§ (1) Any notice to quit served on the residential occupier of any premises shall be in the prescribed form.
§ (2) The form of notice referred to herein shall be prescribed by regulations made by the Minister by statutory instrument and shall include such an explanation of the relevant provisions of this Act as appear to the Minister requisite for informing the residential occupiers of their rights and obligations under those provisions.
§ (3) Any statutory instrument under this section shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.—[Mr. Lubbock.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Samuel Storey)
I suggest that it would be convenient for the House to discuss, at the same time, Amendment No. 50, in Clause 25, page 15, line 19, after "residence", insertor serves a notice to quit which he knows to be illegal or serves a notice to quit other than in the prescribed form well knowing that a prescribed form is required".
§ Mr. Lubbock
That will be convenient, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
The House will be relieved to know that I can move this Clause in a fraction of the time it took to deal with the previous one, because hon. Members who took part in the Committee proceedings will recall that we discussed the principle underlying it when I moved an Amendment to Clause 25. Considering the matter in retrospect, it was a pity that I withdrew that Amendment after listening to the honeyed words of the Attorney-General. Having had a further opportunity to consider the matter, I think I can claim now to have slightly improved the method of dealing with the problem.
I will refer to Amendment No. 50 first. In it, I propose to add the words:… or serves a notice to quit which he knows to be illegal or serves a notice to quit other than in the prescribed form well knowing that a prescribed form is required".528 That deals with the problem of intimidation by the service of an illegal notice or a notice which is not in the prescribed form. I will return to that issue when I have discussed the new Clause. It has been widely contended that Clause 25 as drafted already deals with this point. Subsection (1, b) of that Clause refers to… acts calculated to interfere with the peace or comfort of the residential occupier …When we discussed this in Committee the Attorney-General said:My view is that where there was evidence before the court of a landlord serving on the tenant a series of invalid notices to quit in circumstances that clearly indicated that his purpose was to upset the tenant and drive him out of the premises by reason of that interference with his peace, then if proven before the court, those acts would establish the offence of harassment of the occupier within the meaning of Clause 25."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee F, 1st June, 1965; c. 748.]That sounds very nice—that is, until it is analysed. Then one finds that the Attorney-General speaks of "a series of invalid notices".
I take it that he chose his words carefully and that he would not have said what he did unless he meant a series and not a single invalid notice. Presumably, therefore, a single invalid notice, whatever the intention behind it, would not constitute an offence under Clause 25. Further, one must establish the purpose which the landlord had in submitting the notice.
We say in Amendment No. 50 that if he knows the notice to be illegal he shall have committed an offence under Clause 25. This is slightly more likely catch the landlord who is "fly" and does not repeat his offence if he thinks that he is under observation, but does repeat it if he thinks that he is not, or if he thinks that the tenant is not likely to report him.
It would be a good thing to put the matter beyond doubt. I am sure that there is a good deal of anxiety in the minds of hon. Members on this score. We all have people coming to our advice bureaux, or writing to us about lawyers' letters they receive telling them to get out of their properties, letters which may well be invalid and, in fact, in most cases are. The hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) and the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) 529 referred to this type of practice, which is not defined to England and Wales, but, we understand, occurs also in Scotland.
The new Clause follows the precedent of the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1954. I am pleased to note that the Attorney-General and, I suppose, the Government, will accept the principle that we should have a prescribed notice to quit. This would be an advance on our present practice. The Attorney-General, in Committee, went on to say:I am sure that this is one of the problems that will be considered when, as is hoped, and, it I may commit them to this extent, expected—that the Law Commissioners will in due course review the whole law of landlord and tenant."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee F, 1st June, 1965; c. 748.]I am afraid that the Law Commissioners may become an avenue by which Governments escape their immediate responsibilities.
Here we have an opportunity of doing something about the matter. We may not get another opportunity of discussing it till either the Minister brings forward his consolidating rent Bill he has promised, or till, after a lengthy delay, the Law Commissioners consider it, among the many others which are for their immediate attention. I do not think that I have to explain in any detail what the purpose of a statutory notice to quit is. It is obvious.
Neither is there need for me to explain the purposes of the Bill. The Minister said on Second Reading thatall 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th April, 1965; Vol. 710, c. 33.]I think that the Minister will agree with me when I say that it is quite essential that anyone who is affected by a notice to quit under the Bill should have the clearest understanding of what his rights and obligations are. We can ensure that easily by giving the Minister power to lay down that a full explanation accompanies any notice to quit which, under the Bill, is sent out. This would encourage the good relationships between landlord and tenants which it is one of the principal stated objects of the Bill to promote. For all these reasons, I hope that the Minister will accept both the new Clause and Amendment No. 50.
§ Sir D. Glover
I see appended to the new Clause the names of two hon. Members on the Government side of the House. Is this the first sign of a Liberal-Labour pact?
§ Mr. Lubbock
I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman had put his name to the new Clause, and to the further Amendment, we should have been delighted to see it there.
§ Mr. Corfield
I was rather assuming, from the names put to the new Clause, that it was probably an agreed Amendment, though there is a certain amount of significance in the fact that the hon. Members on the other side whose names are put to the Clause, the hon. Member for Salford, E. (Mr. Frank Allaun) and the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) are not in their places. Whether it is significant or not I do not know. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"].
Although I would not entirely follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) in the arguments he used in support of the Clause, I would add my support to it and hope that the Government will accept it, or at least bring one of their own in similar form.
