor is the scarcity value created by the special conditions of the housing shortage in any particular locality. I know that this subsection has been derided as a metaphysical abstraction, but that is not a real objection. The Clause is a down-to-earth precaution, specially designed to ensure that under our new system of flexible rent regulation rents do not gravitate naturally upwards, in areas where scarcity inflates them, towards scarcity levels. In fact, those words are the tenants' guarantee that the new flexibility will not operate unfairly against them. Without these words the whole Bill will be dangerously one-sided and the central purpose of rent regulation in danger of defeat.
But there is something much more important than an argument about legal phrases in the differences about this Clause. The whole structure of the Bill is based on an assumption about the relationship of landlords and tenants 45 today. It assumes that in most cases the really disastrous consequence of the Rent Act was not the increased rent it permitted the landlord to charge, but the loss of security the tenant suffered.
If, throughout all private rented property today, the overwhelming majority of tenants were groaning under exorbitant rents, and if a fair rent were a dream laid up in heaven of which only a few pale exemplars were to be found on this earth below—if that were the picture, then I would agree with my critics that this Clause was unworkable. But I would also add that in that case any flexible rent regulation would be unworkable and the choice would be between complete decontrol and a return to the most rigid regulation.
My conviction that we are not faced with these two bleak alternatives was vastly strengthened by the findings of the Milner Holland Committee. What was largely an act of faith when we began to work on the Bill last November has become—at least in the case of Greater London—a rational conclusion from the best evidence available. For on this point the Milner Holland findings are quite unambiguous. They not only tell us that harassment and exploitation of scarcity is limited to a small minority of landlords; they have also, as a result of a special survey, satisfied themselves that a quite remarkable number of tenants have no grudge against their landlords, and would be quite prepared to make a further contribution towards the cost of the repairs and improvements they desire, if they were sure that they could get them.
I would remind hon. Members of one of the most impressive tables which appear in the Milner Holland Report. Table 23, on page 340, shows that 60 pet cent. of the tenants included in the 1963 survey were completely satisfied with the way their landlords treated the 28 per cent. were fairly satisfied; only 8 per cent. were rather dissatisfied, and only 4 per cent completely dissatisfied. These figures should not be taken to literally, but they provide some broad indications, and they confirm my assumption that a fair rent unaffected by the local scarcity values is not an abstraction or a rarity, but something which a considerable number of landlords and tenants have already agreed together.
46 The aim of our new rent regulation, therefore, is not to impose fair rents for the first time, but to buttress the fair rent which some tenants are already enjoying in decontrolled premises and to give to others in the same locality the chance of obtaining the same advantages. How many fair rents there are and how many rents will have to be modified by rent regulation, will vary enormously from locality to locality. But the factor which I am convinced will make our scheme work is the existence already of sufficient fair rents—many of them at £400 rent levels where market conditions are beginning to operate fairly—to set a standard against which exploitation of scarcity can be measured and condemned by the rent officers and rent assessment committees.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
Can the Minister tell the House how many houses there are which are above the £400 value?
§ Mr. Crossman
I am sorry—perhaps I spoke too fast. I was not referring to rateable value. I was referring to rents above £400, and there will be many more of those cases than there will be in respect of rateable values. I was quoting from the Milner Holland Report, which referred to rents throughout and which on three occasions said that in its view the £400 mark was something like the mark at which market conditions begin to operate.
The last objection that has been put is that even if the Clause is laudable it cannot be worked by a practical man. As a politician, I took the trouble to consult experts, including members of the Milner Holland Committee, a number of whom have unusual knowledge of housing management and valuation. They all told me that the instructions on rent fixing should be pared down to the bare essential in this Clause. They all agreed that subsection (2)—the injunction to disregard scarcity rents—is an absolutely essential new element in our definition if we are to transform rigid rent control into a rent regulation flexible enough to be fair to the landlord, but firm enough to protect the tenant against exploitation.
§ Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)
Can the Minister elaborate on the point and tell us what he understands by the word "scarcity"? Does he mean 47 scarcity to the extent that there is a preference for some areas, in relation to the supply and demand of houses, or does he mean scarcity caused by existing conditions?
§ Mr. Crossman
By scarcity, I mean the situation in which an article is in scarce supply, which means that there is not a freedom of choice, and in which a person may be forced to take something which he would not otherwise choose. I am convinced that the Clause will work—as are my advisers on the Milner Holland Committee—on one condition, namely, that we recruit the right kind of members for the rent assessment committees.
Just as in our small Prevention from Eviction Act we decided to avoid rigid formulae and give greater discretion to the county courts so, in this Bill, we have decided that once we have selected the right men and women for the job the best thing to do is not to smother them in detailed legal and statutory instructions, but to define their job and then rely on their powers of judgment. That is the principle which operates throughout the Bill, and if cynics accuse me of an act of faith in my fellow countrymen I plead guilty—and at least I am guilty in company with the Milner Holland Committee.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
Should not these experienced gentlemen be local gentlemen, and not people from other parts of the counties? Secondly, what is wrong with the valuation courts? Why do we need rent officers and rent assessment committees?
§ Mr. Crossman
This is a very long speech. I am coming to the question of the way in which we select rent assessment committees and rent officers.
To get fair rents we must rely on people more than on legal or mathematical formulae. Our choice of the right people is what matters. Who will they be? It will probably be generally agreed that the job of fixing fair rents is really a job for laymen rather than lawyers. This, again, is something about which the Milner Holland Committee felt strongly. This points to a special tribunal system. By now we are all well used to special tribunals set up for a variety of special purposes. Since we 48 are discussing landlords, tenants and rents, everyone will naturally think of the furnished rent tribunal. But I think that we must do better than that.
In the first place, the furnished rent tribunal system, under which each tribunal operates in its own area, seems far too rigid. What I propose to do is to appoint much larger panels, to serve larger areas of the country. For Greater London, for example, there might be a single panel, consisting of 20 or 30 members. The president of the panel would select members to serve on the various rent assessment committees. I want him to have enough members to enable several committees to function in different parts of London at the same time. For the normal cases, I should say that the number of people on these rent assessment committees would be three—a valuer, a lawyer and certainly one layman.
There are only two more points I wish to make about the rent assessment committees before coming to the rent officers. First, we must get people of real quality and standing to do this important job. One of the most important things is remuneration and this is a point I am discussing with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I can assure the House that I am determined that this scheme shall not fall down, as other schemes have fallen down in the past, because we are not ready to pay enough to get the right people to work it.
Secondly, since the work will have to be divided among a considerable number of rent assessment committees, it is important to get consistency between their decisions. The panel system which I have described will help in this direction, but much more important is publicity. We need to ensure consistency so that the public at large and other rent assessment committees know of decisions that committees are making. The decisions will set the tone for rent levels over wide areas and will help rent officers, landlords and tenants in subsequent cases. I hope that the decisions will become widely known. I expect that the committees will normally sit in public; I am sure it is right that they should. I hope that the Press, both national and local, will take a very active interest in their work and report the results as fully as possible.
49 I wish now to turn to the second innovation, the rent officer. I have introduced the rent officer for a very special reason. I want landlord and tenant to agree a rent whenever possible instead of fighting it out before a tribunal. There are quite a lot of people who are actually discouraged by the existence of a tribunal from making any real effort to sort out their differences themselves. we need to create a new level where landlord and tenant can be brought together, accept a fair rent, and never go to the real tribunal—the rent assessment committee—at all. To achieve this, to dispel the atmosphere of litigation and forensic dispute, I have provided in the rent officer someone to help them before they are committed to fight it out before a tribunal. In fact, the rent officer will do the same sort of job as the Ministry of Labour conciliation officer does in the industrial field.
That is why I want to emphasise that rent officers need not be qualified surveyors or qualified lawyers. It is the rent assessment committee which has to show the collective wisdom of Solomon and give the final judgment. I am looking for practical men and women who can size up a problem and size up human beings, as well as being prepared to go out and see for themselves the conditions in the properties with which they are dealing. Conditions in Scotland will be different and I will leave that for my right hon. Friend to deal with.
In England and Wales it will be town clerks and county clerks who appoint these officers. This does not mean that they will be council officials responsible to any council committee. On the contrary, they will be as independent of political pressure as the registrars of births, marriages and deaths, who are also council officials. In Greater London the rent officers will be appointed by the town clerks of the new boroughs. Outside London the task will be divided between town clerks in county boroughs and the county clerks outside.
I know that people are anxious to avoid a huge expensive bureaucracy, and so am I. Particularly outside London, where, in many parts of the country, the amount of work is not likely to be great. I have done everything possible to avoid this. I think that I should tell the House that when I discussed this with various 50 local authority organisations, there was great competition. The representatives of the non-county boroughs, the U.D.C.s and the R.D.C.s, were all insistent that they, being close to the grass roots, were the right people to provide rent officers. The main reason why I could not accept this view was to avoid creating an unnecessary bureaucracy, since there may well be many areas which will not need one rent officer to one district council or even to two or three. Had we done this, automatically we should have created a bureaucracy going down to local district level.
That is why I have given the job of recruiting the rent officers to the county clerks. Nevertheless, there may be a lot of suitable people among the staffs of the district councils and I hope that their help will be enlisted. By that I do not mean to suggest that we should have only council officials. A considerable number will come from the professions and, not least, from the trade unions.
Having described the purposes of the Bill—
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
May I ask one question of the right hon. Gentleman? Is not he going to give any indication at all of the qualifications required for this job? He said that some people might come from the local authorities and some from the trade unions. Is there to be no indication of what their background is supposed to be?
§ Mr. Crossman
I shall advise county clerks and town clerks how to select them. We may well be discussing this. I did not find, when discussing the matter with them, that there was much doubt about the kind of people we could get and the kind of background.
§ Mr. Crossman
People who had been housing managers, for example, or public health inspectors. There are, fortunately, a great many people today with a wide knowledge and understanding of these things. They may be getting on in life, or retired, and would like a half-time job. We can get first-rate people who are close to the ordinary man and woman. They will not be experts. Whether or not they are successful will depend upon the respect they win from the ordinary 51 people and the understanding they show of their problems. I do not wish to say more at the moment.
§ Mr. Godfrey Lagden (Hornchurch)
To whom is the officer to be answerable? In the event of an officer not doing the job as well as might be thought necessary, is there to be any provision whatever for removing him?
§ Mr. Crossman
He will be appointed by the town clerk and will be paid by the local authority with money supplied on a 100 per cent. grant from me. He will be appointed by the town clerk and responsible to him in that sense. He will not be responsible to any committee and will be independent in his functions. If he proves to be inadequate, he can be removed by the town clerk.
Having dealt with the purposes and machinery of the Bill I should like to try to answer two questions about the likely outcome of the Measure. First, what benefits will it bring to landlords and tenants, and, secondly, what social consequencies will it have? As for the social consequencies, what has most encouraged me since the publication of the Bill has been the almost universal agreement that decontrol has utterly failed to achieve its objectives and that rent regulation must be restored.
What an astonishing change since the days, not so long ago, when our insistence from the Opposition benches on the need to repeal the Rent Act was dismissed as doctrinaire Socialism and class war. Now this is regarded by public opinion as something necessary and people are satisfied about what we are to do. It is a good thing and the public is ready, anxious and willing to do it as fast as possible.
We have a few critics who are doctrinaire decontrollers. I read an article recently by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, who is an unrepentant defender of the 1957 Rent Act, in which he said that the only mistake was that the Conservatives did not decontrol fast enough or far enough. There has been no response to that and I predict that no one on the Opposition Front Bench will dare to be a defender of the 1957 Act in that sense today. I hope that he will not, because it would be a great mistake.
52 There are people, of course, who predict that this Measure will destroy the last hope of the private landlord and will incite him to reduce the pool of rented properties still faster. I see no Warrant for this kind of doctrinaire pessimism. It is true that the Bill will not give him an incentive for retaining a house when he has the possibility of selling it, but that was so under decontrol, so I do not think that the difference will come there. Where we do make a difference is that a landlord will be given an incentive to do improvements and repairs.
I agree, also, with those who say that the Bill is not a major Measure of social reform. It is doing something obvious to redress the grievous damage done seven years ago. I agree with something else which is said, that the only solution to the housing shortage which ultimately can give any hope to miserable tenants in miserable properties is more new building.
It is true that, particularly in London, we have done a lot towards launching this housing drive, and in due course I shall be announcing a further series of measures to encourage the repair and improvement of old rented accommodations in our great conurbations. In this second task our Rent Bill is absolutely vital.
By restoring confidence to tenants and by enabling them to negotiate on equal terms with landlords—and this is the heart of the matter; the tenant with security can negotiate on equal terms, and that must take the bitterness out of his heart—we are creating conditions for a new and better relationship between landlord and tenant, which, as everyone knows, was impossible so long as decontrol went on.
I do not pretend that all landlords will benefit from the Bill. I do not for a moment deny that the greedy landlord who saw a chance of making a fortune by buying and exploiting old housing will dislike the Bill, which will curb his inhuman activities and exorbitant profits. It will, and it jolly well should. But if Milner Holland is right, and I believe that he is—that the majority of landlords can be acquitted of exploitation—then they will lose nothing by seeing the vicious minority brought to book.
53 If, as a result of the Bill, decent landlords can look forward to the time when bitterness is removed from tenancy and an agreed rent becomes the normal thing, then I believe that many of them will begin to regard repairs and improvements with a less jaundiced eye and will join in the great combined operation to save the vital stock of private rented accommodation in the twilight areas of our great cities from turning into slums. But whether or not the private landlord cooperates, the Government are determined that the local authorities, in collaboration with the housing associations, will get on with their job. They will expect help from the private landlord, but that is not essential for them to do their job.
In last last resort, however, the Bill will be judged not by its effect on the housing shortage but by what it does for millions of ordinary people who are not owner occupiers and whose home is a house or a flat owned by someone else. To nearly all of these families, it provides security long overdue against eviction without due process of law and security, even longer overdue, against persecution and harassment. The Bill goes on to make special provision for tenants in privately rented property where there are conditions of scarcity and who require special protection.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
My right hon. Friend is making a most interesting speech, but before he proceeds could he clear up one difficulty? In the period of delay which there is bound to be before rent regulations come into effect, is there not a likelihood that the bad landlords—albeit the minority—will serve notices to quit? That will be something less than harassment. It will not be eviction, and yet it will be enough to scare tenants. If that does happen, where is there then equality in negotiating fair rents between landlords and tenants, and what protection does my right hon. Friend offer to such tenants?
§ Mr. Crossman
I must have spoken too quickly or slurred over a vital part of my summary. I was pointing out that immediately the Measure comes into force there is full security of tenure straight away, before rent regulation is introduced. Thus, straight away we have a full security of tenure and a rent freeze. So, straight away, we have a period of so 54 many weeks, or whatever it might be, while we are setting up rent assessment committees.
§ Mr. Crossman
I have explained that freedom from eviction automatically comes into force with the passing of the Bill. Thus, we are immediately providing security to the tenant. Havng provided that security, we then have time to work out the setting up of satisfactory machinery to deal with the rent regulation.
§ Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
I have written to the right hon. Gentleman and have tabled a Question about Service tenancies. There are a great many people involved in this matter, people of all ranks, who go overseas and let their houses or flats for a certain period. We have several hundreds such people in Plymouth; I think about 680. How will these people be able to do this in future?
§ Mr. Crossman
I take it that the hon. Lady is referring to Service with a capital "S" and not to tied cottages. I have left the whole problem of furnished lettings, with which the hon. Lady is concerned—
§ Mr. Crossman
I have asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to deal with the problem with which the hon. Lady is concerned, including the question of furnished lettings, when he replies to the debate.
I assure her that that matter will be dealt with, but, to answer her, I will briefly mention a few points. We have found this a most difficult question with which to deal and we are very much concerned with the representations we have received from the Services, the seaside resorts and others.
We have had to amend the existing legislation to bring slightly more security to the tenant. I am very much aware that in the bad areas, where bad landlords are pretending that they are furnished lettings but are really unfurnished, the security provided by the Clause at present is inadequate. I am looking forward to the Committee stage 55 when, I hope, we will be able to improve the Bill. I think that, on the whole, what we have done is to do justice to the Service landlord at the cost of perhaps endangering the security of those exploited by the bad landlord in our large conurbations.
Of course, there is a great deal more to be done in regulating and improving the relationship between landlord and tenant. We have not only to codify and simplify the law. When we came to power we found that there was a whole list of new provisions which needed to be introduced and which will form the substance of a new landlord and tenant Measure which will provide to the home the guarantees which the Tory 1954 Act provided to business premises. I do not see why the tenant in the home should not be given the security by us which business premises were given by the Tories when they were in power.
Meanwhile, I ask the House to accept this Bill as the redress of a grave injustice committed in 1957 and the fulfilment of our pledge to annul that injustice as soon as possible.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
I must, first, declare my possible interest, as I have declared it to the House before, as a member of a board of a company owning property.
The right hon. Gentleman's speech, with its characteristic lucidity—and the House is indebted to him for that—and the observations he made at the end of it, could not conceal the fact that what is in this Measure does not offer any solution for the real problem with which hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned. That is the problem of the shortage of accommodation to let in certain areas of the country. [Interruption.] Indeed, I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was carrying it a little far when he said that he had not provided any incentive to landlords to retain property to let.
I thought that the right hon. Gentleman had not fully grasped the fact that what he is doing in the Bill—whatever its merits in certain respects or demerits in others—not only offers no solution whatever to this problem, but will make 56 it worse. He said, in connection with the rent control provisions, that he was following as nearly as possible the precepts of the Milner Holland Committee. He is, of course, doing nothing of the sort.
When we debated the Report of the Milner Holland Committee the other day I and other hon. Members drew to his attention the fact that that Committee's recommendations on London—and the House will remember that its recommendations were specifically and explicitly confined to London—put forward proposals for an extension of control balanced by an alleviation of the financial consequences to landlords of that control—intended, as is spelt out in that Report time and again, to prevent the drying up of the supply of rented accommodation which will follow from the extension of control not balanced by compensating measures.
The Minister has studied the Milner Holland Report. If he has studied the practice in Continental countries to which that Report refers, he will see that that has been the practice of the Continental countries nearest to us which the Milner Holland Committee investigated. He will see that in many ways they have carried control further than we have. They have, however, balanced it—and it is for this reason that the Milner Holland Committee spells it out in Chapters 3 and 12—by way of fiscal and other methods by which the drying-up effect of control can be mitigated.
The right hon. Gentleman is not entitled to ride off on Milner Holland in this way when he explicitly rejected this part of the Report when we had the recent debate and when his own Bill, following that line, continues that rejection. Whatever justification the Minister has for the Bill, he cannot rely upon the Milner Holland Committee for it, because he has rejected essential parts of that Committee's Report.
§ Mr. Crossman
What I said was that we had scrupulously followed the Milner Holland Committee's advice upon how to restore rent regulation. I correct the right hon. Gentleman in one other respect, also. At no time did I suggest any attitude to the fiscal problems. I was most careful to leave that open, since it is not for me to do it, but is for my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Boyd Carpenter
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman's observation the other day about the begging bowl has no fiscal connotation. He made it perfectly clear the other day, however, and I do not think that he will deny this, that he intended to rely, contrary to the Milner Holland recommendation, upon local authorities and, perhaps, on housing associations, but not at all on the private developer, for the construction of new houses to let.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The right hon. Gentleman made that perfectly clear and in so doing he rejected the very clear recommendations of the Milner Holland Committee.
The Milner Holland Committee makes it clear, at page 225—and I invite the right hon. Gentleman's attention to this—thatThe Governments which have been most successful in surmounting these stresses and maintaining order and justice within this sector of the housing market have been those which have accepted and incorporated private rented property among the instruments to be used in meeting housing needs, hence assisting those who build, own or live in it ".The right hon. Gentleman knows that that is so. Therefore, we start our discussion of the Bill on the basis that in the private sector, which Milner Holland regarded as vital, whatever else the Bill will do, it will tend to diminish the supply.
The Minister quoted The Times. When is Bill was published, The Times had a very clear leading article about it. It said that there was nothing in the Billto accelerate the building of new dwellings to rent, to stimulate the improvement or retard the decay of the existing stock of rented dwellings, to reverse the trend by which this stock is diminishing, to help housing associations, or to tidy up the neglected garden of subsidy and fiscal privilege in housing".The right hon. Gentleman must appreciate that although we shall look at the detailed provisions of the Bill, about which I shall be saying something presently, we start on this basis.
We also start on the basis that this is not the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends led the country to expect at the General Election. The simple phrase "a Bill to repeal the wicked Tory Rent Act" echoed from every platform at the General Election. 58 Whatever can be said against the Bill, no one can say that against it. It repeals, to be precise, Section 12 and paragraph 4 of Schedule 5 of the 1957 Act.
The Minister knows that it would be wholly impracticable to try to restore the status quo ante of 1957. [Interruption.] He says that he never wanted to. Does he dispute that when his right hon. and hon. Friends used the expression "to repeal the 1957 Act" all over the country, what they conveyed to ordinary people was a return to pre-1957? It certainly meant that to simple people, and only simple people supported the right hon. Gentleman.
We have the clear fact that, fortunately for the country, this is not the Measure which the right hon. Gentleman and his friends promised to the country.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
It is, on the other hand, a Bill which contains a great mixture of measures, to one or two of which I shall refer and of others of which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) will speak when he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, as I hope he may, towards the end of the debate.
The Minister is obviously sensitive to my first criticism on the detail of the Bill, as to the width of its scope. It virtually covers all residential property which is let with the exception, as the Minister explained, of that which is in public hands. Rateable values of £400 in London and £200 outside London cover by my calculation, between 98 and 99 per cent. of residential property throughout the country.
My first comment is that for London a figure of £400 is far too high. The right hon. Gentleman corrected one of my hon. Friends who had misunderstood him to be referring to rents of £400 a year. He said, quite correctly, that an annual value of £400 represented much higher rents. Indeed, in London, in the higher classes of property, it would not be unfair to say that a multiple of between 2 and 2¼ of the gross value would be right: that is to say, the limit goes up to rents of, say, £850 to £900 a year.
59 The Milner Holland Committee was explicit that there was no difficulty in London in respect of rents of more than £400 or £500 a year. Here again, therefore, the Minister's proposal goes considerably beyond Milner Holland. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman's whole speech when he referred to this matter indicated that he was not very much concerned. He started on the basis of grossing up the values under the old pre-1957 position, and if it went a bit too high he did not mind.
What is the justification for introducing all this apparatus of State control in respect of flats in Cadogan Square which are let at £800 to £900 a year? Is it suggested that there is any need to protect those tenants from their landlords? Is it suggested that the administrative apparatus, which, the right hon. Gentleman accepted, might be subject to great strain in certain areas, should be employed for the purpose of looking after property of that value? Therefore, it seems to me that rateable values of both £400 in London and £200 a year outside London are far too high, far beyond the level at which it is justifiable to impose this control. Once again, Milner Holland is against the right hon. Gentleman concerning London. Milner Holland makes it clear that there is a perfectly satisfactory, balanced market at the £400 to £500 a year rented level.
More important, perhaps, is the extension of these proposals to the whole country. We accept, as I made clear in the debate on the Milner Holland Report and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) made clear we would in the debate before the end of last Session, that some extension of control in London is required. There is real argument as to whether it is required in certain of the major conurbations.
Overall, there is a shortage of accommodation in London, in the Liverpool—Manchester conurbation, in the Birmingham area, in Glasgow, and in certain parts of South-East Wales. There are, on the other hand, large parts of the country where there is no such shortage. There seems to be no justification—the right hon. Gentleman himself gave none—for extending this system of control nationwide in those circumstances. The right 60 hon. Gentleman's whole argument was, "Why not? This is a good thing. Let us impose it. Let us right the wrongs of 1957" and all that.
There are two powerful reasons why not. First, where the supply is adequate it is utterly wrong to impose a system of control, particularly the unbalanced system of control to which I have already referred, in areas where there is no shortage now. The justification for control, as the right hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his speech, is shortage. To impose control where there is no shortage is to make it likely to reduce the supply of rented accommodation quite unnecessarily for the protection of tenants, and the unhappy result may well be to create shortage where there is none at present.
Secondly, there is the administrative task.
§ Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
The right hon. Gentleman speaks with great authority on these matters, but his facts are not always correct. He said that in some areas the Bill will cover local authorities where control is not necessary. Can he mention one local authority area in Scotland where there are not queues on the housing list of people in sub-tenancies, suffering from gross overcrowding, and living in unfit accommodation?
§ Mr. Boyd- Carpenter
I am certainly not going into the details of Scotland.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman, in the light of what he put in the White Paper about this, whether he denies that there are areas in this country where there is no shortage at all. It would not be consistent with the White Paper. Of course he does not deny it. He knows that it is a fact.
§ Mr. Crossman
As a question has been addressed to me, I will say something very candidly. Owing to gross ignorance, through the absence of housing statistics, he would be a very unwise Member, on either side of the House, who said that he knew exactly what the requirements and needs of any area were. This is the disastrous situation, because we are working blind on this. We are working with a total ignorance, after 13 years of the Tories, of any reliable information about the exact 61 housing needs in any part of the country. Therefore, it would be sheer irresponsibility to say that I knew areas where the demand was fully satisfied.
I do not know of an area in the country where rented accommodation at low rent which lower-paid workers cart afford is in good and big supply. What I said was that I thought that the problem varied from area to area and that there were areas where it could be got rid of in a relatively short time.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The right hon. Gentleman is saying exactly what I expected. He accepts that the problem varies widely throughout the country. He says that he is to impose control, even though he does not know whether here is any justification for it. He goes further and says that he is quite prepared to say that he will be taking it off shortly in certain of these areas. Could there be anything more irresponsible for a Minister of Housing than to impose a control with these damaging effects which I have been describing for a short period and then take it off, using as the excuse for the imposition of this control the fact that he does not know the facts? That is the line the right hon. Gentleman is taking. It is the line I expected.
Why did not the right hon. Gentleman take the line which we suggested to him on the Protection from Eviction Bill, that he should take power by Statutory Instrument to apply the Measure to every part of the country where the case was shown to exist? Let him make all the investigations he likes and, if he can find a situation comparable to London, if he can find shortages of this order, let him by all means apply it. What is the negation of responsible government is to apply a control of this sort nationwide, while admitting that he does not know the justification and accepting that there may not be any in a very considerable number of areas.
It is made the more important because of the difficulties of administration to which the Minister has already referred. It has its dangers before I come to that. Where there is no shortage, the right hon. Gentleman does not care about the question whether it is fair to landlords, including small landlords. He tells the House that he is prepared to apply this 62 control in ignorance of the facts, with its effect of freezing rents for some years, at a time when repair costs are rising.
There are a great many small landlords in this country. A good many of them seem to have written to me during the last few weeks. Again and again, one comes across the case of the man whose property is one house. Indeed, Milner Holland brought out the fact that 60 per cent. of landlords in London owned one house. This is the small landlord with one house, who is finding increasing difficulty in paying the cost of repairs and in maintaining the house. I have had letters—I will not weary the House by quoting them, but I could do so if hon. Members wished—which make it clear that rents are not bringing in even the total cost of repairs and that the cost of repairs is rising week by week. The right hon. Gentleman applies this control not where there is the demonstrable pressure on tenants which is the justification, and the only justification, for this kind of Measure, but in areas where he knows full well there is no such thing.
Therefore, it seems to be quite wrong that this should be applied nationwide. It is also extremely foolish from the right hon. Gentleman's own point of view. He is taking on an enormous administrative task. He rightly spent a considerable part of his speech discussing and arguing the effects of Clause 22. This is plainly a Clause which it will be difficult to administer, if it is as difficult to administer as it is to understand. The right hon. Gentleman explained very clearly why he had abandoned the firm take-off point of rateable value or rents in the neighbourhood. I can understand his argument. The net result is that the rent officer and the committee are left with only the vaguest of generalisations on which to make up their minds. Put as wise and admirable people as one likes down in different areas with as vague a general instruction as this, and it will be found that they arrive at very differing answers.
Is that fair? The job is to find fair rents. Is it, in fact, fair to expose landlords and tenants to a situation in which, with the best will in the world, there will be a very wide disparity of judgment? The whole task is made infinitely more difficult by the provision in the Clause that the effect of shortage is to be ignored. 63 That is a perfectly sound economist's argument. It is a very difficult text for a lawyer to administer.
Let me put the difficulty to the right hon. Gentleman. How can the pressure of demand for houses of a particular class be ascertained unless the rents are known in advance? Take the case of a mews cottage in Belgravia, with limited accommodation, in a fashionable part of London which attracts those who are concerned with that kind of thing. Is the degree of demand for that cottage assessed on the basis of it being let at the rent at which it is let at present, which would be high, or on the basis on which a house of that kind in Camberwell, or Willesden, would be let? How is it done? Yet until that problem has been solved, how is one testing whether there is a shortage of that sort of property?
Until that problem can be solved, the unfortunate rent officer cannot begin his task, nor can the rent committee. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has thought this thing through. What are any circumstances in the Clause? shall be obliged for the right hon. Gentleman's attention. Do they include the means of the tenant, or of the landlord? Does the right hon. Gentleman know? It is important that we should know. Apparently the right hon. Gentleman does not know.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I must put these problems to the right hon. Gentleman. If the means of the tenant are to be taken into account the right hon. Gentleman is making certain that landlords will give preference to their better-off potential tenants, so that in any assessment of rent the poorness of the tenant will not be taken into account. Equally, if the means of the landlord are to be taken into account are his liabilities to be taken into account, too? And are the right hon. Gentlemen and his rent officers not really taking over the functions of the Board of Inland Revenue?
This illustrates the difficulty into which the right hon. Gentleman has got himself by abandoning any firm criterion and relying, as he put it, on the judgment of the people whom he appoints. He has 64 got very near to what The Times called "flexible nonsense." Where will the right hon. Gentleman find the people to administer and carry out this task? I was rather horrified to hear him say that they were to be laymen—I do not mean in the sense of non-lawyers, for I rather agree with him that this is not really a job for lawyers. But the valuation of property, rents of property, and so on, are a highly professional and technical business. The age and situation of a house, its state of repair, the level of rents in the locality—there are a score of other circumstances which call for expert knowledge, judgment and appraisal.
With all respect to these amateurs, whether they are from local authorities—though I agree that a local authority housing manager might well have some knowledge—I doubt whether a man from the trade unions would necessarily have the knowledge, and I doubt whether people from other walks of life to which the right hon. Gentleman referred would.
§ Mr. Reginald Freeson (Willesden, East)
When the right hon. Gentleman refers to people in other walks of life, does he suggest that ex-housing managers, public health inspectors and the like have no experience in this field—any less than in the case of those amateur estate agents who are proliferating in London today?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
If the hon. Gentleman had done me the courtesy of listening to me, he would realise that I was excepting former housing managers from my criticism. I said that they would have certain knowledge and I was distinguishing them, with their knowledge of the subject, from the other people whom the right hon. Gentleman contemplates appointing.
From where are these people to be recruited for a nation-wide set-up? There again, the right hon. Gentleman has greatly magnified his difficulties by this extension of these provisions to cover the country as a whole. For this reason he would have done much better to have proceeded in the way that I have suggested to him—that is, the application, by order, of this control to such districts as a case could be shown to justify, so enabling him to build up the administrative machinery by steps.
65 The right hon. Gentleman must know—indeed, this lies behind his abandonment of the idea of appointing valuers—that there is a great shortage of valuers in the country, and if the rumours of tomorrow's happenings have anything in them there will be an even greater shortage thereafter. I regard this as one of the basic weaknesses on which the right hon. Gentleman's scheme may break down, and if it does break down it will do so because of his own failure to take the advice to restrict the control to the areas where it is seen to be needed. I hope that the town clerks, or whoever make these appointments, will be instructed to keep political prejudices out of this, and that we shall not have a repetition of the kind of thing which is now going on in the hospital boards in this connection. We have a Minister of Housing who has admitted to a prejudice against landlords. I can only hope that this is not repeated lower down.
Now we come to the furnished lettings. On this, I understand that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland is to reply, and that is the reason why the Minister of Housing and Local Government dealt with this matter only in a very cursory manner. Here again, there seems no justification at all for taking the control up to £400 a year rateable value in London and £200 outside. Here again, we are dealing at the top end of the scale with luxurious, highly-priced accommodation involving people who can employ solicitors, who can look after themselves and in respect of whom there is absolutely no justification for State control being introduced.
The increase to six months security of tenure will again add to the difficulties which we discussed on the Protection from Eviction Act—the difficulties of the seaside lodging house, the difficulty to which my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) referred, of the Service family who go abroad and seek to let their House while they are away. This difficulty was well summed up in the Economist, as follows:If you have a student in for a week, and then find you do not like him, he may still be there a year later, which will not encourage the letting of lodgings.Here again the widespread doctrinal extension of control—
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I quite agree, and I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman.
We know perfectly well when we are discussing the letting of furnished accommodation that the distinction between a furnished let and a lodger is extremely narrow, sometimes turning on whether there is access to the rooms for the purpose of cleaning or not. I do not think that the ordinary landlady, about whom the hon. Gentleman is no doubt concerned, is sufficiently versed in the law to be certain which side of the line her particular arrangements fall. The fact remains that by imposing an unnecessary control. nationwide, at the higher end of the financial scale on furnished lettings, the right hon. Gentleman is once again reducing the amount of accommodation that will be available, and reducing it wholly unnecessarily.
There is then the question of tied cottages. As I understand the Clause—the Secretary of State for Scotland will correct me if I am wrong—the tied cottages which are held on a tenancy are dealt with like other tenancies under the Bill, but tied cottages that are held under licence are dealt with in a different way.
Here, however, they are brought in, as I understand it, mainly for the purpose of Part III of the Act, perhaps exclusively. But here there is a very curious discrimination being carried out, once again, against the owners of agricultural tied cottages.
There is a specific special provision in Clause 27, subsections 2 and 3, under which an unlimited suspension of a possession order can be given in the case of an agricultural tied cottage only. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland, when he replies to the debate, will explain why, if this is right for the farm worker's cottage, it is wrong for the railwayman's cottage. Why is this special discrimination being practised, unless the explanation be the one which the Minister hinted at—that the First Secretary of State had given an election pledge about it and it was thought necessary in this case to honour about half of it?
Under Clause 15 the Minister can turn controlled tenancies, either nationwide or by area, into regulated tenancies. I understood him to say. but I would be 67 grateful to have it confirmed, that the whole reason for delay in this matter was the heavy administrative task to be undertaken by rent officers and rent committees and that as soon as that work was properly in hand the powers under Clause 15 would be exercised. I hope that the Secretary of State will make it clear whether that is a right understanding of his right hon. Friend's statement. In other words, does the timing of the decision to apply the fair rent principle to controlled rents, many of which are not fair rents from the landlord's point of view, depend solely on administrative reasons, or will other reasons be allowed to intrude?
It is a very useful practice, when a Bill of this sort is introduced, to accompany it with a White Paper. This is particularly so when we have, as we have here, a Bill the sponsor of which finds its form difficult to defend or justify and apparently finds himself subject to criticism from on high. On the other hand, this White Paper contains a good deal of material which, I suggest, is completely unsuitable for a White Paper. It might be suitable for a Transport House pamphlet, but to put in an official White Paper a statement that the Bill is intended to repair the damage of the 1957 Act is an abuse of White Paper procedure. If right hon. Members opposite believe it, there is no objection to their saying so, paying for it and publishing it themselves as a party. What is objectionable is that they are putting it in a White Paper for which the taxpayer pays.
§ Mr. Freeson
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on several occasions prior to entering the House I heard a right hon. Member opposite speak to the Press officially as Minister of Housing and Local Government and constantly reiterate Conservative Party propaganda, using the word "Conservative" at an official gathering?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Member is unusually obtuse this afternoon. If any of my right hon. Friends at an official Press conference say things which, in the view of an hon. Member, are party propaganda, that may well be arguable, but it does not cost the taxpayer anything.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
What I object to is the use of taxpayers' money to include in a White Paper written statements which if they are to be published should be published at the expense of Transport House. This is not the only item. There is the attack on owner-occupation in paragraph 8 of the White Paper. I would suggest to the Minister that if he is going to issue White Papers on his forthcoming legislation—if the Government remain long enough here for him to introduce it—he should confine White Papers to their function of explaining a Bill and not to forwarding the interests of the Labour Party.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
No, not at this stage. No doubt the hon. Member may catch Mr. Speaker's eye.
This is not in many respects a satisfactory Bill, basically because it deals with symptoms, not causes, and because it makes no contribution to the permanent improvement of a situation which concerns us all. As The Times says today, it appears to contemplate that for many years to come large sections of our prosperous community will not be able to afford the price of decent accommodation. It contains a mixture of what is not unreasonable, what is wholly unnecessary, and what is rank bad. As such, it is essentially a Bill to be dealt with in Committee.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
I do not think that I am the last of your maiden speakers, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, because the flow of maiden speakers in the House never stops, but I am certainly very late by the standards of this Parliament, although perhaps not by the standards of earlier Parliaments. One of my hon. Friends said to me the other day that it was time that I lost my virginity. I am not so sure of the propriety of making that statement to a bachelor Member, but I would not wish to draw it to your attention officially.
I have the honour to represent the West Division of Nottingham, a city so ancient that it probably has always had a Member in the House. It was probably 69 one of the towns summoned to the Council of St. Albans in 1213, but, strangely enough, very few persons who have represented it in its previous history have attained great Parliamentary distinction. This is probably for the simple reason that before 1832 it was one of the cities with a very wide franchise and "democracy" before 1832 was a rather dirty word to Parliamentarians. Oddly enough, its representatives have included persons who were referred to by my right hon. Friend the Minister when he spoke of the gentlemen of Printing House Square, because among my predecessors in the city or the county have been previous proprietors of The Times.
I have an interest in the Bill because the overwhelming majority of my constituents are affected by it. Although there are on the edges of the constituency great factories such as those of Players, Boots and Raleigh, my constituency is a primarily residential area and the majority of my constituents are tenants of some landlord or other. All of them, I am glad to see, will now have permanent security of tenure, even including local authority tenants and any Crown tenants that there may be.
I particularly mention local authority tenants because the overwhelming majority of tenants in my constituency are tenants of the local authority. This brings me to what seem to me to be slight omissions in the Bill, because although all tenants, whoever the landlord may be, have full security of tenure, rent regulation applies only to those who are tenants of private landlords.
Yet on page 5 of the White Paper, there is the statement that "full security requires rent regulation". If it does, it seems that one might possibly have considered applying rent regulation to the Crown or even local authorities. There are, admittedly, difficulties, but surely these public bodies have nothing to fear from rent regulation. As they have nothing to fear, why not provide for their tenants as well?
I should like to turn to another possible omission from the Bill, in that it has an upper limit of rateable value, which the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) argued was too high. My right hon. Friend the Minister also mentioned that it had been argued to him that it was too high. I 70 dislike limits of this kind, in the sense that one is always providing one law for the rich and one law for the poor, even though, in this case, it may be argued that the rich need little protection.
The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames might bear in mind, when talking of the tenants of properties such as he mentioned—those commanding a rent of up to £900—that in Central London I could take him to a two-bedroom flat the rent of which is £1,000 a year. It is occupied by four people, not one of whom has an income approximating to the rental of the premises, and some of whom do not even earn half the rental. I think that the right hon. Member, and right hon. Members on this side of the House, should remember that it is not always true that high value property is occupied by people with high incomes.
The last category of people to which I want to refer is that of the tenants of private landlords. There are very few such tenants in my constituency, but, strangely enough, I referred to one of them during the election campaign. That tenant was a woman. I am glad to see that the provisions of the Bill would obviate the circumstances of her case ever arising again. This woman applied to a rent tribunal for some reduction in her rent. She was served by her landlord, who was also a woman, one of somewhat dubious antecedents, with a notice to quit. One might argue that such a notice was invalid, but, as one of my hon. and learned Friends pointed out in interrupting my right hon. Friend, although such notices to quit may be invalid, and may be known to be invalid by lawyers, they very often frighten a feminine tenant.
This woman was served with a notice to quit. She had the sense to consult someone else, who told her that such notice was invalid. At this point, knowing that the tenant was about to appear before a rent tribunal the landlord offered to reduce the rent, upon certain conditions. The conditions were that the tenant should come to work for the landlord on the landlord's terms, for a wage which was not exactly comparable with wage rates for similar occupations in that area. This is the sort of thing which one would have thought had been removed by the Truck Acts of the nineteenth century—conditions attached to 71 work of this nature. I hope that it will come within the provisions of the Bill.
I cannot, within the conventions of a maiden speech, follow the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames in all that he said. I hope, upon a future occasion, that I may be able to do so. He imported into his speech a suggestion of dishonour on the part of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself. He suggested that the Bill did not wholly fulfil the promises which we made to the electorate on our election platforms. I do not wish to follow him in a controversial spirit, but I do not think that the case of this woman, a constituent of mine in the Radford area of Nottingham, can, under the Bill, ever occur again. I mention her now, I hope for the last time. I feel that it is the last time, in that the Bill has removed the possibility of this occurring again.
I feel that by introducing the Bill, my right hon. Friend has redeemed my honour and that of my colleagues. I am quite satisfied with it, and I believe that the country will be, too.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Brooke (Hampstead)
I am glad to be the first to have the chance to congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) on an admirable maiden speech. He was brief, he was lucid, he combined modesty and confidence in the right proportions and he managed to speak on a highly controversial subject, if not in a wholly non-controversial way, certainly in wholly noncontroversial tones. I hope that the fact that I am, willy-nilly, a somewhat controversial figure in housing debates will not be taken by him as detracting in any way from the sincerity of my congratulations.
In the light of the Milner Holland Report, which we debated a fortnight ago, any Government ought to restore security of tenure in some form for the time being in the London area. That Report said thatthe general quality of housing and housing conditions improved considerably between 1951 and 1961",but I agree with the Milner Holland Committee that the situation has probably worsened since the census year. We now have, in particular, earlier 72 marriages, leading to faster formation of new households; and the expectation that the fall in the population of London would be accompanied by a fall in the number of households has not been fulfilled.
For these reasons, I would support the Bill as a temporary measure in London and certain other cities. No case whatever has been made out, in the House this afternoon or elsewhere, for the Bill to be extended over much of the rest of the country.
The census housing tables, recently published, are very helpful and illuminating on this point. I agree with the Minister that national figures have little relevance, but local figures do. He is unjust in alleging that no attempt has been made to establish more accurate figures or more extensive information, on which to base housing policy. The 1961 census gives us a great deal of what we need. We shall never get enough, because one will never be satisfied, but it gives us a great deal. I was the Minister responsible for seeing that the 1961 census inquiries were framed in certain new ways in order to add to the amount of information which that census could provide for guiding future Housing Ministers.
The local housing tables in the census, published for the first time this year, are very interesting as regards certain parts of the country. In Norfolk and Suffolk, for example, they show that there is a 4 or 5 per cent. excess of dwellings over households. The same is true of Cumberland, Westmorland, and the North Riding of Yorkshire; of Shropshire and Herefordshire; and of the West Country—Dorset, Cornwall and Devon—outside the county boroughs.
If one goes to Wales, the situation is even more striking. Pembrokeshire shows an excess of 8 per cent. of dwellings over households, Cardiganshire 9 per cent., Caernarvonshire 10 per cent., Anglesey 12 per cent., and Merioneth 15 per cent. It is fantastic to suggest in these days that there is a shortage of rented property in Anglesey and Merioneth which makes it necessary to restore rent control in places like that. Yet all these counties are to be brought back into control by this omnibus Bill. The Bill creates control and the machinery, the complications and the 73 disadvantages of control where all this is now unnecessary. I cannot believe that in most of the counties which have mentioned there is an element of scarcity in the normal rents asked.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
The right hon. Gentleman has just mentioned fairly large areas of the country, although fairly sparsely populated ones. He has referred to Anglesey. Is he aware that there are areas of Anglesey where there is a tremendous demand for housing, and where, as a result, rents are being pushed sky-high? The right hon. Gentleman will get into extreme difficulty if he seeks to except large areas of the country like those.
§ Mr. Brooke
I am aware that the situation changes from time to time. I am aware of the atomic power project in Anglesey, if that is what the hon. Gentleman has in mind.
§ Mr. Brooke
I maintain the statement that I made. Not only in the counties I mentioned, but in many others, accommodation to rent is no longer generally in short supply. Certainly, not a strong enough case can be made for reimposing rent control there on property which has been decontrolled. In my view, the Bill, if it had been properly thought out, would be shaped to deal with the evil of shortage in London and the big cities without creating fresh difficulties and, indeed, evils by extending control elsewhere.
After all—though I do not think that the Labour Party accepts this—continued occupation of somebody else's property against the will of the owner is an evil in itself, just as arbitrary eviction is an evil—I certainly accept what the White Paper says about arbitrary eviction. I am as sure as ever that we must work towards eventual complete decontrol coupled with protection from arbitrary eviction. Protection from arbitrary eviction depends on devising machinery which is equally fair to responsible landlords and responsible tenants. I am not satisfied that the temporary Measure has produced that. But I certainly think that we should all work to improve those Clauses of this Bill to see whether we can get them nearer the ideal. Irresponsible landlords and 74 irresponsible tenants need to be punished, not defended. That, also, is a guide that we should take.
If people think that I am going to make an all-out attack on the Bill, they are mistaken. It was anger at bad housing conditions which first stirred my interest in politics. I am far more concerned about getting a decent home for everybody than I am about political manoeuvrings. I would rather see the Bill turned into a practical, workable Measure than see it thrown out. But it will need a good deal of clarification and, I believe, a great deal of amendment.
The more I think about subsections (1) and (2) of Clause 22, even in the light of what the Minister said this afternoon, the less I think they give any intelligible guidance to rent officers or rent assessment committees. Subsection (2) appears to mean that in the most sought-after localities every tenant can expect a rent reduction under the Bill, because these are the places where demand always exceeds supply and, therefore, property always has an element of scarcity value.
On the other hand, subsection (1) says that a fair rent must have regard to the locality. Presumably, that means that it must have regard to some localities being more sought after than others. In my constituency, for instance, there are always more people wanting to rent houses or flats close to Hampstead Heath than there is property vacant in the immediate neighbourhood. Is the rent officer or the rent assessment committee to apply subsection (1) or subsection (2)? I think that what the Minister is seeking to do is very likely something that we should all applaud, but, frankly, the fact that members of the Milner Holland Committee said that this Clause was on the right lines is not sufficient to convince me that it will work in practice when rent officers and rent assessment committees seek to implement and apply it in a particular case.
If we are going to have something like the plan in the Bill, surely we would all like to see the machinery used quickest against bad landlords and extortionate rents. I understood that that was what the Minister himself sought, when he indicated that we should give this the highest priority. But unless subsections (1) and (2) are somehow modified or 75 qualified, I do not see why every tenant in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool should not put in an application immediately to have his rent reassessed under Clause 22(2) as though there was no shortage of accommodation He will argue that he was asked to pay a certain rent and agreed to do so under conditions of shortage, and that, therefore, if shortage is eliminated from the transaction, he ought to be paying a lower rent. And so he will feel that he can justifiably apply. But if all the tenants in the big cities argue like that—I see no reason why they should not—the machinery is bound to be clogged. Yet, what I am sure the Minister is anxious to avoid is a clogging of the machinery, which might impede the proper and speedy hearing of the most difficult cases.
I will give another illustration from my constituency. I know of a big house which was recently converted into six flats. The owner of the house made his calculations and decided that it would be a worthwhile investment, and he got six tenants who were ready to pay the rents for the flats. What is to prevent each of those tenants arguing to himself that he would not have had to pay as high a rent as he has agreed to pay, if there had not been a housing shortage in Hampstead? Therefore, what is to prevent each tenant making application for the rent to be reassessed? Yet so far as I am aware, all these were perfectly willing bargains between landlord and tenant. If all cases like that are liable to be brought, through the wording of the Clause, to the rent assessment committees, those committees will certainly have a great deal of work to do which is of far less high priority than the purpose for which the Minister seeks to set them up.
§ Sir Barnett Janner (Leicester, North- West)
Is the right hon. Gentleman arguing that, because a rent tribunal was set up to deal with furnished apartments, the machinery was entirely clogged up because people were making unreasonable claims? Is he not prepared to agree that if a machinery of that nature or something similar is set up, reasonable people—there are very many of them—would not use it and that it would be used only by those who were entitled to use it?
§ Mr. Brooke
The hon. Gentleman has not followed what I have been saying about Clause 22(2). Presumably those words are in the Bill because the Minister wishes them to mean something. It seems to me that vast numbers of tenants in the big cities, where there is, admittedly, a shortage of accommodation, will not unnaturally assume that the words do mean something, and that a fair rent is something rather lower than the rent they have agreed to pay, and they will therefore apply to make use of this machinery. This appears to me a substantial point which deserves a great deal of further examination.
One way to relieve the machinery would be to decide that rents will not normally be reassessed unless they are more than a certain percentage over the current rateable value. I have a good deal of sympathy with the Minister when he says that one cannot just fix rents by rateable value or gross value. After all, the values on which we are now reluctantly paying our rates are officially 1963 values but were worked out by the valuation officers in 1961 and, in a number of places, are now probably out of date and not proportionately fair. On the other hand, it seems to me that it will only waste everyone's time if large numbers of people put in applications to have their rents reassessed when it is clear, by a glance at the rateable value of the house or flat, that they cannot have a shadow of a case. That is not the sort of instance against which the Bill is directed.
Another way of relieving the load on the machinery, which will break down if the burden on it is too heavy, is to cut down the limit in Clause 1, as suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). As he said, the Milner Holland Report makes it clear that there is plenty of good accommodation available in London at rents of £400 to £500 a year and over. The 1963 rateable value of that type of property is probably £300 and upwards. Therefore, on the Milner Holland evidence, there is no case for property in London over £300 or so rateable value being brought into control on scarcity grounds.
If that is so in London, a fortiori it is so in the rest of the country outside London. If we modify that figure of 77 £400 for London, if we modify the £200 figure for the rest of the country, and if we then exclude all the counties or areas where there is now no scarcity of rented accommodation, then we can certainly make this a more useful Bill and can increase the chances of the machine being able to carry the load which may swiftly be thrown upon it.
The rent officers and rent assessment committees can then get to work at once in all the excluded counties—if I may use that phrase—on the controlled tenancies, loosening up the rigidity of twice gross value. Twice gross value in general is not enough now to keep a house in proper repair. The Minister praised the 1957 Act in so far as it got away from the old standard rent, which, of course, had become nonsense, and established its own new criterion of twice gross value. But I must remind him that his party opposed our action at the time in substituting twice gross value for the old standard rent as vigorously and vehemently as it opposed the decontrol provisions in the Act.
If all the property still controlled is not to decay into slums, higher rents must now be authorised and, I should have thought we would all say, the sooner the better. The Bill's procedure looks to me like being too slow in areas where costs are highest and the need is greatest for loosening up the rigidity of that twice gross value.
I urge the Government really to think out their intentions towards rented property. Seven or eight years ago we had the policy of municipalisation, which was later officially abandoned by the Labour Party, but not before it had discouraged what the 1957 Act was designed to secure and what almost everyone agreed in principle was badly needed—that landlords should put more money into their property to improve and modernise it.
Now we have the Milner Holland Report saying that the tax system must be altered if justice is to be done to the private landlord; but we have the Minister saying that he has a prejudice against landlords. We have him producing a Bill to fix fair rents, but we have the Milner Holland Report saying,… landlords have to charge rents which exceed the costs of ownership. This… makes the negotiation of 'fair' or 'reasonable' rents quite unnecessarily difficult.78 Over all the country to which the Bill extends, it is bound to accelerate the shrinkage in the number of houses and fiats to rent. From the Report, we understand that London landlords have been reletting about 60 per cent. of the rented property that has become vacant. The forecast by the landlords—contained in one of the appendices to the Report—is that they will relet some 70 per cent. in future. One effect of this Bill, however, is bound to be to swing the minds of landlords towards disposing of their property otherwise rather than run the risks, even if they be only risks of uncertainty, which are inherent in this Bill.
The Bill seems to me sure to discourage the conversion of larger properties—again on grounds of uncertainty—and to discourage the letting of rooms which somebody happens to have spare, because of the difficulty of getting the tenants out once they are in. All this is against sound long-term housing policy. That is another reason why the Bill should be restricted to those areas of the country where it is really needed, and where we all accept that there is a job for it to do.
In London it seems aimed at giving nearly all tenants subsidised rents, if Clause 22(2) means anything. The local authority tenants get their rents subsidised, and all private tenants will be able to claim under the Bill that, because there is a housing shortage in the London area, the rents they are now paying are too high and should be reassessed. Yet to subsidise thus all tenants living in the whole of the London area is clean contrary to what should be national policy—that is to say, the discouragement of growth of population in London.
How are the Government intending to square these contradictory policies? I see how they are being driven into this position, but they must take the responsibility of bringing to Parliament a consistent and coherent policy, not a contradictory one. How can the Government say that they want to counter the economic pull of London, and then legislate so that anyone who wants to live in London can claim a rent which takes no account of the shortage that the pull of London has been creating? It is upside down economics. The right hon. Gentleman said that he wished to protect the tenant from the market. I understand what he means, but he must bear 79 in mind that if he does that, it will increase rather than reduce the pull of London.
For the limited purpose of protecting tenants against exploitation of the presentday shortage by a small minority of landlords, the case for legislation is made out. But the Bill appears to be a hastily drafted Measure, and I doubt whether the good it may do in that small field will outweigh the setback which it will cause elsewhere, unless it is very considerably amended.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
The right hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke) made a long and careful plea for higher rents and it is almost exclusively with that subject that I wish to deal.
Yesterday, at my advice bureau, I was visited by an elderly widow whose ceiling had fallen in. The house was dangerous and so she was having to live with neighbours. She went to her landlord and pleaded for the repairs to be done. When he turned her down she said that she was going to her Member of Parliament. The landlord then said "All that M.P.s are interested in is your vote", to which she replied "All that landlords are interested in is our rent." That is the experience of many hon. Members.
The 1957 Conservative Rent Act was known to millions as the "Landlords' Charter". I hope that the 1965 Labour Rent Act will become known as the "Tenants' Charter". Just as the former Act was impartial in favour of the landlords, to use an Irishism, I hope that the new Act will be impartial in favour of the tenants. My plea to the Minister is, "Do not be too tender to the owners; do not listen to the siren call of the right hon. Member for Hampstead." At the General Election, the Government were given a mandate; the people want and expect a Labour Government to redress the balance. Whatever method or formula we reach, the aim must be absolutely clear—to keep rents down. I intend to show that, while the Bill is admirable in certain respects, it is vague and indefinite in one important respect which may enable landlords to get away with their previous conduct.
80 I do not claim to be impartial on this issue. I am very partial, because I am speaking from the experience of my constituents and others who have suffered similar injustice, particularly in the Midlands and the North. The Tory Rent Act caused more misery than any other Measure since the Means Test in the 1930s. I realise that much of its damage cannot be undone. The tenants who have been evicted cannot be put back, unfortunately, in their homes now that new tenants have come in, or in homes which have since been bought by others. But something can and must be done about rents.
Some people say, including some of my hon. Friends, that the 1957 Act has failed. That is a mistake. It succeeded. It succeeded in its main objective, which was to transfer nearly £300 million a year from the pockets of the tenants to the pockets of the landlords. I want to see some of that loot restored to the tenants.
Not all hon. Members may like this, but there is a conflict of interest between the landlord and the tenant. The more the landlord is given, the more is taken from the tenant. Just as we expect the Conservative Party to represent the interests of the large property companies, so we expect the Labour Party to represent the interests of the tenants. It should have been obvious to a child in 1957 that if rent restrictions were removed in conditions of housing shortage, the landlords, with few honourable exceptions, and there have been some, would exploit the shortage. They certainly did.
There are two ways in which to deal with this. The first is to reduce the shortage, and the Government are pledged to the immediate aim of 400,000 houses a year with an eventual programme of 500,000 a year. The other half of the programme is the Bill. I compliment my right hon. Friend on a serious attempt to deal with the situation.
The Bill has three vitally important features. First, it will end evictions without a court order. Secondly, it will end the harassing and intimidation of tenants. Thirdly, for the time being 2½ million families will remain paying their present rents. So far so good. But what about the 1¼ million families living in houses which are not controlled? Their fate eventually concerns the others. If we allow rents to go high for these 1¼ million, 81 the 2½ million will be affected eventually. The incentive to get tenants out, as mentioned by the Milner Holland Report, will remain if the gap between controlled rents and decontrolled rents remains large.
That brings me to the all-important Clause 22. The five criteria are too vague. I fear that unscrupulous landlords, assisted by skilful lawyers, will drive a coach through this Clause, as since December they have already found a loophole in the Protection from Eviction Act. I do not want to see that happen in this case, and I am sure that none of my hon. Friends does. If the landlords can get one or two favourable decisions through the tribunals, which will consist of a lawyer and a valuation officer and a third person, who may be remote from the conditions in which poor tenants have to live, there will be created a precedent which will mean the raising of rents throughout the country.
Let us take a typical case of a house rented at 18s. a week until 1957. Under the Rent Act, the average increase in controlled rents was two-thirds, bringing the rent up to 30s. Thanks to creeping decontrol, many such houses are now rented at £4 10s. a week. If such a case went before the rent tribunal it would have to ignore the fact—and I am glad that it will be able to do so—that there was a housing shortage. It might say, "We will knock a few bob off", but that is not good enough for rents which have been doubled, trebled and quadrupled.
The alternative which I propose is that all the factors mentioned in the Clause should be taken into consideration, but that the maximum rent should be once the 1963 rateable value, apart from cases where there are exceptional circumstances. This would mean a further increase beyond the controlled limits of about one-third in the provinces and more than that in London. That is quite enough. If it is considered essential to give landlords an incentive to carry out repairs—and the 1957 increases were supposed to be for that purpose, although they were not used for it by any means—an incentive to do what should be their duty and what should be paid for out of the rent, then let the landlords produce receipts for money 82 paid to building contractors for repairs and let the tribunals also take those into consideration.
But, whatever the formula, I repeat that our aim must be to keep down rents, and Labour Members of Parliament must firmly resist people who talk airily about rents inevitably going up. That is not what the electors understood by the repeal of the Rent Act. They thought that there would be a reduction in decontrolled rents rather than an increase in controlled rents. It is utterly unfair that tenants whose rents have already been raised 60 per cent., or, in the case of decontrolled tenants, doubled, trebled or quadrupled, should face a further rent increase. If we permit this, it would be doing the Conservative Party's dirty work for them, and I hope that this will not take place.
§ Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)
Is the hon. Gentleman referring to the words of the Minister on 18th November when he said:This Government recognise that the old Rent Acts had very serious defects indeed. In a world of rapid technological change and of rapidly changing economies there must be a continuous growth of wages, of prices and of profits, and if we try to freeze rents when the cost of everything else is rising the result is to create more problems than we solve."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th November, 1964; Vol. 702, c. 456.]
§ Mr. Allaun
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that point because I was coming to it. There is a move for an incomes policy. I want to reply to the hon. Member by saying that if he encourages a further increase in rents he can kiss goodbye to any suggestion of an incomes policy. If rents go up. workers will regard as laughable any suggestion that they should exercise restraint in asking for wage increases which it is within their power to obtain.
Let us look at some of the arguments which have been put forward today by hon. Members opposite and which, no doubt, will be pressed in Standing Committee, which is where the real pressure, I think, will come. I think that the right hon. Member for Hampstead is in some difficulty about voting on the Bill, and so are his hon. Friends. They are in a dilemma. The first argument which will be raised is that landlords need more money to do repairs. If rents are 83 increased there is no guarantee that they will do them. That was what the 1957 increases were for. Most landlords are not doing too badly, even after paying for repairs, especially when we remember that many of the houses in the great industrial cities of the North were built 80 or 100 years ago and have been paid for over and over again in rent. I do not see why the public should have to subsidise landlords who have got their capital back several times in this way.
I want the House to note the growth of a new species of property owner who is going into the back streets of our towns and cities, buying up whole rows of houses for a song and then, as Sir Milner Holland showed, trying to evict, legitimately or illegitimately, the tenants and thereby getting higher rents. I do not think that these companies, which are turning even slums into highly profitable investments, should be allowed to increase rents at all. I would tie them down to the existing controlled rents.
The right hon. Member for Hampstead said that if rents are kept down in London this will be a terrible thing because it will increase the pull of London and that people will flock into London to take advantage of lower rents. But surely the Bill's purpose, as the Minister explained, is to keep down rents, not only in London, but in the whole country and therefore it will not increase the relative advantage of coming to London.
The next argument is that landlords will put up houses for sale unless rents are increased so that there will be a smaller number of houses available to rent. They will do this in any case. On 1st August, 1961, the right hon. Member for Hampstead, who was then the Minister of Housing, replied to me at Question Time in these words:…the hon. Member's Question asked me to take steps to stop decontrol on change of tenant. I must point out to him that the principal effect of that would be to diminish the total number of houses coming on the market to let."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st August, 1961; Vol. 645, c. 1137].The Conservative Government went ahead and insisted on creeping decontrol. With what effect? The number of houses available to let has gone down from 5 million to 3¾ million in six years.
§ Mr. Brooke
It would have gone to a very much lower figure if it had not been for the Rent Act, 1957.
§ Mr. Allaun
I think that the right hon. Gentleman must agree that that is a pretty hefty shrinkage in six years. I maintain that higher rents will merely secure higher selling prices for houses and therefore will increase the incentive to sell, because the capital value of a house largely depends on its rental value. If we allow landlords to increase rents, we increase the incentive to sell.
It is further argued that no one will invest in new houses to rent. But people have not done for years, despite decontrol and despite the 1957 Act. I weep no tears if no more houses are built privately to rent, because I think that local authorities are far better landlords. There are several reasons. First, they have no motive to make a profit out of their tenants. Secondly, they are subject to democratic control. Thirdly, they give priority to those who need houses most. Private landlords, however amiable, differ in all three respects. In my view, they are a dying race, and I do not think that we should deplore the fact. As the Prime Minister told the Leeds Labour Party on 9th February, 1964:The plain fact is that rented housing is not a proper field for private profit".I agree with him.
The Opposition are in a dilemma. If they vote against the Second Reading of the Bill, they will make themselves exceedingly unpopular with the electorate. On the other hand, if they abstain from voting, that will be tantamount to a public admission that their 1957 Act was wrong and damaging to the community. My guess is that the main pressure will come in Committee. The property owners, their lawyers and Conservative Members of Parliament will use all their influence and skill so to water down the Bill as to destroy its value. I hope that in contrast the Government and Labour Members of Parliament will warmly support the Bill in principle, and in Committee will do everything to tighten Clause 22 so that tenants are made less vulnerable.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ Mr. John M. Temple (City of Chester)
I am glad to have the opportunity once again of taking part in a housing debate. 85 I will endeavour in the course of my speech to deal with the observations made by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and especially those made in the last few minutes by the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun).
I must admit that I cannot understand why so frequently we have to have housing debates on Mondays, which means that many of us have to get down to our homework on a Sunday afternoon. I admit that having done my homework and picked out what I regarded as the salient points in the Bill—the extent of rent control, the fixation of rents and the relativity of rents and rates to household incomes—I was indeed glad to find that those were the three important points picked out in The Times leader today. I am not surprised if the Minister has had to leave the Chamber. He may have had a premonition of what I am about to say.
Some months or even a year or two ago, there appeared to be a happy honeymoon between Printing House Square and the Labour Party, but at last that honeymoon is over and The Times, in two penetrating leaders on the Bill, has made clear where it stands: that it is on the side of sensible administration and not on the side of "flexible nonsense", as it describes Clause 22 of the Bill.
I am exceedingly glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke) is present and I am glad to see him taking part in housing debates once again. I should like to pay real tribute to my right hon. Friend for his magnificent service to the community when he was Minister of Housing and Local Government. I had my first blooding in the House as a member of the Standing Committee on the Rent Act, 1957. In the circumstances which existed at that time, I had no hesitation in supporting that Act and I go on record as saying that I support its provisions today. Times change, however, and, therefore, my right hon. Friend has, quite rightly, made his position and mine clear today.
During the course of my speech, I shall endeavour to underline some of the points which my right hon. Friend has made because I believe them to be salient and valid today as did my right hon. Friend it 1957, when he was responsible for putting that Act upon the Statute Book. The factors which have vitiated the provisions 86 of the Rent Act in London include the prosperity which the Tory Party brought in during the last 13 years. Who would have foreseen this tremendous prosperity when we as an Administration were asked to take over in 1951?
I am glad that the Minister has returned, because I have one or two matters of importance to bring to his attention. I was drawing attention to the fact that at the time the Rent Act, 1957, was passed, nobody, certainly not the statisticians, foresaw the longevity of people and the fact that there would be an earlier age of marriage. All these have been factors which have added to the pressures, especially in the London area.
I asked myself yesterday afternoon, when I was getting down to a study of the Bill, whether the Bill was really necessary. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead has really answered that question. In respect of London, I accept that the Bill is necessary. We have all read the Milner Holland Report. We have all read of the shortage of houses over households in the London area and, of course, the Government White Paper makes it clear that there are other pressure areas. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead has said, however, in many areas there is a surplus of housing accommodation and my right hon. Friend identified those areas.
Why did not the Government adopt the principle which they have adopted in the Control of Office and Industrial Development Bill? In that Bill, the Government are taking power by order to bring in other areas if there is—[Interruption.] I know where I stood on this matter in Standing Committee. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary knows perfectly well, because I have made a number of speeches on the matter. What we tried to do in the Control of Office and Industrial Development Bill was to take the rest of the country outside the metropolitan region out of possible control. I believe that if we had left out of today's Bill all the areas where there is no tangible evidence of housing shortage, the Bill would have been acceptable in its entirety to a much broader section of the House.
§ Mr. Freeson
Is the hon. Member suggesting that it was not known to him and to his hon. Friends in 1957, when the Rent Act was passed, that there was a 87 serious shortage of housing in the Greater London area and that they have learned of this only since the publication of the Milner Holland Report?
§ Mr. Temple
It was anticipated at that time that the number of houses and households would shortly equate—
§ Mr. Temple
No, I am sorry, I cannot.
I should like to refer to the worldwide shortage of accommodation in the world's metropoli. Everyone was extremely grateful to the Milner Holland Committee for bringing out, in Chapter 12, the position in many parts of the world. I have had the good fortune of being entertained by the planning committees of many of the world's larger metropolises—New York, Tokyo and many of the big American cities. I do not know personally the position on the Continent of Europe, but in those great cities of the world there are housing shortages of considerable magnitude.
I can say from experience that I have seen much worse housing in the United States of America—my remarks are not confined to New York alone—than I have ever seen in any part of this country. So that in the world's metropoli these unfortunate conditions undoubtedly exist.
§ Sir B. Janner
Will the hon. Member enlighten the House about the position in New York? Will he explain the limits of control and whether they apply to the lower valued houses or extend much wider than ours, and whether there is not a very strong control?
§ Mr. Temple
I was just coming to that. Naturally, I should not have mentioned New York unless I could give details about it.
Details about the New York position are given in the Milner Holland Report, 88 which makes it clear that in most of the world's metropolises certainly those examined by the Committee, there was provision for dealing flexibly with rents. In other words, rents were not fixed at the same figure for all time. Very significantly, in France, there is a six-monthly review of rents. In Norway and Sweden, there is an annual review, and in New York there is a provision whereby rents are related to property values. In New York, the yardstick is a relationship between the income which can be received from rent and the value of the property. The figure given as the fair return in New York is 6 per cent. on the property value.
That deals effectively with the point brought out by the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner).
§ Mr. Crossman
Would it be the hon. Member's recommendation that we should write the New York yardstick into the Bill?
§ Mr. Temple
In a few moments, I shall be coming to the point which the Minister has raised. I assure the House that if I am permitted to make my speech in my own way I will come to all those points, because they are germane to any constructive appreciation of the provisions of the Bill.
The point which I should like to emphasise with regard to the world's metropolises is that there is a magnetism which is quite indefinable, but which is, nevertheless, real about these big centres of population, and I believe that the provisions of the Bill will make the situation in London even worse than it is today. I will return to this point presently.
The Minister of Housing and Local Government, during the course of an interesting introductory speech on the Bill, did pay considerable tribute to the Conservative housing achievements. He said, and I quote what he said, "that the United Kingdom is a country of relative housing affluence". If that is true, and the Minister really believes that, then there is no reason whatsoever for imposing universal rent control throughout the country.
I believe that during our period of office we could have built more houses than we did had we been prepared to cut down on the other sections of our 89 constructional programme. However, I personally always supported the view that it was wise to utilise the construction industries to the full, but to utilise them over a very wide sphere of social services, not only homes but roads, bridges, factories, schools, hospitals, and public works such as power stations. So today, I should like the Government, if they are to give greater priority to house construction, to tell the House in what sector they propose to cut down the public works construction programme.
It was significant, and it is typical of the prejudice which exists in the mind of the present Government, that in the White Paper there was considerable criticism of the growth of owner-occupation in this country. I quote only from paragraph 8:The growth of owner-occupation has not eased the situation.I am one of those practical souls who believe that if one builds a house and somebody occupies it it does ease the overall housing situation, and I believe that during our period of Government we were entirely right to encourage the growth of owner-occupation. I believe that it was an immensely healthy sign for our country, and if the present Government cut down that growth in the owner-occupied sphere then they will have a great deal to explain to the electorate at the time of any forthcoming General Election.
agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead that the policy of the present Government seems to be to subsidise every tenant, not only the tenants of the local authorities but the tenants of private landlords as well. Personally, I believe that the leader in The Times today was entirely right when it said, towards the end:According to the official family expenditure survey for 1963 the average expenditure on housing, including rates, was 9 per cent. of average household income".It goes on:Averages, however misleading they tend to be, cannot altogether be disregarded.So I believe that today a relatively small amount of household income is being spent on housing, and I can see no justification whatsoever in spreading these subsidies at the expense of landlords even wider than they are spread at the present time.
§ Mr. Crossman
Did the hon. Gentleman also notice that though, as he said, that is the average for the whole nation, the average for the lowest paid workers was about one-fifth?
§ Mr. Temple
I think that both the Minister and I can accept the fact that averages can be misleading, but that one cannot disregard averages altogether. That is the point that the leader in The Times was making and that is a point which I support.
We should look at a few ancilliaries which might well help the housing programme. The Minister of Housing and Local Government admitted in his White Paper, paragraph 27, thatStill less is this Bill a solution to the housing shortage".Well, the Minister admits that it is not a solution to the housing shortage. Therefore, I am going to suggest to the Minister two or three ancillary forms of building which I believe could make a considerable contribution.
My right hon. Friend the former Minister of Public Building and Works who is, regrettably, not in the House at the moment, was very keen on the encouragement of the factory built houses. I believe that that should be pressed on with.
Comparatively recently, I have been in consultation with the Agent-General for British Columbia, and he has been telling me something of the activities of the British Columbia Timber Frame Housing Group. Only today I have had a consultation with the deputy director of that group. He tells me that the timber industry would be in a position very shortly to work up to a production figure of about 50,000 timber houses a year, which could well be a magnificent auxiliary to the present building construction programmes, because if we are to rely year in and year out on bricks and mortar we shall never be able to achieve the targets which I regard as being so very desirable.
Now I wish to make an offer to the Minister of Housing and Local Government. I do not know that I should call it an offer, but I am making a suggestion, that he should make a visit to California. I have been in California and seen there some of the most magnificent mobile home parks in the whole of the 91 world. I believe that in this country today we are ignoring the contribution which might well be made to our housing problem through mobile homes. The National Caravan Council tells me that immediately the industry could step up the production of mobile homes by about 10,000 units a year.
The Minister may laugh—because, possibly, he has not seen the magnificent caravan parks in California, but I could take him an hour's run, say, in a car from the Palace of Westminster and show him some caravan parks in this country which are a pleasure to live in, and, indeed, in which a great many retired people have an extremely happy family life.
These are three ancillaries which I offer very briefly to the Minister and which I believe might make a useful contribution to our housing programme.
Now I turn to what the Minister described as the crux or fulcrum of the Bill, and that is Clause 22. However, before doing that I would say that I have no particular quarrel with the Minister's provisions in regard to security of tenure for people in the major conurbation areas and in London, and I certainly commend the Clause which deals with the question of harassment of tenants.
In Clause 22, I agree with the Minister, we come to the fulcrum of the Bill. I am afraid that he has got into trouble with The Times over the provisions of that Clause which is described, I think rightly, by The Times as "flexible nonsense". Frankly, I think that The Times is very close to the mark in that description of that Clause. Everything in that Clause will have to be interpreted by rent officers and rent assessment committees.
I have asked myself: are rent officers really necessary?
§ Mr. Temple
I have decided that they are not, and I will explain why.
I would make one point first on behalf of the Association of Municipal Corporations. It has made it clear to me that it did not ask for this duty to be placed upon them of managing rent officers or of having any part in the operation of the 92 rent control provisions of this Bill, and it is very concerned at the fact that counties will, almost for the first time in England and Wales, be brought in as administrators of the Housing Acts. I believe that that is a retrograde step, and it is certainly a matter which I shall hope to return to in Committee.
I have asked myself whether rent officers are really necessary, and the more I heard the Minister explaining their functions the more I thought that the people he proposes certainly would not be able to deal with the complex problems which would come before them. If they are to be really useful these rent officers must be able to advise on what is a fair rent, yet, if they do do this, their advice may run counter to the decisions of the rent assessment committees.
I would suggest, further, that if the rent officers do give any advice in regard to what the rental should be for certain property they may well prejudice an unbiased decision on the part of the rent assessments committee. I think that advisory officers or conciliatory officers have a function, but I do not believe that these rent officers have any function whatsoever with regard to advising on the actual level of rents.
The Minister said that he preferred "people" to a formula. I shall come later to the question of the relativity of these rents to gross values. I believe that we could do without the rent officers in all the administrative procedures which are proposed, as the rent assessment committees will really be the final arbiters of what will be a fair rent for a property, and there will be no appeal. I believe that it is unfortunate that there will be no appeal from the decisions of the rent assessment committees, and not for the reasons which I think are in the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I think that, unfortunately, throughout the country there will be big variations in the recommendations of a fair rent which are set out by the various rent assessment committees. It would be helpful if a lot of these cases went to appeal, because then we would be able to establish what I term "case law", which would be very helpful to rent assessment committees in other parts of the country who were trying to deal with similar problems.
The Minister was almost rude about gross values. The Inland Revenue has 93 the task of determining gross values, and it has the best staff available for the purpose. It is not the fault of the Revenue that the figures of gross value are out of date, and I think that very often the figures of the rent assessment committees will prove to be even more out of date than those fixed by the Inland Revenue.
I believe that it will be very unfortunate if we have a dual system of fixing what is, in effect, a fair rent for a property. I am pretty sure that I am right in saying that, when the Inland Revenue valuers tackle their difficult problem of valuation, to a large extent they eliminate the scarcity factor when assessing gross value for a property. I think that the Minister failed to appreciate the true worth of "gross values", which I rate very high indeed and I think that gross value might be a much better indicator of the fair rent of the property than any assessment of value arrived at by a rent officer or a rent assessment committee.
I have looked for a moment at the extraordinary pattern of rents which will emerge after this Bill becomes law. We will have regulated rents, 1965 pattern, which will be based on the flexibility referred to so scornfully in The Times. The Minister failed to answer my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), who asked whether the personal circumstances of the landlord or tenant would be taken into account. I can only assume that they will be. We will have controlled rents of the 1957 pattern. We will have council house rents, and there will be very little evidence of free market rental in this country.
Next year, the Inland Revenue will be asked once again, for rating purposes, prior to the 1968 revaluation, to make a revaluation of all the property in this country based on the hypothetical rental value of that property. I have considerable sympathy with the Inland Revenue. It is not often that I can say that, but if I was an Inland Revenue valuer set to value properties in 1966, and I had to look at regulated rents, controlled rents, council house rents, and a few free market rents, I would give up the job altogether and say that it was impossible to do a rating valuation in the terms of the various controlled rents which existed throughout the country.
94 For a long time I have thought that it would be far better, as they do in New York—and I was glad that the Minister interrupted me on this point—to tie the value for rents and rating purposes of all property direct to property values. I believe that that is a comprehensible correlation and I should like to see it done in the Bill. The only market evidence which we have today which is pre-eminently clear to everyone is the actual value of any property as it can be sold in the open market.
I am afraid that the Bill will be very difficult to administer. I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead put his finger on one of the major difficulties, namely, that there will be an equation between the rents in the Metropolis of London and throughout the country. So long as that equation exists, by what method will we stop people from the north of England coming to the South and enjoying the rather better weather that exists here and paying the same rent in Brighton as in Bootle?
If I had the chance of residing at Bootle or at Brighton at the same rent when I retired, there would be only one answer to where I would go. I would go to the South. I believe that that is the heart of the problem. Unless the Government are prepared to bring in a control of migration measure throughout the country, there will be a tremendous flood of people from the North-West, the North-East, and even from Scotland, which will swamp the south-east region of the country.
I have made the case only too logically for a rejection of the application of the Bill to all areas of the country outside the great conurbations and London. I believe that it is essential to maintain a really strong differential between rents in the conurbations, and rents in the country areas. What we want to do is to encourage people to live in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. If there is an equation of rents throughout the country, there will be a considerable disincentive, as there is at the present time, to do just that. In extending rent control throughout the country, the Government are doing an extremely unwise thing, and I believe that it may well lead to administrative chaos.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. T. G. Boston (Faversham)
I was rather surprised by some of the things said by the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple). I was particularly surprised by some of the things that he said about industrialised building, because he knows that my right hors. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works, who, I believe, I am not supposed to mention in this House, have been making strenuous efforts to encourage the adoption of system building. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt forgive me if I do not follow him further on this matter.
I should like to add my congratulations to those offered by the right hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke) to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) on his maiden speech. It is less than a year since I faced this ordeal myself, so I know what it is to go through it, but I think it true to say that my hon. Friend's modesty alone made his speech worth while waiting for, and I am sure that we all look forward to hearing him frequently in the future.
I think that we are all looking forward to hearing the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) later in the debate, if he is successful in catching Mr. Speaker's eye. We shall see him in one of his multifarious rôles in this House. When the Leader of the Opposition had his first reshuffle of the Shadow Cabinet, the right hon. and learned Member was described in one newspaper as having special responsibilities. I felt that the word "responsibilities" was rather odd, but I wondered just what this designation meant.
Then I thought about the past duties of the right hon. and learned Gentleman—for instance, his responsibilities for sport, and his sporting activities on the steps of St. Marylebone Town Hall soon after his by-election, and I realised exactly what this designation meant. He is the shadow boxer of the Tory Party.
§ Mr. Boston
I leave that to the right hon. and learned Gentleman to decide. 96 I have also been very interested in the speeches that we have had from the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). It is interesting to read an earlier speech of his, in the debate which set the Milner Holland inquiry on its way, which inquiry has provided added evidence of the need for the Bill. I refer to the debate which took place on 22nd July, 1963.
In that debate, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, then Leader of the Opposition, moved:That this House deplores the intolerable extortion, evictions and property profiteering which have resulted from the Rent Act, 1957, and demands that Her Majesty's Government take immediate and drastic action to restore security for threatened tenants.At the end of that debate the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames said:Now I come back to the Motion. The Motion is a nonsense because it proposes to treat a real problem by methods which will not work."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1963; Vol. 681, c. 1058–1185.]I find those words rather strange in the light of the evidence which is now before us in the Milner Holland Report. On page 187 of that Report reference is made to the most difficult problems which face us in the question of rents and houses. The Report says:The evidence derived, particularly from the 1963 Tenant Survey but also from the great mass of general evidence, satisfies us that hardship due to lack of security of tenure for tenants of privately rented housing in the London area is serious and substantial in amount.Earlier, in the same chapter, the Report says:The prime cause of hardship is insecurity of tenure in conditions of shortage.How can right hon. Gentlemen opposite possibly say that the sort of steps which are being put forward in the Bill are not needed to alleviate these hardships?
I also notice that the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames says that the Bill will apply in areas where there is no housing shortage. That may be so in some cases, but on what does he base his evidence? About which areas is he making this claim? A fortnight ago he told us that it was wrong to deduce from the Milner Holland Report anything about areas outside London, yet he is now coming to a conclusion 97 about areas outside London—or at least he is back-tracking about some of the other towns and cities.
The Report refers to conditions in other towns and cities outside London and says:The housing problems confronting London, as they confront other great cities, will not be resolved by market forces or by the provision of houses alone.That is clear evidence of the fact that although the Committee did not investigate areas outside London it was aware, as hon. Members on both sides of the House are aware, of the need to tackle the problem outside London as well as inside it.
Hon. Members opposite say that we ought not to treat this as a party political issue. Yet these are the people who perpetrated one of the most damaging political acts of this century when they passed the 1957 Rent Act. The Bill's aim is to deal with the prime need of security of tenure and the protection of tenants and good landlords. Incidentally, the Bill starts well by making its contribution towards a simplification of the law by referring, in its Preamble, topurposes connected with those matters.That is a welcome change from the "aforesaids" that we are used to seeing in other Bills.
It is complete nonsense to try to restrict action to London. Other towns and cities have been mentioned. Having passed their 1957 Rent Act, hon. Members opposite want to preserve this damaging legislation for as much of the country as possible. There is perhaps a need for more inquiry and for the obtaining of more information about other parts of the country. My right hon. Friend has already described the Milner Holland Report as a valuable social document. It may be of added value to have on the record facts concerning other parts of the country, which might help to demonstrate the need for this sort of legislation. There is no need for a full-scale inquiry, but I wonder whether my right hon. Friend would consider instituting a series of spot checks in certain areas—areas containing small and large towns and cities, and also rural areas.
Do we know enough about the real problems of these areas? My right hon. Friend is quite right not to delay action, 98 but the information to which I have referred could well be of use in helping to decide, when the time comes, which areas can be deregulated and which must remain protected.
When the Bill is brought into force we shall have to make the rights of tenants much more widely known. There will be a need for a simple—and I stress the word "simple"—explanation in tenants' rent books. I wonder whether some landlords have failed to insert the necessary details in their rent books. Have the existing provisions been properly enforced? There is a great need for the prominent display of information about where to seek advice, as is provided for in various Statutory Instruments under various Acts—for instance, Statutory Instrument 1119/64, which says:You would be well advised to consult a solicitor, the local authority or a Citizen's Advice Bureau.This is all very well, but some people are reluctant to consult solicitors. People feel that they will be landed with high costs. Not all areas have citizens' advice bureaux, nor are all local authorities helpful. That is why the proposal for rent officers and rent assessment committees is so important.
A fortnight ago my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that he wanted the town halls to become human. I know that my hon. Friend was not referring merely to the town halls, but to all council offices, including those in rural areas. There is a danger of becoming too urban-minded. I hope that we will ensure that rent books have to include precise details informing the tenant where he can obtain advice, as well as setting out the rights under the Bill.
We must not forget that people in rural areas are peculiarly vulnerable to harassment. These areas are often remote, and communications are difficult. Fares to council offices are often expensive. We must not forget the people living in these areas. I wonder whether a closer look should not be given to this matter. That may be another way in which spot checks in the rural areas can be of assistance.
Then again, there is the duty of local councils to which my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary referred a 99 fortnight ago. It is easy, perhaps, for them to become hardened. It is understandable that the applicant who makes the most noise should be thought often to be the least deserving, but I feel that more human treatment is needed. People are often afraid of those they regard as officials. One of the things we mean when we say that housing is a public service, and not just a business, is we want to make it human. The person who makes a lot of noise may well be the one who refuses to be browbeaten by officialdom and has a deserving case.
I wish to say a word about legal aid and advice. I think that there is evidence that some tenants are being brushed off when they go to some solicitors who cannot be bothered to deal with their case and who say, "I have had experience of this sort of thing before. You do not really stand a chance." I wonder whether we need to be on the look-out for this kind of thing. Publicity is one of the most urgent and important features and I wonder whether my right hon. Friend has considered the possibility of the extensive use of radio and television as a means of informing people about the law relating to landlord and tenant. Perhaps, also, he might bring some of his influence to bear upon his right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General. I feel sure that here there is a useful field for local broadcasting stations to provide appropriate information about local rents and conditions as the rent committees get underway.
As an example of the sort of information we need, it is not often realised that an agreement to do repairs in lieu of rent is enforceable. I have had a number of cases in my own area where people have been threatened with eviction, or even evicted, because they did not realise when they entered into an agreement to do repairs and subsequently they were evicted the agreement was enforceable in lieu of rent.
There is one other word that I should say about relations with local authorities. I had hoped, as, I think, had some other hon. Members on this side of the House, to hear something today, or last Monday week, from my right hon. Friend, possibly in the White Paper—perhaps not in the Bill—about the need for greater uniformity in dealing with council 100 house waiting lists. I find it rather hair-raising that in some areas, especially in rural areas, decisions about this are based, partly at least, on the recommendations of local councillors. It is one thing for local councillors to keep a watch on local needs. Obviously, that is one of their duties. It is another matter to have the system based on the personal recommendations of local councillors, which happens in some cases. I believe that this practice is open to abuse and that there is need to avoid even the possibility of the appearance of abuse.
There is also the need for people when they move to be able to take with them an entitlement for priority on the housing list. This is particularly essential as people move from one place to another in a period of greater mobility of labour. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland may make a passing reference to this matter later in the debate.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
Is the hon. Member seriously suggesting that people should take an entitlement to a council house from Faversham to my neighbouring constituency of Thanet? If so, may I point out that it would be most unwelcome to those of us who live in Thanet?
§ Mr. Boston
I am sorry that the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) regards people from my constituency in that way. Personally, I look upon people from my constituency as very desirable and I hope that they will stay.
I would ask my right hon. Friend to say something more positive and definite about who is to control the rent officers. This point was raised earlier by the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Lagden). I think that there is still a little doubt about this. I hope that the control will remain with the Minister, but it would be useful to have this settled.
Another point on which it would be useful to have further elucidation is the ending of regulation or control in particular areas and exactly how this would be decided. One of the really great values of the Bill is it establishes the principle that control or regulation goes with the dwelling and not with the tenant and so remains after a particular tenant has left. This is one of the most important requirements in the Bill. It is an effective 101 answer to the process we have seen which led to the Report of the Milner Holland Committee, this process of "destatting" which led to some of the excesses of Rachmanism in the London area.
This is an excellent Bill, demonstrating the urgent need for reform in this country. Not only does it provide in art urgent way for this need, but it also makes that provision in a humane way. It goes a long way to fulfilling our pledge to deal urgently with housing problems, and so does the speed with which the Protection from Eviction Act was passed. It has had a beneficial effect in my own area as well as others.
The Government will be judged on the success they make of these policies. The question of housing is one of three or four most vitally important matters and one on which the Government will be judged when the time comes.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith (Brentford and Chiswick)
In days gone by I have had the pleasure of being "produced" on the B.B.C. from time to time by the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Boston) and it is pleasant to follow him in this debate today. I cannot possibly agree with his political conclusions on the Bill, but I willingly subscribe to a number of the points whch he has brought forward.
I agree that housing on one of the three or four most crucial issues facing politicians, the Government, and which would face my own party both in and out of office. I agree that spot checks would be valuable and I hope that the Minister has made a note of what was said by the hon. Member for Faversham.
Although there is now conclusive evidence about circumstances in the London area, I am sure that the figures would he very revealing for other places, particularly rural areas. I support the hon. Member's plea that there should be better advice available for people who are in trouble over housing matters. Many go to their Members of Parliament, or to their local councillors. There is little that Members of Parliament can do, particularly if they are not lawyers.
I know that many people who see solicitors do not always get the satisfaction which they should. I hope that the rent assessment committees will give ad- 102 vice as well as pronouncements on individual rents and that this will become part of their service. I trust that the suggestions of the hon. Member for Faversham will be taken further.
We had another exuberant performance this afternoon from the Minister. It was a scintillating display which aroused the enthusiasm of his back benchers. If the right hon. Gentleman is not careful, he will become known as the most eloquent Minister of Housing that we have had since Mr. Aneurin Bevan; and we remember what a disaster Mr. Bevan was in that office. I believe that, like the right hon. Gentleman's speech on the Milner Holland Committee Report, his speech today was a fine political performance, but there was an underlying feeling of prejudice which will not do anything towards solving the housing problem. The right hon. Gentleman is the man we have known for many years, the same man we knew when his party was in opposition. He is the same brilliantly confused intellectual. Everything he says tends to make the position rather worse. It will do so in relation to housing—
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
I support it even if it is a technically bad Bill, because I have been aware for some time that a measure of rent control is needed in London. I do not subscribe to the view that it is wanted in the rest of the country but, as I say, I go all the way with the need for it in London. Every hon. Member who represents a London constituency has known for the last few years that there have been some cases of extreme hardship.
It should be borne in mind, however, that the reimposition of control will not in itself make a contribution to solving the housing problem in London. Nevertheless, the case for such control was shown to be justified in the Milner Holland Report. I believe that even in its entirety the Bill will not help to solve the London housing problem. A massive effort will be required to do that and I think that the approach of Milner Holland to the subject was extremely good.
103 The whole concept of London housing cannot be tackled by private landlordism alone, and certainly not by municipal housing alone, though I agree that there must be a massive increase in local authority house building. Here I appeal to the Minister that in implementing the Bill—and in going ahead with his plans for London housebuilding—he should preserve the green belt land and ensure that the design of council houses is planned to merge in with the districts in which they are built, so that they are not put up without thought of their appearance, merely for the sake of tackling the problem urgently, thus creating an eventual hotch-potch in many boroughs.
London's housing problem could probably be solved within a very few months if we built, for example, in the Royal Parks, although I appreciate that that would be unacceptable to everyone. This shows how careful we must be in choosing the places where we build and we must ensure that designs are acceptable, to everyone concerned, including the local people. The appeal which I make applies to any party, for future generations will curse us if we are not careful in the design and planning of our housing in a great metropolis like London. While there might be some political advantage—although I would be prepared to debate this on another occasion—in having London as a vast council house encampment, certainly later generations, as well as many people involved at present, would revile us for having created such a state of affairs.
The accent in this Bill is essentially on the tenants, and that should be so. It is undeniable that a small but significant minority of them have been savagely exploited in recent years and I am, therefore, much in favour of the harassment Clause and the stiff penalties which are proposed. I must warn the Minister, however, that some cases will be hard to prove. I hope that there will be success in prosecutions but it must be remembered that there are some extremely subtle intimidation methods used by unscrupulous landlords; methods which it will be exceedingly hard to establish.
To give one example of this, I know of an elderly woman who has lived in the same house for more than 50 years. She 104 now has a coloured landlord. I hasten to point out that I am not making a racial point here, because I realise that coloured tenants have been exploited by white landlords. In this case the landlord, believing that he has greater rights than are afforded him even under the present law, is using subtle means in an attempt to get the elderly woman out of the house. He suddenly appears from behind a doorway to frighten her, he stands and stares at her—all sorts of little acts to intimidate her. She alleges one particularly bad example of this: the man leaves quite large children's toys at the bottom of the stairs in a darkened hall in the hope that she will trip over them late in the evening and do herself a grievous injury. A case of this sort would be extremely difficult to prove, and I hope that those who will be responsible for dealing with prosecutions will be aware that it is not always the case which is the most obvious which is the most deserving of action.
Another example which may interest the House is of an old couple who live upstairs in a house, the landlord of which wants them out. The landlord in this case has two or three music students in the premises and has encouraged them to practise late at night. The result is that one of the old people is almost in a state of nervous breakdown and has been issued with ear plugs by the doctor attending her. Cases of this kind, in which subtle means are used, will provide difficulties.
The other difficulty of harassment is that, on investigation, both sides often make strenuous allegations against each other and there are seldom independent witnesses. In such cases it is often one person's word against another's. It is known that under our present law the intimidation provisions are unsatisfactory. The police are often called in and they try to smooth things over, but there is no real action that they can take in most cases. If one party has the courage to take out a summons and goes to court, involving a certain amount of expense, the two parties are usually bound over—both the guilty and the innocent. I hope that there will be a number of early prosecutions under the harassment provisions of the Bill and that the villains will be deterred, because there can be no doubt that there are villains. This part of the Bill must be effective and must "bite".
105 In one of his exuberant moments the Minister referred to the Bill as a tenants' Magna Carta I suggest that it falls far short of that. It might be the death knell of the landlord, and while this may please some hon. Members opposite it will not make a positive contribution to solving some of the country's problems.
The landlord can find little hope in the ideas put forward in the Bill. I recall the Minister saying that he had a natural prejudice against landlords, and that is a remark which will probably dog him for the rest of his Ministerial career. Whatever may be his personal views on the subject, it was wrong for him to have expressed them in such a way because he badly needs the co-operation of the landlords if he is to solve London's housing problem. I am sure that he has the energy to do that, but he would be wise to avoid making remarks of that kind.
§ Mr. Crossman
The hon. Gentleman says that it was unwise of e to have made that it remark, but he should point out that it was made at the precise moment when I was saying that I agreed with the Milner Holland Report in that we should all suppress our political prejudices and try to form a policy not based on prejudice. I think that it is slightly unfair of the hon. Gentleman, having taken the matter somewhat out of context, to say that I was expressing a personal prejudice, since I was saying that it was important not to do that. I said that I would try to suppress my prejudice and I hoped that hon. Gentlemen opposite would try to suppress theirs. That is what I said.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will de more successful in future. I drew the conclusion the landlord section. He will agree, however—whether or not he likes it—that some form of co-operation form the good landlords is vital; and as the Milner Holland Report pointed out, the majority of landlords are, fortunately, good. Nevertheless, I am pleased that he has taken effective steps in the Bill to deal with the undesirable ones who should not be landlords anyway.
The Bill does not make provision for encouraging landlords to improve their property. As a result I am sure that 106 many more landlords will sell, resulting in a decrease in the number of properties available to let. Many tenants are difficult and just as anti-social as those landlords who exploit their property. Many of them are on a very good wicket indeed. I am sorry that more will not be done about controlled tenancies. I have had a considerable correspondence on this issue and one example, which is typical, comes from my constituency. It is of a disabled old-age pensioner who lives in the house which he owns and who lets a part of it. I have been told:The upper flat (4 rooms, w.c., and share bathroom) is let to tenants, who have occupied it for about 20 years at a rent of 27s. 9d. a week. The economic rent for this flat would be considerably more, but the tenants refuse to pay a higher rent, or to leave the premises.Nevertheless, I understand that one of the tenants is in highly-paid employment earning three or four times as much as the landlord, that his wife is also working and that the couple take holidays abroad. My constituent writes to say that he could not possibly afford a holiday even in this country. This is an example of what is going on, and it shows that not always is it the tenants who are exploited. I hope that in due course this aspect will come before the Minister and that he will do something about implementing the Bill in relation to landlords who suffer because they hold controlled tenancies and because they have been receiving very meagre rents for a long time.
I am glad that the Milner Holland Report showed that there were relatively few Rachmans and that it drew the conclusion which I have always had, that the real villain is often the small man or woman living in just the one property, like the landlord I mentioned, but who in that case happened to be a good one.
Even if housing conditions are reasonably good and there is no exploitation, multi-occupation of premises causes tremendous strains and they will remain, despite the Bill. Bitter enmities develop as between the occupiers of one flat and rooms next door, or on another floor. I have been staggered when visiting such places to find the hatred and animosity which is generated as a result of people living in these circumstances. They will stoop to any mean and petty little trick they can think of to try to secure an advantage, and they make wild and irresponsible allegations against the morals 107 and honesty of other tenants. On the other hand, if one interviews them individually, outside, they are quite normal people. Something seems to get into them when they are thrown cheek by jowl, against their wishes, with other tenants. Such a situation in houses which are in multi-occupation is very difficult to deal with by legislation. Legislation will cut out the Rachmans, but I am afraid that the other problem will largely remain, despite the Bill.
The Bill is an attempt at rent control. My hon. Friends and I appreciate part of its necessity, but I quarrel with the Minister about the appointment of rent officers. There will be a flood-tide of applications once the Bill begins to work. Personally, I think that the rent officer will be irrelevant. I should have liked to see the right hon. Gentleman introduce a system whereby rent assessment committees were on a much bigger scale and had full court powers to turn them into major tribunals, with all these cases referred direct to them, cutting out the rent officer. With the rent officer, only a small minority of cases will be agreed, and almost automatically many wild go to appeal.
I would also like to see the rent assessment committees empowered to deal with the rent of controlled tenancies and to fix a fair rent at an early stage. The present rather vague promise of action is not good enough. Who can fix a fair rent? One hon. Member has suggested that it will need the wisdom of Solomon to decide exactly what is a fair one, and how to take into account the state of the premises, the area, the type of dwelling being occupied and so on. Quite genuinely unbiassed people, with a vast experience of the subject, could reach entirely different conclusions if they were put in separate rooms to consider the matter. One might suggest a rent of £2 a week and with the other it might be as high as £6 a week. One has only to look at the Inland Revenue figures for revaluing property under the rating system to see the great disparity which occurs. I know from personal experience that houses next to each other often have different valuations.
This is something of a muddled Bill which seeks to do good—and I give the right hon. Gentleman credit for that. 108 But I do not think that it will achieve it, because it weights the balance a little too much on the side of the tenant. Although the landlord may not be electorally important to the Government of the day, he still has to play a part in trying to solve London's housing problem. I hope that the Minister will look again at the Milner Holland Report in full and will put into operation further points which are made in the Report, other than those which he has picked out and which are convenient politically to his own case. If he did that, there might be a combined effort and much more good would be generated on all sides. This would go a long way towards solving this very human problem.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
I hope that the hon. Member for Brent-ford and Chiswick (Mr. Dudley Smith) will forgive me if I do not follow his argument, because he dealt almost exclusively with the position in London, whereas I want to deal more generally with the Bill as it applies to Scotland.
There is a remarkable difference in attitudes on the two sides of the House. The difference is illustrated by the contributions from the two Front Benches. The debate tends to be between lawyers on the one side and laymen on the other side—and I do not think that we shall come out badly at the end of it. The debate was opened for the Opposition by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) and it will be concluded for them by the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg).
We have had a contribution from the hon. and learned Member for The City of Chester (Mr. Temple), and I dare say that if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, we shall have a contribution from the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry), who is another lawyer. There is a queue of lawyers waiting on the other side of the House to make their contributions.
§ Mr. Manuel
The hon. Member will be even longer in getting in the debate if I give way. He should remain in the queue.
§ Mr. Allason
On a point of order. Am I not entitled to defend my hon. Friend the Member for The City of Chester (Mr. Temple) from the charge of being learned?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member rose to a point of order. Will he be so good as to indicate what it is?
§ Mr. Allason
I was asking whether I was not entitled to defend my hon. Friend the Member for The City of Chester from the accusation of being learned, which he is not.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think that the House should think seriously about this. It is the second time today that an hon. Member has claimed the right to speak on the basis of raising a point of order which has turned out not to be a point of order. I think that it is becoming a general nuisance. If so, it would be my duty as the servant of the House to start vigorously putting a stop to it. I do not suggest that this is the most flagrant instance, but I give warning that if necessary I shall take disciplinary steps to see that we all put a stop to it.
§ Mr. Manuel
The Bill applies to Scotland, and, of course, Scotland is part of Great Britain. We do not usually have much chance to illustrate our point of view in Scotland, but because it applies to Great Britain certain Scots will need to be very active in Committee to protect the position of Scotland and to see that the Bill is adapted to meet the anomalies and hardships which we know exist in Scotland.
Clauses 10, 12, 17, 18, 40 and 41 do not extend to Scotland and Clauses 19 and 37 extend to Scotland only. This makes it difficult for Scottish Members to grapple with this or any other United Kingdom Bill. Clause 37 refers to the 1837 Act relating to court proceedings in Scotland. This is going a long way back, and it shows the need for consolidating legislation to streamline the whole position, which is getting quite unmanageable for the ordinary hon. Member.
However, I recognise the difficulties which confronted my right hon. Friends. 110 They wanted to deal with the position arising from the anomalies of the 1957 Act. I therefore warmly welcome the Bill and the way in which it was introduced today by my right hon. Friend, and I shall do all that I can to support it.
The Rent Act, 1957, altered the limits of rent control from rateable values of £100 in London, £90 in Scotland and £70 elsewhere to £40 in London, £30 in Scotland and £40 elsewhere. The Bill alters these figures to give much wider cover to £400 in London and £200 elsewhere. This will apply to all rented properties up to these figures and will give security of tenure, accompanied by rent regulation.
Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland indicate how service tenancies will be dealt with in Scotland? I refer, in the main, to railwaymen in tied houses and to local authority employees such as school janitors who, when they reach the age of 65, have to vacate their houses—and not all local authorities have regard to this position, not all local authorities allocate municipal houses to them, and willy nilly they have to get out. I hope that in Committee something can be done to enable a local authority employee to indicate three years before he reaches 65 that he needs a house on retirement so that his employers can put him on a list and automatically re-house him when he retires.
The Bill prohibits eviction from premises of any value without a court order. This is already the position in Scotland, so we are not gaining anything of any value. This position has obtained in Scotland for many years, but too much stress should not be laid on this provision, because many times I have had the doubtful pleasure of listening to constituents who have come to me because they were concerned at receiving a lawyer's letter threatening eviction. This is one of the things which lawyers do in Scotland.
The threat of eviction is terrible to the working class family. One thing such families fear above all others is having to go into a court. It puts the fear of death into them. The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone is used to courts, and to wrestling with such problems. Ordinary, decent families who want to remain in their homes 111 and who have never been in a court in their lives are terribly frightened.
§ Mr. Manuel
I appreciate that, but I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will appreciate my point about the ordinary working-class man being taken to court because the landlord wants to evict him. I want to see some protection, because there has not been much protection in Scotland. In hundreds of cases, the fact that eviction proceedings have been threatened has had the desired effect and the tenants have left. I want to see a curb on the activities of lawyers and on the activities of landlords when they apply for an eviction order and take a person to court on no real grounds.
I agree that there is a case if there is misbehaviour on behalf of the tenant and the house is being damaged. If there are no real grounds and if it is merely desired to get a tenant out without valid reason, there should be some prohibition and some legal safeguard. Some fine should be imposed on landlords using eviction proceedings in this way.
Full security of tenure requires rent regulation. Paragraph 19 of the White Paper gives an indication of what would he a fair rent:The definition of a fair rent where the normal process of free negotiations is inhibited by scarcity is obviously a difficult matter. The Government considered relating rents to the new gross values for rating, but rejected this because the gross values do not give an accurate indication of the rent appropriate for particular tenancies and cannot be kept up-to-date. It would not be satisfactory simply to relate permitted rents to the general level of rents passing in the area since this would perpetuate high rents which have been inflated by scarcity. Accordingly the Government have decided to rely on a formula designed to enable a fair rent to be settled without regard to the effect of scarcity on existing rent levels. The Bill provides that in determining a fair rent account is to be taken of all the circumstances, including in particular the age, character and locality of the house, and its state of repair. Consideration of scarcity is to be eliminated by assuming, in the fixing of the rent, that the number of people seeking similar accommodation in the area is not substantially greater than the amount of such accommodation which is available for letting.112 Paragraph 19 is an agreed formula for the country as a whole and for each rent officer. Is an assessment committee to define rents for the area for which it is responsible in accordance with a formula applied to the whole country, or, as is more likely, will the assessment committee, if it has to go to that length, define the rent for its registration area? This point should be made clear.
Part II of the Bill deals with the appointment of rent officers. In Scotland, local rent officers will be employed directly by the Secretary of State. How many rent officers does my right hon. Friend expect will be employed in Scotland? I know that this can be gauged fairly accurately in London, or in other heavily populated regions. However, the huge size of some Scottish counties, even Ayr County, must be borne in mind. We know that the whole arrangement of rent officers and assessment committees is to be based on large burghs, on the one hand, and counties, including small burghs, on the other.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will recognise that a mere population basis would not be a fair way to deal with this. In some counties people would have to travel very long distances to the rent officer at county headquarters. This would apply with particular hardship in Highland counties.
It is envisaged that the tenant and landlord can agree between themselves on a fair rent. Where there is disagreement, the rent officer will bring the parties together and help them to settle a proper rent. The rent officer will hold a key position. There is to be consultation with the local authority on his appointment, but the local authority will have no power of appointment. We know that there are some key persons whom the local authority appoints, but over whom it has no control—for example, registrars and valuation officers.
I agree that local authorities should have nothing to do with the duties of such persons. They merely have the opportunity of assessing the ability and character of an applicant for such a post and appointing him. The Secretary of State and St. Andrew's House are doing this, and I am wondering whether the proper machinery is available to get the right persons into these situations. 113 It would solve many problems at the rent officer level if we got the right persons into these key positions.
I would have preferred the local authority—either the large burgh or the county council acting for the small burghs in its area—to make the appointment but to have nothing to do with the day-to-day running of affairs, the ultimate responsibility to rest with the Secretary of State. There may be good reasons why this appointment should not be made by the local authorities and why it should be in the hands directly of the Secretary of State. If so, I shall listen with interest to the explanation.
It is laid down in page 6 of the White Paper:Where the parties are unable to accept the view taken by the rent officer the issue between them will be referred to the rent assessment committee for the area.This is also referred to in Schedule 2, paragraph 11, which states the position in Scotland. I hope that the sort of case that I have put to my right hon. Friend concerning rent officers will have some bearing on the activities of the rent assessment committees in various areas. I hope that the rent officers and the rent assessment committees will not merely sit in an office. We know that serving on a rent assessment committee will be a lawyer, a valuer and some other person. I hope they will get out into the district, look at the houses, consider their conditions and see whether the repairs are being carried out, and then allocate a fair rent on the basis of actual inspection. Therefore, the area of an assessment committee should not be too large to prevent a proper inspection of the various properties.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Does not the hon. Gentleman think that there is something to be said for the principle which the Minister touched on, of having rent assessment committees covering a larger area than the rent officer in order that they can deal with appeals from a variety of different districts and so evolve a uniform system over the area?
§ Mr. Manuel
I hope that this will be done, but I am not sure that the paragraph which I quoted would lead one to assume that. When it refers to the "locality" I do not think it means the sort of wide-ranging area that the hon. 114 Gentleman is talking about. However, perhaps we shall hear more about this matter from my right hon. Friend later.
After the rents are settled, registration will take place. This is laid down in Clause 19. As I said, in Scotland these areas will be based, first, on the large burghs and, secondly, on the counties including any small burghs in each of them. This is a great step forward.
I was delighted when I heard my right hon. Friend say that while the Milner Holland Committee had spotlighted the hardships and anomalies that existed in London, he also recognised that in other areas there are anomalies and extreme hardship. I am delighted that the provisions of the Bill are extended to the whole country. I do not know any local authority area where the position is not urgent. In every local authority area of which I am aware there is a waiting list of persons who are jammed into subtenancies, many of them overcrowded. There are unfit house tenancies, and people are having rent extracted for living in places which should be declared unfit for human habitation, as, indeed, many of them have been.
Per 1,000 head of the population, there are more anomalies and extreme hardship in Glasgow than in London. Some of the dreadful areas need to be seen to be believed, where living conditions are such that it is difficult for parents to bring up their children healthily and able to benefit from school. My right hon. Friend has appreciated this fact; he is applying the Bill to the whole of the country and we thank him very much.
Furnished lettings are covered by the Bill and I am pleased about this. Not long ago many of these cases came before the rent tribunals. In seaside towns people were able to get sub-let accommodation in the winter time and then they were pushed out in the spring just before the summer lettings. I do not know whether this has happened in Aberdeen, but it has happened in other places and it is an appalling situation for young married couples to be in. The rent tribunals have the power to give three-monthly periods of stay of execution. They can do that twice. I am glad that the Bill provides that these periods are to be extended up to six months, but I should like my right hon. Friend to say 115 whether he is certain that we have enough rent tribunals in the country.
I agree that the Bill is not a solution to the housing shortage. A housing Bill as such is urgently needed to consolidate all our housing Measures and clear up the hotch-potch of housing legislation which makes the work of Members of Parliament so difficult when trying to grapple with a Bill like this. I wish the Bill every success through its further stages. May it become an Act that will bring great benefit to all those whom it was designed to help.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Forbes Hendry (Aberdeenshire, West)
At the beginning of his speech the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel), while describing his dislike of lawyers, said something which struck a chord of sympathy in me. He finished his speech on the same note, that is, the urgent necessity of consolidating the Rent Acts.
§ Mr. Hendry
The Housing Acts to a certain extent have been consolidated, but since 1920 we have had a mass of legislation on rents and it is difficult for a lawyer to discover the meaning of this Bill. A great deal of research is necessary and even at the end a lawyer sometimes is not sure what it means. I hope that the hon. Member will forgive me if I do not pursue many of the points which he raised. He quite properly said that there is a distinct Scottish point of view on the Bill. I should like to refer to distinct Scottish points which are somewhat different from those made by the hon. Member.
I have to declare an interest, partly as a director of a company which owns rented property and also as the tenant of a rented house in Scotland, of which I would not have become the tenant if it had not been for the 1957 Act which decontrolled that house and made the landlord willing to let it to me. I know that there are many houses in Scotland now empty which might have been rented if the landlords could have had the expectation of getting the house back if the necessity should arise at a later date.
I give a qualified welcome to the Bill. It is in some ways like the curate's egg. 116 It sets out to rectify some evil things but fails to do certain other very necessary things. In some ways its effects will be distinctly bad. At the same time, I welcome the White Paper as a thoughtful document, for the most part. As has been pointed out already, it is biased in parts, but basically it is an earnest study of a very difficult problem. I am particularly interested in paragraph 7 where there is an interesting description of the nature of the housing shortage in different parts of the country and a very honest statement that in certain parts there is no shortage at all and that even in the great conurbations the shortage is not nearly so great as people thought it was. In Glasgow, for instance, the percentage of houses to households is as high as 98.3, which is very much better than I expected, but even 98.3 is very bad, and as long as there is a surplus of households over houses, we have a problem. But it is a patchy problem and does not necessarily admit of a comprehensive solution.
Wherever there is scarcity there are difficulties and it is necessary to take steps to deal with them, but if we try to find some sort of universal solution we shall have even greater difficulties. The difficulties in the past have been the number of sales of houses of an undesirable kind. Every Scottish Member will know the type of tenement house which has been sold and should never have been sold and which cannot be properly administered if it is sold. There has been in the past a far too inflexible control of rents.
Another thing which has happened in the past as a result of the Rent Acts is the dilapidation which the inflexible nature of the Acts has brought about in Scotland. A great many houses which otherwise would have been good have become slums in the course of years because of the particular application of the Rents Acts in Scotland. I am disappointed that the Bill does nothing to remedy that state of affairs. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will give a great deal of thought to this and sympathetic consideration to representations which I hope will be made in Committee to rectify these difficulties in Scotland.
I believe that in Scotland, as a rule, relations between landlords and tenants have not been very bad, but where they 117 have been bad this has been due to the complete illogicality of the level of rents, often in the same tenement house. I hope that the Secretary of State will reverse what is said in paragraph 23 of the White Paper:… the first call on the new machinery must be to settle fair rents for tenancies not at present under control, and the intention is to, bring controlled rents under review at different times in different areas as the machinery becomes free to handle the additional work.It is a matter of judgment whether the first priority is to regulate uncontrolled rents or to bring the new machinery to apply to tenancies now controlled under existing Acts.
In Scotland this is a serious matter. A large number of statistics on the position in Scotland are available. I do not know whether they have been published, but they were made available to me in February by the Secretary of State's own Development Department. Under the auspices of the Scottish Development Department, the National Federation of Property Owners conducted a widespread survey of let accommodation in Scotland, covering 83,606 houses. The Department tabulated the results very fully and it is extremely interesting to find what the proportions of controlled and uncontrolled houses are in Scotland.
Over the whole of Scotland covered by the survey we find that the extraordinary proportion of 67.8 per cent. of let houses privately owned are still controlled and that the number of decontrolled privately-owned let houses is 33.2 per cent. Therefore, the number of houses in Scotland still controlled by the 1920 Act and its successors are a material part of the whole. I suggest to the Secretary of State that, whatever the position may be in England, generally in Scotland the conditions are exactly the reverse and that greater priority therefore should be given to dealing with houses at present under control than to houses at present decontrolled.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Has the hon. Member borne in mind that if the number of houses already decontrolled in Scotland is only one-third of the total, it will not take as long for the new machinery of legislation to deal with them and therefore the machinery can come to be applied to controlled houses in Scotland much more quickly than in England and Wales?
§ Mr. Hendry
That is perfectly true, and when I develop my argument the hon. Member will see that I make that point the other way round.
I will not worry the House by quoting a great number of rents throughout Scotland, but the average rent of a controlled house under the 1920 Act is as low as £15 15s. 5d.—a remarkable figure. The average decontrolled rent of privately-owned houses, formerly controlled under the 1920 Act, is only £31 2s. 3d. There does not seem to be in Scotland, therefore, any serious Rachmanism or harrying of tenants or the charging of exorbitant rents. There may be some cases. If there are, they can be dealt with urgently, but it seems to me a ridiculous situation when the average rent of a house still controlled under the 1920 Act is as low as £15 15s. 5d.
§ Mr. Manuel
Would the hon. Member not agree that to get an accurate comparison between what is being paid by the tenant in England and Wales as against Scotland, one has to consider the rates paid? This alters the picture completely.
§ Mr. Hendry
That is as may be. If the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire would allow me to develop my argument, he will find that I am now going on to quote the gross annual value of these houses, controlled and decontrolled. The average gross annual value of the controlled houses, according to the right hon. Gentleman's own figures, is £27 16s. 7d. For those with decontrolled rents, the gross annual value is £25 7s. 5d. There is not a great deal of difference. We get the interesting fact from that that the relationship of average rent to average gross annual value for controlled rents is £56 6s. 7d., and for decontrolled rents it is £122 7s. 0d. That is not very far out. It appears that the position of decontrolled houses in Scotland is not a serious one at all.
I hope that I may be forgiven if I give some examples of privately-owned rented houses in Scotland. I do not want to weary the House, so I shall confine myself to two cases at random which were given to me by the Scottish Property Owners' Association. One is a series of houses, each of which is a tenement with four rooms, a scullery and a bathroom, at 262, Perth Road, Dundee, which is 119 not in my constituency but is near enough. The rent of these houses in 1914, not before the last war but before the first war, was £20 12s. 1d. per annum, and the rent in 1964 was £28 15s. 3d. The next case I have is even worse than that. This is property built between the wars, again in Dundee, which comprises houses containing three rooms, a scullery and a bathroom, a modern tenement property built in 1936. The rent of these houses in 1936 was £24 16s. 3d., and the rent in 1964 was £25 17s. 6d.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)
It is fairly obvious from the figures which the hon. Member gives that none of these houses has qualified for the increases which were available to the landlords under the Housing (Repairs and Rents) (Scotland) Act, 1954, if they had shown that they had spent a certain proportion on repairs and maintenance. It is obvious that they have not been able to prove that fact.
§ Mr. Hendry
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is mistaken. He may not be, but at any rate, in his own Report, of which I have here a draft, shows—
§ Mr. Ross
The hon. Member has no right to say that I am mistaken in saying that the actual proportion of increases which were allowed under the Repairs and Rents Act was 40 per cent. of the 1956 rent. With the Rent Act, that was raised to 50 per cent., so that if the landlords had proved that they had spent money on repairs, they could have got considerably higher rents.
§ Mr. Hendry
That is as may be, but how on earth is anybody to spend any money on repairs at a rent of £25 a year for a three-bedroomed house, a rent which is practically the same as it was in 1914, when the cost of a joiner per hour was 1s. 0½d., and this year it is 11s. 8d.? It cannot be done. I have here certain comparative figures between similar houses in Scotland and England and Wales, under the 1920 Act.
§ Mr. Heffer
I should like to ask the hon. Member where he gets the rate for a joiner of 11s. 8d. an hour?
§ Mr. Hendry
I have this from actual joiners' bills. If I employ a joiner this is what he charges per hour for the services of a man.
§ Mr. Heffer
That is what the firm charges the hon. Member, but that is not the actual rate for the joiner. I can tell him this, because I am the only joiner in the House and I know the rates of pay of the people in my industry.
§ Mr. Hendry
The rate of pay of a journeyman joiner has nothing to do with this. What we have to take into account is the rate per hour which is charged by the master joiner. I am informed that the rate being charged is 11s. 8d. per hour.
I have figures showing the position of a house which was rented for £20 in 1914 in England and Scotland respectively.
§ Mr. Hendry
The same house—rented at £20 in 1914. Because of the peculiar rating system at that time, the rent diminished to approximately £15 between 1914 and 1915. In 1920, the landlord was entitled, under the 1920 Act, to raise the rent by 40 per cent. From 1920 to 1956, because of the general increase in owners' rates which had to be paid by the landlord out of the rent the effective rent fell, until, in 1956, it was £15 12s. 3d. Again the landlord was entitled to make an increase and the house which, in 1914, was rented at £20 in Scotland, is now rented at just over £20. The position in England was completely different. A house there rented at £20 was still worth £20 in 1920. They were allowed to increase the rent by 40 per cent. and the rent continued at that level of about £27 or £28 until 1957, when the rents were made comparable to the gross annual value. The rent of that house in 1957 was as high as £67 or £78 if the landlord undertook internal redecoration.
The house in Scotland which, in 1957, was rented at £15 12s. 3d., gained a rent of £67 as a controlled rent in England and Wales. There is a serious disparity between England and Wales and Scotland as a result of the legislation which took place in 1957. The reason is perfectly obvious. It is that, in 1957, the Government at that time were expecting a revaluation in the following year or a year or two afterwards. It was considered inadvisable in Scotland to relate rents to gross annual value because a revaluation was in progress, and, as a temporary 121 measure, the 40 per cent. increase was made.
§ Mr. Ross
The hon. Member is hopelessly muddled in all his statistics. The 40 per cent. was related first of all to procedures for proving that a certain amount had been spent over the previous year or the previous five years. This was raised later to 50 per cent. Under the Rent Act, a controversial increase of 25 per cent. was given without anything at all being spent on repairs. Many of us took a dim view of that. The hon. Gentleman should also take account of the fact that there is, in all Scottish rents, a huge bonus as the result of the statutory reduction which had to be made in the amount of owners' rates which had been paid, and, as his own Government said, had to be deducted from the rent in order to retain an element of fairness.
§ Mr. Hendry
I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will try to catch your eye at a later stage, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Perhaps he will allow me to make my own speech.
As the right hon. Gentleman well knows, in 1956 there was a flat increase of 25 per cent. on the controlled rent. If the right hon. Gentleman is pleased that a rent which was £20 in 1914 should have reached a level of £15 12s. 3d. in1956, and has now reached the magnificent figure of £22 19s. 9d., and he thinks that that is a fair comparison with the figure of £67 which is commanded by a corresponding house in England and Wales, I can only say that I am not pleased about it.
So we have the position that 60 per cent. of the rented houses in Scotland are still controlled under the 1920 Act and let at rents which are very little indeed above the 1914 level. It is absolutely impossible for the houses to be maintained on that basis. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will cast aside any political prejudice that he has about this, realise the difficulty and appreciate that the great majority of rented houses in the cities of Scotland will rapidly become slums unless something is done about them.
The Bill provides for dealing with this problem. It provides that the Secretary of State may do away with rent control under the 1920 Act and substitute rent 122 control under this Bill. It gives absolute discretion to the Minister. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will realise that there is this problem and that he will exercise the discretion, and do so quickly. I hope that he will also understand that in Scotland there is a special need, that we have an individual point of view, and that he will build into the Bill before it becomes an Act something to indicate the urgent necessity to deal with this particular Scottish problem so that we in Scotland shall be able to get rid of the bogy which has upset us and all our rented houses for very many years.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to turn his thoughts to the question of short lets. This matter was also raised by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire. The White Paper has made it clear that, although there may be a scarcity of houses in the cities, very often in the country there is no scarcity. It may well be that a good house will remain empty for months or a year or two because the landlord is not prepared to let it.
§ Mr. Hendry
No, he does not want to sell it. I am the tenant of a rented house. I should never have got it had it not been that the landlord thought that he would be able to get repossession of the house. In the country there are many cases where the landlord is willing to give a temporary let of a house. In the country districts there is something to be said for a fixed period let. It may be a matter of months or years. There are endless cases where a tenant is willing to take a house for a fixed period. We are not taking about people who are desperate and will take any house at any rent. We are talking about those who willingly enter into a contract with the landlord and take a house at a rent for a fixed period in the full knowledge of what they are doing.
It may well be that in my constituency there is a superfluity of houses, and it may well be that the landlord can sometimes offer alternative accommodation, but that is very cold comfort to the tenant unless he knows that he has got the house for a fixed time. As in the case of the person who takes a house for a month for his holidays, there may be a case where a Service man is willing to 123 take a house for two or three years or for six months and at the end of the time say, "I am giving it up. We made a bargain. I am perfectly happy to leave the house." I suggest that there is a case not only in Scotland but in England for making provision for a short period let. It would serve a very useful purpose throughout the country.
I tell the right hon. Gentleman with the greatest of assurance that property owners in Scotland are not rogues. They are very decent people. Many tenement premises in Scotland are owned by trusts, widows and so on who are trying to keep their property up as best they can, but at the moment, as for many years, they are not having a fair deal. I ask the Secretary of State to give them a fair deal. If he does, the property owners of Scotland will prove not unco-operative with him but will be willing to give a certain amount of security of tenure and accept a reasonable amount of rent control. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to appreciate, without any political bias, what the difficulties are and to give effect to the points which I have dealt with.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) will understand if I do not follow him. He has been dealing with the position in Scotland, and I want to return to the position in the London area and in England as distinct from Scotland.
This is a very brave Bill. It attempts to provide what should be the right of every tenant in a civilised community, which is security of tenure and a reasonable rent. Hon. Members who have spoken have indicated that it requires courage to cut through the great complexity of our rent legislation in order to tackle the problem.
All who have spoken today have in the past drawn attention to the great difficulties, injustices and hardships which have resulted from the operation of the Rent Act, 1957. I am delighted that so soon after the opening of this present Parliament the Minister of Housing and Local Government has introduced this Bill, in fulfilment of election pledges. I and, I think, every hon. Member who is honest with himself 124 recognise that the Rent Act and the results of it have affected public opinion probably more than any other legislation of recent years.
Many who formerly supported the Conservative Government, and who believed that the 1957 Act would enable householders with vacant rooms to let them more freely than they had been doing, became disillusioned very quickly after 1957 and have either stopped supporting the Conservative Party, or have come over to support the Labour Party for the one reason alone that they find it intolerable that families should be turned out of their homes because of the operation of the decontrol provisions of the Rent Act.
Although all of us speaking today have had some comments and criticisms to make about the Bill, that does not detract in any way from the Bill's value. Rather, it emphasises its value. It is because we want to get this provision right now that we are making practical suggestions for improvements in the Bill which may he made during the Committee stage.
Because the 1957 Act weighed heavily on the side of the landlord, if we are to get the provisions of the Bill right we must weigh on the side of the tenant in order to get the balance even. This is my first point of difficulty with the Bill. I am disappointed that it does not provide some way immediately of reducing the excessive rents of decontrolled tenants. I know that this is an extremely difficult matter, but I should have liked to see something in the Bill to ensure that.
I am not very happy, as other hon. Members have not been happy, about the arrangement for rent officers. In his Second Reading speech, the Minister envisaged rent officers being drawn from a wide variety of professions, from trade unions, local government, and so on.
This mere suggestion sets up an alarming picture of rent officers with very different standards in mind as to rents they would regard as fair and reasonable. There could be tremendous divergences between one officer's views and those of another and between one locality and another. I hope that in Committee the Minister will look again at this and consider whether he is satisfied that the suggestion is really a good one.
125 Some of us have experience of rent rebate schemes applied by local authorities and we know the extreme difficulty there is between one tenant and another if one discovers that the other, in similar property, is paying less rent than he is, however good the reason—and genuine hardship may be involved.
These possible anomalies will create difficulties and they will not be completely ironed out by the provision for rent assessment committees. I would like to see a formula for fixing rents which would give guidance to the rent officers, if they are to remain, or to rent tribunals or to whoever is to carry out these functions. Without such a formula, I think that we shall be in enormous difficulty and that we shall not bring rents down appreciably—and I do not believe that the Bill will succeed unless it can do that, particularly in the London area and the other conurbations.
We already have a very large number of officers and to add rent officers to their number will provide a difficulty. But if my right hon. Friend feels that he must have these officers, I would support the suggestion made by the Association of Municipal Corporations, with considerable sound sense behind it, that at any rate such officers should be appointed by the district councils and not by the county councils, because they must be close to the areas where they have to fix the rents and be responsible to the smaller rather than the larger authority.
I am not very happy about Clause 14 which, I understand, uses the Protection from Eviction Act to cover cases until this Bill becomes operative. I believe that this was the point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine), in his intervention during my right hon. Friend's speech. To have made the powers of the Bill retrospective to the date of publication would have been a happier way of dealing with that and would have covered the cases which might arise in the interim more effectively. It is not very satisfactory for people in this position to have to keep going to the court for four or five weeks' extension of tenancy, as it would seem they will have to do in these circumstances under the provisions of the Bill as drafted.
Again, I would have preferred, in view of the difficulty of fixing rents, the present 126 valuation panels to be considered for this purpose rather than special rent assessment committees. I think that there is merit in using existing machinery wherever possible. I hope that my right hon. Friend will look at this again and that he is not wedded to the proposed structure. I appreciate that he is trying to be flexible and to meet a genuine need, but there is considerable ground for using machinery which is available now for fixing rates and could easily be adapted, without a great deal more work, for fixing rents.
The provision relating to local authorities causes some difficulties. All of us feel that it is wrong for local authorities to be able to evict tenants just as it is for private landlords to be able to evict them. Yet one should be very wary before interfering with the traditional arrangements by which local authorities can give notice to quit to tenants who have proved unsatisfactory for various reasons without having to go through the county court procedure.
This is a debatable point and because it is I hope that it will be fully discussed in Committee before we come down in support of the suggestion in the Bill. Local authorities find considerable difficulty with certain tenants and it will be time wasting and delaying for them to have to go through this procedure. One can see the reason for it. Nevertheless, perhaps we are going too far in the opposite direction.
I am also worried about the power that the Minister has to derestrict certain tenancies in certain areas. I can see the reason for it now and that my right hon. Friend may want to do it in particular cases. But what worries me is that this provision will be in the Bill, and while the present Minister may have good intentions it may be that a succeeding Housing Minister will use the power to undo the value of the Measure. It is not just my right hon. Friend who will have this power. It would be possible for a future Minister who wanted to overthrow the purport of the Bill to use the power in a drastic way and derestrict tenancies wholesale all over the country. I am sure that is not my right hon. Friend's intention, but once the provision is in the Bill it will be difficult to provide a safeguard against its wholesale use.
127 I am glad of the provision relating to harassment. When we were discussing the Rent Act, in 1957, I sought to introduce a provision concerning harassment, particularly with regard to premises bought with part vacant possession where the landlord goes into occupation and has every opportunity for harassing the tenant in a variety of ways. I am glad, therefore, that my right hon. Friend is introducing such a provision into the Bill.
I wonder, however, whether he is going far enough. Only last weekend I heard two cases at my advice bureau. The first was that of a spinster who is out at work all day. When she goes home at night she finds that her landlord's family have, to use her own words, "put messes" outside her door which she has to clear up before she can get into her part of the house. The landlord's children get into her toilet and foul it. That is the sort of situation she has to cope with.
The second case was that of a lady and gentleman, one of them 68 and the other 66, who are under such intimidation from their landlord, who lives on the premises, that the husband was too upset even to wait to see me and his wife was in tears all the time that she was at my rooms. Her son and daughter were with her. When we were discussing possible help, and the fact that even if the local authority could help, they might have to wait a few months, both the son and the daughter said that their parents could not survive even a few months more in those conditions and that their nerve had been completely broken.
If the provisions of the Bill are put into operation and the landlord is convicted and fined or sent to prison, what will the position of the tenants be after he has paid the fine, or returns from prison? It will be worse than ever. I do not believe that a landlord who can carry out these harassing tactics against his tenants will be put off by a steep fine, or even a prison sentence. He will want his vengeance when he comes back.
I should like there to be a provision for local authorities to requisition such property if the landlord is convicted of this harassment. Something of the kind would protect tenants from the further harassment which will inevitably take place unless we provide in this way. Only today I was told of a case when a 128 landlord was fined last week for annoying a tenant, but the annoyance has gone on although he has paid the fine. We cannot hope that even a more drastic sentence will be effective unless in the last resort there is power for the tenancy to be taken from a landlord who behaves in this diabolical way.
The Bill meets an important need and has been welcomed so far by everybody. I am delighted that hon. Members opposite recognise that it is a Bill which should be supported and that they are to support it. As the Minister said, it is a tenants' charter which is long overdue. We sometimes fail to realise how long the effects of legislation continue after we have discussed and debated Bills and they have become Acts of Parliament. It is already getting on for 10 years since the Rent Act, 10 years in which tenants have had to suffer all the evils which the Milner Holland Committee made clear and which we all know in our constituencies. Therefore, we must make the Bill effective and valid and the kind of Bill which will protect tenants and good landlords for at least 10 years ahead, and we need all the support from hon. Members that we can get in doing so.
Can we be given any idea of how long the Bill will be in going through the House? Could we have some idea of the timetable? I ask merely because so many tenants are anxious and want to know when these provisions will become effective. Such information will be welcome not only outside the House, but by those hon. Members who will serve on the Standing Committee.
I applaud the Minister for his courage because I appreciate all his difficulties. I appreciate, too, his readiness to listen to suggestions which will make the Bill even better when it returns to us for its Third Reading.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
We on this bench also welcome the Bill, although I very much sympathise with the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel), for I, too, found it an extremely difficult Bill to read. To study it properly one would have to have 20 or 30 Acts to refer to as one ploughed through it.
129 The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire referred to an Act of 1837 which, in some way, is amended by the part which deals with Scotland. It must be emphasised to the Government that while we accept the Bill as necessary in implementation of their pledge to introduce this legislation as quickly as possible after coming to office, this is not the end of the story and that we shall expect a consolidation Bill to be brought before the House as quickly as possible.
The Minister admitted that the Bill had its defects and I saw the Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), nod when the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire was making his criticism. I hope that we can be given some indication of when the consolidation Bill will be introduced. It cannot be taken this Session, because the programme is so full, but it would be most useful if we could have some undertaking that it will be brought forward as soon as possible.
I particularly welcome Part III of the Bill, which gives protection against harassment and intimidation. I agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Joyce Butler) that there is a case for strengthening it in the way she described, that is, to enable a local authority to take over a property if a landlord is found behaving in this way.
If a landlord has been guilty of these practices, he is obviously not fit to own and let a house to tenants, and I do not see why not only the present tenant but any future tenant should not be protected for ever by making certain that such a man is not a landlord. I shall consider supporting any Amendment on these lines which the hon. Lady may suggest in Committee. Part III as it stands will put a stop to most of the worst abuses dealt with in the Milner Holland Report and of which this small but important minority of landlords is guilty.
There is only one question which I have about Clause 25 and that is about the reference toacts calculated to interfere with the peace or comfort of the residential occupier.Does that include notices to quit? As another hon. Member remarked earlier, tenants are caused severe anxiety when they receive notices to quit, even when 130 they are protected and even when they have controlled tenancies. I can assure the Government that this is so. Constituents have come to my advice bureau in the greatest anxiety and, even after I have reassured them that, as they have controlled tenancies, this is purely a tryon by the landlord, or his solicitor on his behalf, they still have a feeling of great anxiety. I would call that harassment and I should like to have it confirmed that it will come within the scope of those words.
We must not ignore a new and important consequence of the Bill, which is that it makes it much more likely that landlords of controlled premises will sell as soon as they can get vacant possession rather than continue to let under the new regulated tenancies, as they would have to do if a tenant left a controlled tenancy. The White Paper says, in paragraph 12:It is probably true—as the authors of the Rent Act assumed—that when rents are controlled landlords are likely to prefer selling to re-letting.That is probably also true of regulated tenancies.
The pool of privately rented accommodation has been shrinking at about 4 per cent. per annum since 1960, and is now down to about 3¾ million and it will tend to evaporate in future faster than in the past. I am not saying that that is a bad thing, but it is one of the consequences of the Bill.
The other day, I was lunching in a restaurant not far from here when I said that it seemed quite possible that within 25 years the private landlord would have disappeared, except for high income property. The man at the next table overheard the remark and said, "You and your friends are trying to eliminate the private landlord altogether". I said that I was not trying to do that, but merely saying that it was a fact of life that the private landlord was disappearing. The number of privately rented houses has decreased in the last few years and only since 1957 has fallen from 5½ million to 3¾ million. It is going down all the time and the decline will be accelerated by the Bill.
The only way in which the Government can arrest this tendency is to look at the suggestions made by the Milner Holland Committee on the taxation of private landlords. I utterly agree with what the 131 Minister said in the debate on the Milner Holland report, that we do not want to subsidise private landlords. But that was not the Committee's suggestion. The Committee said that tax concessions—for example, on depreciation—should be given to private landlords as a matter of equity. I do not think that we can expect much to be done in this respect tomorrow. I am not optimistic on this, because while the Minister gave an understanding about housing associations—and I welcome that—he neglected to mention the private landlords.
The Government must recognise that if they do not do anything about the tax position of private landlords, local authorities, particularly in Greater London, must undertake even larger housing programmes than would otherwise be necessary. Perhaps local authorities should be encouraged to anticipate what will happen by purchasing properties, which are privately rented and which are controlled, by negotiation with the landlords so that this accommodation remains in the pool of rented accommodation when the tenants leave or die or vacate the property for some other reason instead of it coming on to the owner-occupation market as described in the White Paper.
I deal with the two main criticisms which the Minister said he anticipated and which the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) touched on in his speech. There is something to be said for the reduction of the rateable limits set in the Bill so that greater attention can be given to tenants at the lower end of the incomes scale. There is something wrong in giving protection to the man who is paying, perhaps, £800 or £900 a year for a flat in South Kensington when the service of the rent officers, the rent assessment committees, and so on, is being provided at the expense of the taxpayer who may be on a very much lower income than the tenant of the flat. Perhaps the Minister should look again at these upper limits of rateable value.
We need more evidence on the other criticism about the exclusion of certain areas. The first housing speech which I made in the House was to the effect that we needed a national survey of the conditions and occupancy of houses and that 132 unless we had this information we would never be able to have a rational housing policy. I agree with what the Minister said on that. We must accumulate the information before we decide whether certain areas can be freed from this control provided for in the Bill.
I should like to make one other minor point before I come to Clause 22, which I want to deal with at some length. On tied cottages, the provisions of Clause 27, and particularly subsection (4), are quite satisfactory. They deal with the point which we made during the Committee stage of the Protection from Eviction Bill. The question of greater hardship to the landlord, and particularly the efficient management of agricultural land, are written into the Bill as they were written into the Protection from Eviction Act.
The Minister said that Clause 22 was the key Clause of the Bill and the fulcrum on which the edifice of rent regulation is based. It seems to me a very shaky fulcrum on which to rest such an important edifice. It is very likely to fail. I do not see how the rent officer can possibly decide what is a fair rent unless he is given far more specific guidance than is contained in subsection (1). It is not only hon. Members on this side of the House who are worried about this. The hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green said that she was very anxious about it.
Let us look at the criteria laid down in subsection (1):… regard shall be had, subject to the following provisions of this section … in particular to the age, character and locality of the dwellinghouse and to its state of repair.The age of a property has no particular relation to its proper rental value. There are old properties which are very much sought after. If they happened to be Queen Anne, or Georgian, I dare say that many hon. Members would be delighted to live in them, even though they were 200 or 300 years old.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I do not know how many Queen Anne or Georgian houses there are in that part of Liverpool.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. Therefore, what I am saying does not particularly affect that part of the country. I do not think the hon. Gentleman would deny that there is not necessarily any correlation between the age of a property and the rental suitable for it. That is the only point that I am making.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I am glad to hear that.
I do not know whether the word "character", in subsection (1), is meant to refer to the property's architectural merit or whether it means a detached or semi-detached house, a bungalow, a flat, a maisonette, or what. "Character" can mean practically anything we choose it to mean.
The final criterion is the locality. What does this mean? Does it mean whether it is in the country, or in the town, whether it is next to a gasworks or a canal? The Joint Parliamentary-Secretary nods. Why cannot these criteria be set out in more detail?
What I have been trying to say is very fairly summed up by this sentence in the White Paper:The definition of a fair rent where the normal process of free negotiations is inhibited by scarcity is obviously a difficult matter.It is so difficult that the Government have solved it by ducking it altogether. The Minister said that highly responsible people had to be appointed to the post of rent officer. I am not surprised that he had to say that, because Parliament will not give the rent officers any indication whatsoever of how to carry out their duties.
The Government have rejected the obvious solution of using rateable value as the basis on which fair rents should be calculated, because they say in paragraph 19 of the White Paper:… the gross values do not give an accurate indication of the rent appropriate for particular to tenancies and cannot be kept up to date.The Minister, in his speech, rather paraphrased that sentence.
The first objection is quite easily met by instructing rent officers to take into account, not only the rateable value, but the particular circumstances and terms of the tenancy agreement. The second objection can equally well be dealt with 134 by providing for some interim increase between the two revaluations—say, midway between them. I suggest to the Minister that that could easily be based on the index of the cost of building materials and labour since the last revaluation.
That would give an adjustment once every two and a half years instead of once in three years as provided by the Bill. One sees how easy it is to solve the two objections which are made to the use of rateable values as a basis for the determination of fair rents. By disregarding rateable values completely, we are likely to get into serious difficulties.
Some of those difficulties have already been referred to, but I should like to put another to the Minister. If the fair rent as determined by the rent officers or the assessment committees is substantially less than the rateable value, obviously the tenant will immediately go to the valuation officer and apply for a reduction in his rateable value. If it is the other way round, the next time revaluation arises the valuation officer will increase his rateable value up to the level of the fair rent. If the Minister says that this is right—and he nodded as I was going through this part of my speech—why not use rateable values at the beginning if it is said that rents and rateable values will sooner or later find themselves at the same level?
Another good reason for using rateable values as the basis is that the valuation officers could be called upon to undertake these functions of the rent officers and we could avoid setting up a new, possibly vast administrative structure. We do not know about this, although the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum states that it is unlikely that the cost of the scheme will exceed £1¼ million in England and Wales and £200,000 in Scotland. I should like an indication of how these figures have been calculated. The Bill gives no idea of the salaries which will be paid to the rent officers or, as I said in an intervention during the Minister's speech, what qualifications will be required for these posts. I am not much wiser for what the Minister said in reply to my intervention.
Another point with which I wish to deal concerns the protection which is given to tenants of furnished houses. Here again, I want to make a criticism which I have not so far heard in the 135 debate. Under the Bill, we have two completely different systems of rent control for furnished and unfurnished properties. This, too, is quite unnecessary and is bound to lead to anomalies. The rents of furnished properties are to be dealt with under the procedure of the 1946 Act by rent tribunals; the rents of unfurnished properties will be determined by the rent officers. I realise that before the rent tribunals can fix the fair rent of furnished properties, they must know what the rent would be under a regulated tenancy, so that furnished tenancies would, therefore, come within the work of the rent officers first and of the tribunals afterwards.
That makes it seem to me that it would have been much better and simpler to have repealed the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946, altogether and to have made Part I of the Bill apply to furnished houses as well as to unfurnished. I simply cannot understand why the Minister did not do this and I shall be grateful to be given an indication in the winding-up speech. Why do we have to have these two completely separate systems as applied to furnished and unfurnished properties? Could we not have had them all together and made the Bill much more simple?
I wish, finally, to refer to the position of caravan dwellers. The Minister knows that I raised this matter on the Protection from Eviction Bill and put down an Amendment in Committee to include caravan dwellers within the provisions of the Bill. I am sorry to see nothing about these people in the present Bill. The White Paper states, in paragraph 24, thatit would be quite wrong to allow landlords who let furnished premises to be the only ones who could evict their tenants without obtaining a court order.I entirely agree with that.
The Minister, however, has put caravan dwellers in that position. After the Bill goes on to the Statute Book, they will be the only people who can be thrown out of their dwellings at a moment's notice by the site operator. Why? Is it not equally wrong to deny this protection to the tenants of caravans as to deny it to the tenants of furnished houses?
According to an article in the Financial Times of 8th March by Mr. G. H. Horton, Chairman of the Parks Section, National Caravan Council, 136About 250,000 people in this country live in mobile homes and residential caravans.They are a substantial section of our community who should be entitled to the same degree of protection as we are now giving to the tenants of houses, whether furnished or unfurnished.
Mr. Horton states in the article:At present it is exceedingly difficult to obtain planning permission for a new park, and in consequence the pressure on existing ones is great. Demand for sites far exceeds supply.Those are the circumstances in which it is most likely that tenants will have a difficult time. Therefore, they are more likely to need the sort of protection that we are giving than many of the tenants of houses.
I rather thought that perhaps the Government would be considering this matter. Indeed, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary wrote to me about it. I hope that he will forgive me if, without having informed him in advance that I would do so, I quote from the letter in which he said that they were not certain, this not being a landlord-tenant relationship, whether it could be dealt with in the proposed legislation, but that they were looking into the matter to see what best could be done. I think that, if it is quite impossible to incorporate in the Bill provision for caravan residents, the very least we should have is some assurance from the Minister that he intends to give them the same degree of protection by some other Bill to be brought forward as soon as possible.
In conclusion, I am very glad to know from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames that the Tories agree with the Bill in principle. I shall look forward to their facilitating its progress through Committee. In spite of all the criticisms which I have had to make of the Bill, I would emphasise that they are Committee ones, and I would end by saying that we, too, endorse the principle of security of tenure and the principle of a fair rent.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)
I should like to say to the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) that I support him in the remarks he made about caravanners. I, too, had a session with my hon. Friend 137 the Joint Parliamentary Secretary some lime before Christmas, to ask him if he would lend his support to these people who, as the hon. Member for Orpington said, will be the only people left outside the protection afforded by this Bill. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to give some thought to these unfortunate people, many of whom are, indeed, living in very good circumstances, as the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) said, but many of whom, nevertheless, are at the mercy of really tough, unscrupulous site owners. People in that situation are those to whom we want to give protection.
I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has brought this Bill before the House. It is indeed an important piece of legislation, and it is interesting that it is the piece of our election programme which the party opposite has not been pressing us to implement. It is interesting to see, as my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) said, that the party opposite is in somewhat of a dilemma here. We know that hon. and right hon. Members opposite did the dirty work nine years ago. We have got to clear it up. They are today sitting there very mildly. I have sat here throughout the whole debate, and I must say that they have been very half-hearted in what they have said about the proposals in the Bill.
It would be refreshing for hon. Members on both sides, new and old Members, but particularly the new Members, to think on some of the things which were said in 1956 when the party opposite was steamrolling its Rent Bill through the House. There is another Member for Wolverhampton besides myself, and I would ask hon. and right hon. Members always to distinguish between us, for, as it is, they tend to say "the hon. Member for Wolverhampton". I must remind them that there are two of us, and I am the other. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), speaking in the Second Reading debate on the Bill in 1956, said:… when the provisions of this Bill will be coming fully into force, we can calculate with certainty that there will be a net addition of at least three quarters of a million homes … I think, we are now within sight, of, and should in 12 months' time or so be level with, an equation of the overall supply and 138 demand for houses."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1956; Vol. 560, c. 1760.]He also said that:houses will in future be let which otherwise would not be … It will be certain that houses … will no longer be held empty month after month, waiting for a purchaser … Those houses will now be let … The inducement to an owner to attempt to get the current value of his house by selling it will disappear."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1956; Vol. 560, c. 1766–67.]Never mind Milner Holland. Hon. Members on both sides knew about this situation years ago. We knew perfectly well what the situation was. We were told by the same right hon. Gentleman that landlords would have to bid for tenants, but we know that this was part of the fairy story which they told us.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) said that it was a brave Bill, and added:If we are to have the flexible and dynamic society which both sides of the House desire, we must encourage mobility of labour … Unless there is much more freedom in the housing market, that will be impossible.He went on to say:… I foresee that, whereas up to now the empty house has been a great asset to a landlord, because of the scarcity of houses, the landlord will in future find a discipline in the empty house; the void house will force landlords to maintain their property, because otherwise they will not be able to find tenants."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November. 1956; Vol. 560, cc. 1818–20.]The right hon. Gentleman urged the House at that time to remember the tens of thousands of families who welcomed the Bill as their first chance to get the houses which they needed. That was nearly nine years ago, and the tens of thousands of families whom the right hon. Gentleman said welcomed the Bill have shown their deep and abiding gratitude for it, and their judgment on it, by turning out the Government who pushed that Measure through.
The Milner Holland Report has exposed conclusively not only the inhumanity and ruthlessness of the landlord party, but the way in which they misled the House when that Measure was being discussed, and it is high time that the Act was repealed. The conditions referred to in the Milner Holland Report exist in many parts of the country. Surely no one is under any illusion that they exist only in London. There are more than 139 4,000 families on the waiting list in Wolverhampton. There are Members here from Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Salford, and every large city and town in the country, who could tell the same story, so let us not make any pretence that the Report reflects the situation only in London.
I welcome the Bill, because it is long overdue, but I hope that we shall carefully consider some of its proposals. I have been a member of a local authority for some time, and chairman of the housing committee. I go a long way in support of some of the suggestions put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler), because she, too, has local authority experience, and I think that it is important to look at the Bill from the way in which it will be administered and run, and the effect that it will have on local authorities and on houses in their areas.
If the establishment of rent officers, to whom many hon. Members have referred, does not prove successful, the parties concerned will be able to apply to the rent assessment committee, which will be appointed by the Minister and by the Lord Chancellor. I think that the composition of these committees will decide whether or not the Bill works. If they are unrepresentative of local opinion, and if they are not publicly accountable, they will fail.
Paragraph 4 of Schedule 2 lays down that two of the persons appointed by the Lord Chancellor shall be nominated by the Minister to act as president and vice-president of the panel. These two persons will have great power, because in certain circumstances they will be able to decide to sit alone to listen to, and to judge cases. They will also be able to decide which members of the panel can sit alone. They will also be able to appoint clerks and officers to serve the committee. It is therefore important that they should be the kind of persons in whom the people of the area have the greatest confidence. What sort of people has my right hon. Friend in mind for these powerful jobs? He has not told us, and I hope that whoever replies to the debate will be able to enlighten us on this matter.
The White Paper suggests that these committees should consist of three per- 140 sons, one of whom is to be a lawyer, and another is to be a valuer. Both my right hon. Friend and the Lord Chancellor will be hard put to it to find persons of sufficient calibre to carry out these duties—either full time or part time.
There is a scarcity of valuers, and the greatest care must be taken that estate agents who claim also to be valuers shall in no circumstances be allowed to become members of rent assessment committees, because the interest of the estate agent is in serving the landlord and getting the highest rent for him. I approved the suggestion of having a lawyer on these committees. In certain circumstances lawyers can be very useful. Where else will the Minister and the Lord Chancellor look for members of these committees? I am surprised that nobody has suggested that they might look to the magistrates who have been appointed in the counties or county boroughs. If my right hon. Friend has this in mind I urge him to be very careful about it, because in my experience magistrates do not reflect local opinion.
I suggest that my right hon. Friend looks outside what might be termed the ordinary groups of people to help man these committees. I see no reason why senior civil servants, active or retired, should not be recruited to help. Retired local government officers have been mentioned, and I see no reason why teachers should not help. Social workers of all kinds should be useful. My feeling is that there should be public accountability of these committees, and I suggest that my right hon. Friend permits local authorities to appoint one member to sit on each committee. We should then be certain that one representative will have been publicly elected and will therefore be accountable to his electorate. He can represent the interests of the tenants. This will mean an alteration in Schedule 2.
The Bill also provides that the clerk of a county council or county borough shall be responsible for appointing rent officers. I am a county councillor, and I do not particularly relish the prospect of allowing the clerk of my county council to appoint a rent officer. This is a very important post. The rent officer will be a key person. Some assistance should be available from the local 141 authority to help the clerk in the appointment of this official.
The Bill allows for both the tenant and the landlord to obtain legal advice when appearing before a rent officer or a rent assessment committee. I have no quarrel with this; it is absolutely fair. But I ask my right hon. Friend to remember that some tenants will not be able to afford legal aid, and if they appear before a rent officer or rent assessment committee without legal aid they will be at a hopeless disadvantage. They will not be able to present their cases properly. I hope that in Committee my right hon. Friend will be able to tell us that provision will be made in the Bill for application to be made under the legal aid scheme by those tenants who qualify for it. By the same token, if there are landlords who cannot afford legal aid the same facility should be offered to them.
I now turn to the rather vexed question of Clause 22, which hon. Members on both sides have mentioned. I can understand my right hon. Friend's reasons for not basing his rent formula on rateable values. Rateable values provide an inaccurate and rather complicated means of arriving at a figure. Moreover, houses are not valued by the same valuers all over the country, and different standards are inevitably introduced in the valuation process.
I feel that something should be written into this Clause. I support hon. Members who have said that some guidance should be given to rent officers and committees about assessing rents. My right hon. Friend said this afternoon that rent officers and committees would pay attention to rateable value, but I think that should be written into the Bill. He said that to do so would cause a good deal of litigation and argument, but if it is not written in, it could result in just as much litigation and argument, so I suggest to my right hon. Friend that he includes the rateable value as one of the factors to which rent officers should pay regard.
I suggest, also, that it be written into the Bill that they pay regard to controlled rents of similar property in an area, not the decontrolled rents, otherwise we should be levelling up the rents. If we are to level down the rents, which is one of the things we want to do by 142 this Bill, we must have regard to the controlled rents of similar properties in the area. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider this.
As was said earlier by an hon. Member, the Bill does not give the tenant, nor for that matter the landlord, any right of appeal. If the Bill is passed unaltered in this respect, the rent tribunal will be the final arbiter. If we accept that, it means that my right hon. Friend, having set up somewhat complicated machinery in order to carry out the provisions in the Bill—to assess rents and all the other things—then contracts out, he is not in the picture. I think that this should be considered by my right hon. Friend, and that he should allow a right of appeal to himself so that, where necessary, he could overrule, revise or amend the decisions given by the Rent Tribunals.
Clauses 13, 24, 25 and 26 all deal with offences by landlords—failure to supply statements of rents, failing to give information, harassment of tenants, and so on. Before the introduction of the Bill, my right hon. Friend made a speech—I forget where—in which he said that he intended to introduce swingeing penalties for landlords who harass their tenants and who carried out the kind of dirty work reported in the Milner Holland Committee's Report. I do not think that these are swingeing penalties and this point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green.
I wonder whether we could not only increase the financial penalty but also make some sort of provision for another court to deal with landlords charged with harassing their tenants; and make provision for a fine or a period of imprisonment not exceeding 12 months or both, on conviction on indictment, and on summary conviction a fine not exceeding £250 or imprisonment or a term of six months, or both. This would make it possible in particularly bad cases for a larger fine to be imposed or a longer period of imprisonment, if that were considered necessary. I support the suggestion that landlords facing such charges should lose the right to continue as landlords of the property in question.
The last point I wish to raise relates to who is to lay charges against a landlord. This is not provided for in the Bill but it is a very important point. It 143 has been suggested that a tenant should complain to a local authority and that the local authority should lay charges against landlords, but local authorities are not particularly good at prosecutions. This should be a charge on the police, and I urge my right hon. Friend to ask his right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to instruct chief constables to take enforcement proceedings once the Measure becomes law. In this way we could clear up any difficulties which occur from the operation of the Protection from Eviction Bill and we should thereby make it clear that this is the responsibility of the police and that they should take action when tenants report harassment or ill treatment by landlords.
The Bill indicates the great divide between the parties as no other piece of legislation has so far done. I am delighted about this. My hon. Friends and I believe that housing should be a social service. This may sound like a cliché, but if it means anything it means that we want to ensure that every family has the right to a decent, well-designed, well-built home at a price it can afford. It means that we are going to get rid of the rotten, slummy, crummy properties in which thousands of people throughout the country, not only in London, are living; the remnants of the Industrial Revolution.
The Bill is the first step forward. It will not do that on its own, as has been pointed out, but my right hon. Friend and the Minister of Public Building and Works are actively engaged on the next steps, which will result in the building of the eight million or so houses we need to do away with the slums and ensure that our ideal of a decent home for every family is achieved. I wish them the best of luck. I know that we will achieve this object and make tremendous strides in future.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
Like the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short), I have sat through the entire debate. Unfortunately, since only about three minutes are available to me before I must resume my seat, I cannot possibly have the last word. I also can- 144 not, in such a very limited time, make a speech which has taken me three days to prepare.
The Bill is necessary because, after all, hon. Members opposite have been threatening to introduce it for the last 13 years. [Interruption.] If they have any doubt about that, I remind them of what was said by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl), on 2nd February, when I made a special offer to the Labour Party at that time. I regret that time does not permit me to develop this theme tonight. I said that if a Labour Government would not introduce legislation I would guarantee that my company and, I subsequently heard, many other companies as well, would each build at least 3,000 houses to let per annum. That would have done very much to solve our present housing problem.
Having listened to the whole debate I have been struck by the fact that all hon. Members opposite who have spoken have assumed that the landlord is always rotten and that the tenant is nothing but an angel. In the time at my disposal I will make only a brief reference to the Milner Holland Report in this connection. It is interesting to note that it pointed out on page 313 that 51 per cent. of landlords were persons or groups of persons, that 54 per cent. of landlords owned a maximum of four houses and that 62 per cent. of landlords had owned their houses for more than 10 years. The Report was talking there of decent people who had tried to get an income for their retirement as a result of purchasing property. They are not the sort of people who could be classified as doing something rotten.
I see nothing wrong in a person buying a house as an investment and then selling it later in life so that he or she has something on which to retire, any more than I see anything wrong in selling gilt edged securities. Hon. Members seem to think that that is wrong and that there is a permanent wall between landlords and tenants.
The Milner Holland Report indicates that 88 per cent. of all tenants are reasonably satisfied with their landlords. I doubt whether as many people are satisfied with British Railways, or their grocer, or anybody else. There is, therefore, no 145 need for legislation to put this matter right.
I wish to make a special plea to the Minister about rented accommodation at the seaside. I was part of a delegation which discussed the matter with him recently, and I left under the impression that the Minister understood the problem. Having read the Bill, I am convinced that he does not understand it, because he has make no provision to allow people to let their accommodation on a short-term basis. Many of my constituents are retired people who live by letting premises in Folkestone for a short time at the end of the summer season.
The Bill makes them into criminals if they try to obtain possession of a house in order to enable the next tenant, to whom they have promised the premises, to enter into possession for a fortnight's holiday. In those circumstances, the landlord may be liable to damages. The Minister must do better than that if he wishes to get the Bill through the House.
I regret that the clock has beaten me, because there are many other points which I wanted to raise.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (St. Marylebone)
I think that I can express the views of the entire House when I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) on having included in a three-minute speech possibly more points on the Bill than I could enumerate, because whether one speaks for three or for a few more minutes on a matter of this complexity, it is essential to be selective. For that reason I shall not endeavour to pursue the Secretary of State for Scotland, who, I am glad to know, will reply to the debate, across Hadrian's Wall, for fear of invoking another Bannockburn. I am glad that he is to reply, but I can only tell him that I shall decline battle on this occasion.
May I say a word or two about the doubts which both the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Boston) and the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) cast on my title to reply to the debate. The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire, in particular, seemed to think that my legal qualification, such as it is, was a disqualification on this occasion. I cannot altogether agree with this 146 criticism. I think that I can honestly say that I have never brandished my legal qualification in the face of hon. Members, but if anybody has sat, as most of us with that qualification have sat, for hour after weary hour waiting for his own case to come on, hearing one miserable housing argument after another, there must be branded upon his consciousness the extent to which human unhappiness is engendered by housing shortage, however caused and however we propose to remedy it.
If, like myself, anyone served for years as a poor man's lawyer in one of the East End districts of London before the war when things were very much worse than they are now, he will feel that the extent of the social problems involved is not lightly to be underestimated. For that reason, and because I represent a London constituency, I feel that it is not unsuitable that it should fall to my lot to wind up the debate this evening for the Opposition.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) drew a contrast between promise and performance. The Minister said that this was a discharge of an election promise. So be it. The election promise was to repeal "the notorious Rent Act", 1957, brought in by the Tories. The performance requires some slight amendment. The Rent Act, 1957, all 27 Sections of it except one, and all 8 Schedules of it except one paragraph of one Schedule, remains in force. What has been repealed has been Section 12, which deals with furnished lettings, and paragraph 4 of Schedule 5, which deals with the same subject. Apart from that, the right hon. Gentleman has chosen to superimpose upon the 1957 Act a structure of his own. He is building upon a good foundation, and I congratulate him on having broken his election promise again.
The Minister said that it would be interesting to see the reaction of the Opposition to the Bill. This is a perfectly fair challenge upon the Second Reading of the Bill. I will endeavour to divide what I have to say into the same classification that the right hon. Gentleman himself employed. There is the Bill itself, and there are the social consequences to be derived from its passage. Both are important. Probably 147 the second part is equally as important as the first, if not more so.
I begin with the Bill itself. On its Second Reading the right hon. Gentleman is entitled to challenge the Opposition upon the principles underlying it. Do we support them, or do we reject them? I will seek to answer this challenge by stating first the principles of the Bill, as I conceive them to be, dealing perhaps with the less important and most easily disposed of first, and then seeking to define my own attitude upon it. As I see the function of opposition, it is not simply, to use Lord Randolph Churchill's classic phrase, to oppose. It is to bring to bear upon the problems of the day, and, in particular, upon the Measures proposed by Government, an independent judgment, not obstructive, but still sufficiently critical.
The first principle in the Bill, which I dispose of because I think that it is the easiest to deal with, is that contained in Clause 25, dealing with the harassment of tenants. I can welcome this Clause almost without qualification. I must also candidly concede that until I read the Milner Holland Report I had, at any rate to a great extent, supposed that many of these practices were against the law already—not merely the civil law, but also the criminal law. It is worth saying and repeating that what the late Rachman was alleged to have done was for the most part contrary to the criminal law. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Dudley Smith) pointed out, the problem is not simply one of legislation. It is one of enforcement. This will remain under the Bill, as it is proposed.
I am grateful to the Milner Holland Committee for pointing out the extent to which the civil sanctions are inadequate and for drawing our attention to the provisions in the legislation of the State of New York which, I think the right hon. Gentleman would concede, are very largely the foundation of what he puts forward in Clause 25. So far as that provision is concerned, I think that we can promise our general support, although I would say that those of us who have had knowledge of the harassments which go on in the housing situation and who, indeed, have found confirmation in the Milner Holland Report of what we have 148 experienced, would state that the typical cases which the Milner Holland Report has shown up as between landlord and tenant—very often a landlord himself in occupation of part of the accommodation and the tenant in possession of the other half—exist also between tenant and tenant if they happen to be uncongenial to one another, and sometimes even between tenant and landlord. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman would find it possible to deal with abuses of that kind, too.
Secondly, there is the principle of no eviction without court order. There again, I find myself in an unequivocal position. I said in my election address last October that I would support any Measure designed to achieve no eviction without court order, and I do so without qualification here. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe, I am not sure whether the whole range of lettings should be within it. I conceive, as he suggested, that the letting by a landlady to a seaside tenant, or a letting—if it is a letting and not a lodging arrangement—between a landlady and a student for a term, might be in a different category. But these are, of course, Committee points.
On the general principle, I must express myself as being wholly in support of the proposal which the right hon. Gentleman puts forward. For a long time I think that I attached too much importance to the principle, which, again, was stated during the course of the debate, that a tenant who holds over without good reason is, in law, a trespasser. I think, on the contrary, that the principle of law which should be applied to this kind of question is precisely the general principle which discourages the use of self-help in matters which may provoke a breach of the peace and puts the use of force of any kind wherever possible under the control of the courts of law.
Therefore, on the second of the two principles I find myself wholly—
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying that he believes that it was wrong to evict without a court order. But is it not true that the 1957 Rent Act gave the landlord that right? Therefore, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman's party 149 shirks voting against the Second Reading tonight it proves that hon. Members opposite were wrong in what they did in 1957.
§ Mr. Hogg
No, the hon. Gentleman is wrong. It was given by the common law, which treated the tenant who held over without good cause as being a trespasser and, therefore, a person upon whom force no more than was necessary could be employed. The hon. Gentleman asked me a fair question and I tried to give him a candid answer.
If I may come to the third and fourth of the principles under the Bill, which have rightly attracted the most discussion in the debate, these are respectively the security of tenure and the regulation of rents. Again, I must say that having read the Milner Holland Report—and, indeed, before that time—I had come quite unequivocally to the conclusion that a degree of security of tenure must be restored to London and certain other urban areas. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames that the case is quite different in some other areas of the country.
I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman, who sought to say that it was not possible to obtain accurate information about these and for that reason sought to defend the provision of the Bill which makes it universally extensive. If his premise was right I should agree with the conclusion which followed, but I do not agree with his premise and I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke) was quite correct when he said that the local authorities know and that the census returns of 1961, even though they be now a little out-of-date, provide an adequate guide.
I think that it is true that where there is a substantial proportion of unoccupied property of the right class, which, I should have thought, could be ascertained from the local authorities and to an extent from the census returns, the case for security of tenure is not made out. Perhaps, I might quote, because I think it so good, an article which was written by a member of the Labour Party who is remembered by some of us as a Member of this House, Mr. Ashley Bramhall, who is leader of the Labour group in 150 the new City of Westminster, of which my constituency now forms a part.
In an article in the Law Guardian this month he made three statements which exactly sum up the point of view which I would urge upon the House. I quote from him because he is not a member of my party and because I am trying to approach this matter in as objective a spirit as I can. He said, first:When there is not a shortage there is no more difficulty over rents than over the price of other goods and services.In other words, there is nothing more disreputable about seeking to provide housing accommodation for people than there is about seeking to provide bread, meat or medical attendance. The obligation, of course, is to provide good accommodation and adequate service. But it is also an obligation on Parliament to see that the necessary conditions are provided so that the private landlord can produce them.
The second statement is:Where there is a shortage, hardship is inevitably caused to tenants.That, again, I agree with, and I think that the converse is true, that where there is no shortage that is the best guarantee that tenants can possibly have—better than the safeguards which even the most ingenious hon. or right hon. Member opposite could maintain.
Thirdly, Mr. Bramhall said:At the same time, rent control at a level of rents which gives a landlord less than a reasonable return causes hardship to him and if such control is imposed for types of houses or in areas where there is no shortage this hardship occurs without compensating advantage.If the Government can say in unequivocal terms that this is the basis of their housing policy we could truly claim that the plea at the end of the Milner Holland Report for a common approach, a common attitude of mind, uncoloured by prejudice in either direction and dominated by objective considerations, was at any rate within sight of attainment.
I also agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames that in London the level of £400 a year rateable value is probably more than was required, but both of these points are Committee objections to the Minister's 151 principles. Therefore, I, for one, should find it wholly impossible to vote against them, although I maintain both objections. We shall see how far we get in the Committee stage.
I say again quite candidly—although since I left the Bar in 1956 I did not have personal contact with the problem until I became a London Member in 1963—that I frankly admit that I had underestimated the natural growth of the population of the Metropolis, both by process of child-bearing and by earlier marriage and, therefore, the sub-division of houses. I do not know how far I am to be blamed for this mistake. If I am to be blamed—[Laughter.] I do not know that I have greatly added to the housing problem by such activities as I may have indulged in.
I do not know on what basis a responsible Government can be asked to plan for the future except on the projections of the Registrar General. If they turn out to be mistaken—as they have done in the past—one must acknowledge both error and its cause. I confess quite candidly—the Secretary of State can make what play with it he likes—that I have also until recently greatly underestimated the magnet effect of the Metropolis. Of course, we all knew that the Metropolis was drawing people in at a startling rate, but I personally had hoped, and I frankly had hoped, that long ere this the measures which we were taking to redistribute industry would have minimised that effect more than they have done. I still think that that was a reasonable prognosis to make.
Still seeking to be both objective and frank, I think that some of the measures which the right hon. Gentleman proposes will have at least a tendency to increase the magnet effect of the Metropolis, which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead said, is clean contrary to the real objectives of national policy which, I think, both sides of the House desire to achieve.
Thirdly—again, the right hon. Gentleman can make what play with it he likes—until I read the Milner Holland Report I was not aware of the significance to be attached to the fiscal point which, again and again, appears in the Report—the inability of the private landlord to amortise his capital investment and so manage, 152 like any other investor in any other sort of property, to maintain the property which he owns and to recoup himself for his capital investment.
I think that I am in very good company in what I am saying. Although I have read a good deal on this subject for a long time I cannot trace a single member of the party opposite who had not fallen, at one time or another, into the same error, so perhaps we can be more than usually charitable to one another on this topic. I was more than glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman—rather to my surprise, but wholly to my delight—say in unequivocal terms that he was keeping that point entirely open. I can assure him at any rate of wholehearted support on this side of the House if he persuades his right hon. colleague to give effect to the implied recommendation of the report in that respect.
Now we come to the method of rent control. I have had much more difficulty here, and I know that the right hon. Gentleman will not take an adverse view if I tell him what it was. Every method of rent control which has hitherto been tried in this country has started from a solid objective point of departure. In the old days, it was the contractual rent of 1914 or 1939, something which could be measured. Later on, it was the rateable value. I agree with him that both of those criteria had the disadvantage of rigidity, which was condemned by the Milner Holland Report, but they also had the advantage of objective certitude, which made it easy for ordinary men and women to make the calculation upon which the permissible rent was based.
The right hon. Gentleman has now chosen a totally different method of regulation, and this has two characteristics, whatever advantages may be obtained from it. The first is that, inevitably, with the width of definition contained in Clause 22(1), the criteria are more subjective than anything which has existed before, because all the circumstances of the case have to be taken into account. Nobody is told what circumstances are relevant and what are not.
My right hon. Friend put a Question to the right hon. Gentleman, which perhaps the Secretary of State will answer, as to the relevance of the means of either the landlord or the tenant. But the fact 153 of the matter is that nobody knows until a court of law has determined. If that is the case—and I am accepting that it is—it is true, of course, that everything in the end depends upon the quality and experience of the men and women who have to administer the Act.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that in the majority of cases both the landlord and the tenant, who will understand all the circumstances, will come to an agreement because of the existence of this sanction in the background?
§ Mr. Hogg
Speaking as one who has dealt with very many negotiations of this kind in his life, I think that they will find it very difficult to come to an agreement until they know the kind of thing which is likely to be decided in the absence of agreement.
I have spoken at much greater length than I had intended about this part of my case, so I will merely say to the right hon. Gentleman that, frankly, I doubt whether he will find sufficient men and women of the right calibre to deal with the quantity of cases that they have to deal with, remembering that we have 1 million lettings in London alone. Of course, some of these are rent controlled, some are furnished lettings, but the residue is sufficiently large to give me cause for disquiet. I think that the right hon. Gentleman has rendered his task unduly difficult by the extension above the value recommended or at least indicated by the Milner Holland Report, and the extension to other parts of the country.
I fear that I shall not now be able to say everything that I had intended to say about the social consequences of the Bill, but it is common to the right hon. Gentleman and me that none of the underlying problems of shortage, which is what we are fundamentally discussing when we deal with housing hardship, will be met by the Bill itself. This by itself is no criticism of the Measure—none whatever—but what would be a criticism of the Government would be if they were to pursue to any greater length than they have done hitherto what the right hon. Gentleman, I think, mistakenly described as a natural prejudice against landlords. The fact is that, at 154 any rate in London, and, I suspect, in the rest of the country, one cannot solve this problem in a reasonable time without the co-operation of the private landlord.
There are 500,000 municipally-owned houses in the London area. Thirty-eight per cent. of the houses are owner-occupied. Forty per cent.—all except 1 per cent. of the remainder, that l per cent. being in the hands of housing associations—are owned by private landlords, and of that 40 per cent. no less than 33 per cent. are in the hands not of the large professional landlords, but of the small landlord, who varies between the owner of one house or a few more and the owner-occupier of part of the dwelling the rest of which he has let out. That amounts to no fewer than 1 million lettings.
The shortage with which we have to deal is not accurately measured in the Milner Holland Report for the London area alone. But it is certainly not less than the 550,000 houses by 1980 that the South-East Study referred to and it may be as much as the nearly 780,000 which the Urban Housing Centre indicated to the Milner Holland Committee. Anyone who studies these figures and believes that it may be done with municipal housing alone is making a very great error. Local authority building for the London area is about 30,000 houses a year, which will mean 10 years to get 300,000 houses. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman says, and I sincerely pray that he may be right, that he proposes to step the rate of building up. But it will take a very great deal more than 30,000 houses a year to get rid of the misery which we are talking about and the truth is that we can solve this problem only if we deal adequately and fairly with the private landlords.
The limitations of local authority housing, indicated by the Milner Holland Report, are shortage of sites, unsuitable zoning and shortage of professional staff, which certainly will not grow less after the right hon. Gentleman brings the Bill into being. Of these three factors, only suitable zoning is one which he can effectively alter.
On the other hand, the limitations on private landlords, the controversy about the legitimacy of owning houses—illustrated by the speech of the hon. Member 155 for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun), which had a very different tone from that of the Minister, and by the speech of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short), which took much the same line—the rigidity of rent control and the fiscal point, to which I have adverted, are all within the power of the Government.
Therefore, whilst it is right that the Government should claim to be judged on this issue and that we should accept the challenge to support the Bill if we are, as I am, in favour of the four principles I have indicated, it is also true that that is the way to solve the problem and that it will be up to both sides of the House to solve it.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)
It is one of the indications of the unpredictability of this place that, if anyone had suggested in 1957 that we should be making changes in relation to the Rent Act in a mood of so much agreement and particularly that we should hear such a speech from the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), winding up for the Conservative Party, agreeing with the main points of the present Government's case, I do not think that anyone would have believed him. It shows the change of attitude by right hon. and hon. Members opposite and how much they have learned since then.
I should like to begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) on what I think was a quietly persuasive and altogether admirable maiden speech. I say "admirable", because it was something that we hear too seldom—a debating speech. My hon. Friend achieved this without too obvious a contravention of the rules on maiden speeches and certainly we on this side look forward to hearing him again.
Perhaps I may now take up the final point made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He said that the Bill did nothing about that which caused the hardship, the misery and all the suffering to many thousands of families—the shortage of accommodation. But it is not intended to do so. What it is intended to do is to remedy the wrongs that were 156 created in 1957 when, without considering the consequences and, as we all know now, without even adequate information, right hon. and hon. Members opposite insisted on a great measure of decontrol not merely in London but throughout the country. If everyone today is saying that the Bill is all right and that we should have some recontrol in London, that shows how wrong right hon. Gentlemen opposite were. If anything was predictable, it was that there would be hardship and that there would be exploitation and I am sorry that we have had to wait until we got the Milner Holland Report before right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite realised that this was exactly the situation.
Now they say, "But do not do it anywhere else, for the case has not been proved". I hope that they will remember that in their own White Paper of May, 1963, it was pointed out that there was severe hardship in other areas. The passing of two years has not improved the position. When it is appreciated that a mistake was made in decontrolling over the whole country, we should take care now not to err on the wrong side.
Mistakes were made about Scotland at that time, and I can remember it being pointed out to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite when they were the Government and were insisting on the Scottish parts of the Act. References have been made to the speech of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), who was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing at that time. He had said that there would not be hardship because a large enough number of houses to form a free market would be decontrolled. He was told:We are not doing that in Scotland. Does anybody in the House believe that we will have a free market in Scotland in the 60,000 houses there which will be decontrolled? Whereas the Parliamentary Secretary was able to claim … that landlords would have to compete for tenants in England"—Strangely enough, that is what he said—does anybody believe that that would happen in Scotland? I do not.I am terribly concerned about what is to happen to the people whose houses are decontrolled, because they will then have no protection at all."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd November, 1956; Vol. 560, c. 1990.]That was said not by any of my hon. Friends, but by the man who is now the 157 Chairman of the Unionist Party in Scotland and who was condemning what right hon. Gentleman opposite were doing at that time.
But they went ahead and did it, and 60,000 houses were decontrolled. Today, not 60,000 but more than 100,000 houses in Scotland are decontrolled as a result of creeping decontrol. That does not take account of the number of owners who have used the power given them by decontrol to get people to buy houses which were worth neither letting nor buying.
I am sorry that in the Bill we are not able to remedy the situation for those who have bought such houses, many of them slum properties, sometimes by hire-purchase agreements with the result that the only interest which the owner of the house retains in it is financial while all the obligations are on the poor unfortunate tenant forced to buy by hardship and by the fact that in Glasgow alone there are no fewer than 84,000 people waiting for rented accommodation.
When I heard the right hon. Gentleman say that in the Bill we were not paying sufficient attention to the power of private enterprise to provide rented accommodation—and of course he recognised that we could not do so within this Bill—I thought that he should appreciate that we had a Royal Commission in Scotland in 1917 which said that private enterprise was no longer interested in providing, or able to provide, the rented accommodation which was required. It was from this that there stemmed the build up of public authority building in Scotland. The same true today in London and in other carts of England and Wales.
Hon. Members should not fall for the idea that we do not need this new form of recontrol in other parts of the country. We do. If they suggest that people have amicably reached agreement in these parts of the country, what do they suggest that the new control means to them? It means freezing a rent, a rent which they themselves suggest to have been agreed, with the power given to review it later. I therefore think that they underestimate the damage which would be done by covering the whole country. What they themselves are in danger of doing is making the same mistake today that they made in 1957.
158 I want to try to cover as many as possible of the points which have been raised. The right hon. Gentleman did not have the aggressive flow which we usually associate with him. The reason was that he was not arguing against the Bill; he was arguing for another Bill which is not before the House. Indeed, he was arguing for at least another half-dozen Bills, because he was asking for tax concessions, for greater improvement grants, for subsidies for private building—for things which could not possibly be in this Bill. And probably he knew it. He had a pretty bad case. He even criticised the words in the White Paper which referred to the damage done by the 1957 Act. Every hon. Member opposite who spoke started by declaring that damage had resulted from the 1957 Act. What is wrong with stating in the White Paper that there had been some damage? The right hon. Gentleman reached a pretty low level when he had to drag that one in.
There has been a measure of criticism of Clause 22 by both the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames and the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone. I think that the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) and the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) broached this matter, too. My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) also said something about it, although he did not take up the same point. We are trying to get away from a form of rent regulation which is rigid, because within rigidity arises hardship either to the tenant or to the landlord. It is interesting that not one of those who criticised Clause 22 was prepared to put forward a formula. I think that this was a recognition of the difficulty of dealing with the matter by a formula.
What does it all come down to? We have suggested that when we get to this period of new rent regulation there should be recourse in the first instance to an attempt at settlement by rent officers. I entirely agree with the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames and the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone—and I am glad that they agreed with my right hon. Friend—that the safeguard ensuring that there is fairness to all concerned will be the quality of the people we manage to get. 159 I am not as pessimistic as the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone. I think that we will be able to get as rent officers people with background knowledge of the problem, people of sound commonsense, people who are objective, and people who will come to a fair determination of rent.
I disagree with the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Dudley Smith) who suggested that it was a waste of time bringing in the rent officer and that it would be far better to go ahead to the rent assessment committee stage. The fact that a considerable volume of work is involved makes it essential that we should try to cut it down by getting agreement. Indeed, in reaching agreement we will get experience of the kind of rent which people on either side will be prepared to accept. This will help the rent assessment committees in dealing with cases. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire appreciated this point. He took an opposite view from that of the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick, who, I hope, will reconsider his attitude to rent officers.
The question of the appointment of rent officers and the areas covered in Scotland will be different from the position in England and Wales. They will be directly appointed by the Secretary of State and will be responsible to the Secretary of State. This is simply because we discussed the matter with the local authorities who preferred the matter to be dealt with in this way. In Scotland, it may well be that the whole question of rents and local authority ownership of so many houses would be far better handled in a different way, and so the independence of these rent officers will be beyond question. [Interruption.] Entirely different circumstances arise.
§ Mr. Ross
The cost of these officers will be paid by my right hon. Friend 160 the Minister by 100 per cent. grant to the local authorities in England and Wales. Had the hon. Member been present during the debate, he would have realised that from the financial aspect there is no difference whatever.
We recognise from the start that the fair rent aspect is a difficult one. We considered formula after formula and decided that it was far better to leave it in this flexible way. All the circumstances, including locality, will be taken into account. Indeed, if we have to learn the lessons of Milner Holland, if we are to get a rent that is fair, we must have some means of ruling out consideration of scarcity because if scarcity is accepted as a criterion we then get into the supply and demand position that leads to exploitation.
The words in the Clause have been said by some people to be meaningless. All I can say is that if that view is held and if they are not a sufficient guide to anyone, hon. Members opposite should look at the Valuation and Rating (Scotland) Act, 1956, which contains the same idea in different words concerning the guidance which is given to rating assessors in Scotland about how they should assess the value of property. I am convinced that this is the only way in which we will be able to achieve our aim without importing the kind of rigidity that everyone recognises would be a weakness.
I come now to a point that I regard as important. I was horrified to hear the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, suggest that one of the things that rent assessment committees should take into account should be the means of the tenant.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I did not say that. I asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether it was intended that they should be taken into account. I then proceeded to point out the disadvantages of doing so.
§ Mr. Ross
I am glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that, because I got an entirely different impression from him. We are trying to put a value upon a property which should not be related to the means of the individual concerned. When it comes to considering whether a person should be dispossessed in relation to the existing powers under what I will 161 now call old control, of course the question of hardship to individuals arises, but it certainly should not do so at the point of fixing a fair rent. I am glad that the point is absolutely clear between one side and the other and that we are agreed that the means of the tenant should not be taken into account.
§ Mr. Ross
I am sure that it will be excluded. In this respect, we are dealing not with tenants, but with tenancies.
I have dealt with the question of the quality of rent officers and the question of appointments. Furnished lettings is a matter that has concerned many people, and it has been suggested that hardship might be caused to individuals at seaside resorts. The protections that are given in the Bill are protections that have been available to tenants of furnished lettings in Scotland since 1555. So there is an element of historical experience in this, of over 400 years.
§ Mr. Ross
I only said that I thought that everyone knew that we had seaside resorts in Scotland. What is controversial about that?
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) is interested in this matter too, that the basic protection applies to tenants of furnished lettings. We know from our debates last year of the special difficulties in dealing with this topic and we know that during the debate we had a fortnight ago on the Milner Holland Report the right hon. Gentleman 162 the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) uttered grave warnings about what would happen under this Bill. Now that he has seen the Bill—though, mind you, we have not seen much of him today—I hope he will find that his fears were groundless.
We have not produced a completely new code for furnished lettings. We have kept the old code in the Acts of 1946 and 1949. I say to the hon. Member for Orpington that the matter of speed and timing had a lot to do with this, but not the matter of principle. On the whole, those Acts have worked well. What we propose is to make the old code permanent so that the Act of 1946 and the Scottish Act of 1943 will disappear from the annual Expiring Laws Continuance Bill—and that will be a great relief, no doubt, to the House, and, indeed, to the Leader of the House, too, I am perfectly sure.
Second, we are raising the limits for this control to the new levels for rent regulation. Third, the maximum period of security which a furnished tenant can get is three months at any one time. We shall extend this to six. Fourth, it is a serious defect in the present code that the tenant can get no security if the landlord is smart enough to give him notice to quit before he goes to the tribunal. This was a matter raised by one of my hon. Friends today and it is remedied by Clause 33(6).
The House will recall that when the furnished tenant's security has expired the landlord must still obtain a court order to get him out if he will not go voluntarily. It would be quite wrong if we left furnished landlords as the only landlords who could use force to get a tenant out of his home. Milner Holland has reminded us that some of the worst abuses are to be found in furnished premises. So security of tenure will remain, as it always has been, less complete for furnished than for unfurnished premises, but, as has been recognised in the speeches today, of course we are dealing with harassment, and this will be of considerable value to those who are menaced or who feel themselves to be menaced in furnished lettings at the present time.
All along we have kept very much in mind the difficulties of people letting furnished accommodation at seaside 163 resorts, of servicemen posted abroad for a year or two, and of others who let furnished for fixed periods. In these cases the tenant moves in in full knowledge of the terms and security he will get, and the landlord has made his arrangements on the basis that he will get possession on the date agreed. So in these cases the tribunals will not be able to give security, but the landlord will, of course, still have to get a court order before getting rid of a tenant who flatly refuses to move. I think we have balanced the difficulties here, though it may well be that, when we go into Committee to consider the matter further, we shall hear more of these.
The question has been asked how soon the Bill will work.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Would the right hon. Gentleman tell me why it is impossible to apply Clause 1 to the tenant of furnished accommodation, as I requested?
§ Mr. Ross
To tenants of furnished accommodation? Because we thought this would be giving an over-balance and over-emphasis in relation to them. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was going to deal with the point about caravans. I am sorry that I shall not have time to deal with it now.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) asked about the timing of the various Clauses of the Bill. The Bill will have an immediate effect, although various parts of it will come into effect at later stages, and it might be convenient to outline what its impact will be.
The Bill will become law a month after it receives the Royal Assent. From that date the whole of the Bill, except Part II, which deals with the rent registration system, will apply. In particular, existing rents will be fixed from that date, and increases in them will be possible only if they are necessary because of changes in the circumstances of individual dwellings. From the same date the Protection from Eviction Act, which has given tenants protection against any 164 arbitrary evictions until this Bill could be enacted, will be repealed and be replaced by Part III of the Bill.
After the commencement of the Bill, there are two important dates. The first is the date on which the rent registration system is established by Order under Clause 16. This will depend on the time it takes to set up the system of rent officers and rent assessment committees, and it will vary from place to place. This was raised as a criticism. I am sure that if people had read the Bill they would have seen that we can proceed at different times in different areas, and it would have saved them making this unnecessary criticism. Plans are being laid now, and the Government are confident that it will be possible to have the system working within about six months of Royal Assent. In many areas it may well be sooner.
The statistics provided by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West were probably provided by the Scottish property owners. I suggest that there is an element of discrimination in relation to the sample, and that it was only a sample on which they based their findings.
The second important date is that on which existing controlled tenancies are brought within the registration system by order. It is less easy to be definite about this date. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was concerned about whether we meant this, and about whether we intended to be fair over the whole problem of rented accommodation. It depends on how quickly the registration system is able to deal with its first task, that of reviewing the rents of tenancies decontrolled by the 1957 Act. I make no bones about this. This is our priority—to put right the wrongs of the 1957 Act.
If we are able to establish these rent officers and rent assistance committees, and if they are able to gain the respect of the community by the way in which they handle the problem, surely hon. Gentlemen opposite realise that it will be very much easier to move into the second stage of bringing old controlled houses into the period of regulated rent under the new system. This is why we are anxious to have this properly and adequately debated in Committee upstairs. I am sure that we will be able to convince the Committee and the House that the 165 Bill is an advantage, and that it meets in great measure the pledge that we gave at the last election.
§ 9.59 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Edward Short)
rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question put, That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House—[Mr. Boyd-Carpenter]:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 286, Noes 306.169
|Division No. 85.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Agnew, Commander Sir Peter||Curran, Charles||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Currie, G. B. H.||Hirst, Geoffrey|
|Allan, Robert (Paddington, S.)||Dalkeith, Earl of||Hobson, Rt. Hn. Sir John|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Dance, James||Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin|
|Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian||Davies, Dr. Wyndham (Perry Barr)||Hopkins, Alan|
|Anstruther-Gray, Rt. Hn. Sir W.||d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Hordern, Peter|
|Astor, John||Dean, Paul||Hornby, Richard|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Digby, Simon Wingfield||Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame P.|
|Baker, W. H. K.||Dodds-Parker, Douglas||Howard, Hn. G. R. (St. Ives)|
|Balniel, Lord||Doughty, Charles||Howe, Geoffrey (Bebington)|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec||Hunt, John (Bromley)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Drayson, G. B.||Hutchison, Michael Clark|
|Batsford, Brian||du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward||Iremonger, T. L.|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Eden, Sir John||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)|
|Bell, Ronald||Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm)||Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.)||Jennings, J. C.|
|Berkeley, Humphry||Emery, Peter||Johnson Smith, G.|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Errington, Sir Eric||Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)|
|Biffen, John||Farr, John||Jopling, Michael|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Fell, Anthony||Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith|
|Bingham, R. M.||Fisher, Nigel||Kaberry, Sir Donald|
|Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles (Darwen)||Kerby, Capt. Henry|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Fletcher-Cooke, Sir John (S'pton)||Kerr, Sir Hamilton (Cambridge)|
|Blaker, Peter||Forrest, George||Kershaw, Anthony|
|Bossom, Hn. Clive||Foster, Sir John||Kilfedder, James A.|
|Box, Donald||Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone)||Kimball, Marcus|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. J.||Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||King Evelyn (Dorset, S.)|
|Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward||Galbraith, Hn. T. G. D.||Kirk, Peter|
|Braine, Bernard||Gammans, Lady||Kitson, Timothy|
|Brewis, John||Gardner, Edward||Lagden, Godfrey|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Gibson-Watt, David||Lambton, Viscount|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter||Giles, Rear-Admiral Morgan||Lancaster, Col. C. G.|
|Brooke, Rt. Hn. Henry||Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, Central)||Langford-Holt, Sir John|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Glover, Sir Douglas||Litchfleld, Capt. John|
|Bryan, Paul||Glyn, Sir Richard||Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield)|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B.||Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)|
|Buck, Antony||Goodhart, Philip||Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral)|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Goodhew, Victor||Longbottom, Charles|
|Burden, F. A.||Gower, Raymond||Longbottom, Charles|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Grant, Anthony||Longden, Gilbert|
|Buxton, R. C.||Grant-Ferris, R.||Loveys, Walter H.|
|Campbell, Gordon||Grieve, Percy||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn|
|Carlisle, Mark||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||McAdden, Sir Stephen|
|Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Griffiths, Peter (Smethwick)||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Gurden, Harold||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Hall, John (Wycombe)||McMaster, Stanley|
|Chataway, Christopher||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||McNair-Wilson, Patrick|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Hamilton, Marquess of (Fermanagh)||Maginnis, John E.|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Hamilton, M. (Salisbury)||Maitland, Sir John|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)||Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest|
|Cole, Norman||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Marten, Neil|
|Cooke, Robert||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Maude, Angus|
|Cooper, A. E.||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Harvey, Sir Arthur-Vere (Maccles'd)||Mawby, Ray|
|Cordie, John||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.|
|Corfield, F. V.||Harvie Anderson, Miss||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.|
|Costain, A. P.||Hastings, Stephen||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Courtney, Cdr. Anthony||Hawkins, Paul||Mills, Peter (Torrington)|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)||Hay, John||Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)|
|Crawley, Aidan||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. Sir Oliver||Hendry, Forbes||Mitchell, David|
|Crowder, F. P.||Higgins, Terence L.||Monro, Hector|
|Cunningham, Sir Knox||Hiley, Joseph||More, Jasper|
|Morgan, W. G.||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas||Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)|
|Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Ridsdale, Julian||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)||Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.|
|Murton, Oscar||Robson Brown, Sir William||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Neave, Airey||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Nicholls, Sir Harmar||Roots, William||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John|
|Nicholson, Sir Godfrey||Royle, Anthony||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael||Russell, Sir Ronald||Walder, David (High Peak)|
|Nugent, Rt. Hn. Sir Richard||Sandys, Rt. Hn. D.||Walker, Peter (Worcester)|
|Onslow, Cranley||Scott-Hopkins, James||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Sharples, Richard||Wall, Patrick|
|Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian||Shepherd, William||Walters, Dennis|
|Osborn, John (Hallam)||Sinclair, Sir George||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Page, John (Harrow, W.)||Smyth, Rt. Hn. Brig. Sir John||Webster, David|
|Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)||Soames, Rt. Hn. Christopher||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Peel, John||Spearman, Sir Alexander||Whitelaw, William|
|Percival, Ian||Speir, Sir Rupert||Williams, Sir Rolf Dudley (Exeter)|
|Peyton, John||Stainton, Keith||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Pickthorn, Rt. Hn. Sir Kenneth||Stanley, Hn. Richard||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Pike, Miss Mervyn||Stodart, Anthony||Wise, A. R.|
|Pitt, Dame Edith||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Pounder, Rafton||Studholme, Sir Henry||Wood Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch||Summers, Sir Spencer||Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher|
|Price, David (Eastleigh)||Talbot, John E.||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Prior, J. M. L.||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)||Wylie, N. R.|
|Pym, Francis||Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow,Cathcart)||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Quennell, Miss J. M.||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)||Younger, Hn. George|
|Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James||Temple, John M.|
|Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Redmayne, Rt. Hn. Sir Martin||Thomas, Sir Leslie (Canterbury)||Mr. Martin McLaren and|
|Rees-Davies, W. R.||Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Conway)||Mr. Ian MacArthur.|
|Abse, Leo||Dalyell, Tam||Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J.|
|Albu, Austen||Darling, George||Hale, Leslie|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)|
|Alldritt, W. H.||Davies, Harold (Leek)||Hamilton, William (West Fife)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Hamling, William (Woolwich, W.)|
|Atkinson, Norman||Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Hannan, William|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||de Freitas, Sir Geoffrey||Harper, Joseph|
|Bagier, Gordon, A. T.||Delargy, Hugh||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)|
|Barnett, Joel||Dempsey, James||Hart, Mrs. Judith|
|Baxter, William||Diamond, John||Hattersley, Roy|
|Beaney, Alan||Dodds, Norman||Hayman, F. H.|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hn. F. J.||Doig, Peter||Hazell, Bert|
|Bence, Cyril||Donnelly, Desmond||Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Driberg, Tom||Heffer, Eric S,|
|Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Duffy, A. E. P.||Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur|
|Bessell, Peter||Dunn, James A.||Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret|
|Binns, John||Dunnett, Jack||Hill, J. (Midlothian)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Edelman, Maurice||Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town.)|
|Blackburn, F.||Edwards, Rt. Hn. Ness (Caerphilly)||Holman, Percy|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Horner, John|
|Boardman, H.||English, Michael||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas|
|Boston, T. G.||Ennals, David||Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Ensor, David||Howarth, Robert L. (Bolton, E.)|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W. (Leics S.W.)||Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)|
|Bowen, Roderic (Cardigan)||Evans, Ioan (Birmingham, Yardley)||Howie, W.|
|Boyden, James||Fernyhough, E.||Hoy, James|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Finch, Harold (Bedwellty)||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)|
|Bradley, Tom||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Fletcher, Sir Eric (Islington, E.)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)|
|Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper)||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Hunter, Adam (Dunfermline)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Glasgow, Provan)||Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Hunter, A. E. (Feltham)|
|Buchan, Norman (Renfrewshire, W.)||Floud, Bernard||Hynd, H. (Accrington)|
|Buchanan, Richard||Foley, Maurice||Hynd, John (Attercliffe)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Foot, Sir Dingle (Ipswich)||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Jackson, Colin|
|Carmichael, Neil||Ford, Ben||Janner, Sir Barnett|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Freeson, Reginald||Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas|
|Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Galpern, Sir Myer||Jeger, George (Goole)|
|Chapman, Donald||Garrett, W. E.||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St.P'cras,S.)|
|Coleman, Donald||Garrow, A.||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)|
|Conlan, Bernard||George, Lady Megan Lloyd||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Ginsburg, David||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)|
|Cousins, Rt. Hn. Frank||Gourlay, Harry||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Gregory, Arnold||Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W.Ham,S.)|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Grey, Charles||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)|
|Crosland, Anthony||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)|
|Crossman, Rt. Hn. R. H. S.||Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly)||Kelley, Richard|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Griffiths, Will (M'chester Exchange)||Kenyon, Clifford|
|Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)||Norwood, Christopher||Snow, Julian|
|Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)||Oakes, Gordon||Solomons, Henry|
|Lawson, George||Ogden, Eric||Soskice, Rt. Hn. Sir Frank|
|Leadbitter, Ted||O'Malley, Brian||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Ledger, Ron||Oram, Albert E. (E. Ham, S.)||Steel, David|
|Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)||Orbach, Maurice||Steele, Thomas|
|Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Orme, Stanley||Stonehouse, John|
|Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Oswald, Thomas||Stones, William|
|Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Owen, Will||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall)|
|Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)||Padley, Walter||Summerskill, Dr. Shirley|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Page, Derek (King's Lynn)||Swain, Thomas|
|Lipton, Marcus||Paget, R. T.||Swingler, Stephen|
|Lomas, Kenneth||Palmer, Arthur||Symonds, J. B.|
|Loughlin, Charles||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles||Taverne, Dick|
|Lubbock, Eric||Pargiter, G. A.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Park, Trevor (Derbyshire, S. E.)||Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)|
|McBride, Neil||Parker, John||Thomas, Iorworth (Rhondda, W.)|
|McCann, J.||Parkin, B. T.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|MacColl, James||Pavitt, Laurence||Thornton, Ernest|
|MacDermot, Niall||Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)||Thorpe, Jeremy|
|McGuire, Michael||Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred||Tinn, James|
|McInnes, James||Pentland, Norman||Tomney, Frank|
|McKay, Mrs. Margaret||Perry, Ernest G.||Tuck, Raphael|
|Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross&Crom'ty)||Popplewell, Ernest||Urwin, T. W.|
|Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)||Prentice, R. E.||Varley, Eric G.|
|Mackie, George Y. (C'ness & S'land)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Mackie, John (Enfield, E.)||Probert, Arthur||Walden, Brian (All Saints)|
|McLeavy, Frank||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|MacMillan, Malcolm||Randall, Harry||Wallace, George|
|MacPherson, Malcolm||Rankin, John||Warbey, William|
|Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)||Redhead, Edward||Watkins, Tudor|
|Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||Rees, Merlyn||Weitzman, David|
|Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Reynolds, G. W.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Rhodes, Geoffrey||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Manuel, Archie||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Whitlock, William|
|Mapp, Charles||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Wigg, Rt. Hn. George|
|Marsh, Richard||Robertson, John (Paisley)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Mason, Roy||Robinson, Rt. Hn. K. (St. Pancras, N.)||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Maxwell, Robert||Rodgers, William (Stockton)||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Mayhew, Christopher||Rose, Paul B.||Williams, Clifford|
|Mellish, Robert||Ross, Rt. Hn. William||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Mikardo, Ian||Rowland, Christopher||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Millan, Bruce||Sheldon, Robert||Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Miller, Dr. M. S.||Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E.||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Milne, Edward (Blyth)||Shore, Peter (Stepney)||Winterbottom, R. E.|
|Molloy, William||Short, Rt. Hn. E. (N'c'tle-on-Tyne, C.)||Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.|
|Monslow, Walter||Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)||Woof, Robert|
|Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Silkin, John (Deptford)||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|Morris, Charles (Openshaw)||Silkin, S. C. (Camberwell, Dulwich)||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Morris, John (Aberavon)||Silverman, Julius (Aston)||Zilliacus, K.|
|Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick (SheffieldPk)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Murray, Albert||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Neal, Harold||Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Newens, Stan||Slater, Joseph (Sedgefleld)||Mr. Sydney Irving and|
|Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Small, William||Mr. George Rogers.|
|Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.)||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).|