I do so for somewhat different reasons. I am worried that Clause 25 will not be adequate to catch the landlord who uses a series of invalid notices as a form of persecution. It has seemed to me over the years, particularly when I was in the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry, that as life becomes more and more complex, the old legal adage "ignorance of the law is no excuse" becomes hollower and hollower when you try and explain it to some one who cannot possibly be expected to understand it.
There is a great deal to be said for the part of the provision that means that the relevant provision of the Act shall appear on the notice. This is particularly important when we consider the Clause that we were discussing earlier this evening. It produces a number of occasions on which the normal running of the Act will not apply to a particular tenancy. On the other hand, I have to admit that this fact also makes it perhaps difficult to prescribe a form that would be applicable in all circumstances. There 531 may be difficulties from that point of view, but I would strongly support the main suggestion that a tenant should know exactly what are his obligations, as well as his rights.
We are inclined to talk a great deal about rights without remembering that preserving a man's rights, except where the legislature interferes, ought to be a man's duty. This is certainly so in many cases that will arise under the earlier Clause which we were discussing.
I hope that the Minister will be in a receptive mood as the evening rolls on. Even if, as I think the Attorney-General has indicated, there may be some difficulties in prescribing a universal form. I hope that he will accept the spirit of the Clause.
§ The Attorney-General
We on this side of the House are in full sympathy with the approach of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) and fully sympathise with what he is trying to do in this Clause. We have noted with admiration the energy and persistence that he has applied to the pursuit of this principle.
Perhaps I should say at the outset that no amount of legislation can prevent a landlord of a certain type from serving an ineffective notice in the hope that the tenant will act on it. No Act of Parliament can stop a scoundrelly landlord from trying it on. We shall punish him if he carries it to the point of harassment. We are making that now a criminal offence. Deliberate cases of harassment will, of course, be punished under Clause 25 of the Bill.
I think that the House would probably take the view that the mere failure to use a prescribed form on perhaps one occasion only—as the hon. Member for Orpington suggests should be the basis of a criminal prosecution—may be taking it a little too far. I think that if a course of serving a series of notices upon a tenant is pursued to the point of harassment, even though individually the notices might be in order, that would be a proper foundation for a prosecution. Apart from that aspect of the matter, when one comes to deal with the kind of notice to quit that is practicable and effective, very great difficulties are encountered at once.
532 May I say to the hon. Member for Orpington that in my view his own Clause is much too wide. It deals with a reference to the residential occupier, and I apprehend that he intends that to be given the same meaning as the residential occupier described in Clause 25. If that is right, the Clause would cover, first, tenancies that are already subject to a requirement of a prescribed notice; for instance, tenancies within Part I of the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1954. Secondly, on the face of it, the requirement would cover tenancies and similar relationships which can be terminated without any notice to quit at all; for example, statutory tenancies or tenancies for a fixed term.
But there is another and a rather graver difficulty in finding a prescribed form of notice that summarises adequately the many and complex features of the statutory and case law on the Rent Acts. The most that a notice to quit would do would be to refer to the protection of the Acts and leave it to the tenant, probably with a lawyer to help him, to find what that really amounted to.
Even in the comparatively limited field of Part I of the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1954, the form that is prescribed for a notice to terminate a tenancy occupies two and a half closely printed pages in the bible of the lawyer dealing with the law of landlord and tenant, written by my learned friend Mr. Megarry. That is a comparatively simple problem, but the House would be misleading itself if it thought that this problem was an easy one. It is not. It is extremely difficult, and the fact is that the problem can only be tackled satisfactorily in the context of a general revision of the law of landlord and tenant.
I make no apology at all for expressing my delight that at last we have in existence a permanent Law Commission which is charged with keeping the law under review and reforming it. I have little doubt that one of the first tasks that the Commission will lend itself to will be a review and redrafting of the law of landlord and tenant.
However, as the hon. Member has said, that is bound to take some time. I fully sympathise with his view that, if it is possible to find a practicable form of 533 notice to quit which will provide some protection to the tenant against undue alarm without, at the same time, making unjustifiable inroads into the right of a landlord to obtain possession in proper circumstances, clearly that effort should be made.
Frankly, we have found the task of finding a form of notice that can be helpful and effective—and not be a mere bluff, which I am sure the hon. Member would not want—a very difficult one. The matter is still receiving the most active consideration of my right hon. Friend and myself and those who are assisting us, and we hope that we may be able to produce a Clause dealing with a form of notice to quit for production in another place when this Bill goes there.
I cannot give positive assurances that we shall succeed, but we shall certainly try, and. I want to assure the House of our maximum good will in regard to this problem. We have inherited in this field a situation that has been allowed to drift, and in which the law has been allowed to reach a state of near chaos. Nothing has been done to deal with this matter in any radical way for decades. We will tackle the job, but, in the meantime, we shall do our best to introduce some first-aid formula to protect the tenant during the interim period of waiting, not for Godot but for a really effective review of the law of landlord and tenant.
§ Dame Joan Vickers
Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman seen the form issued by local authorities? They have a specific form. Could he not have a form on the same lines? I think that it would be very advantageous. The forms set out the position quite simply.
§ The Attorney-General
I have seen those forms, and within their limits they are very useful for dealing with the limited problem of such notices, but in the wide range of tenancies and relationships between landlord and tenant with which we are here dealing the problem is very complex. However, I hope that the House will now be satisfied by what I have said, that we are making—I was about to use the phrase "a desperate effort"—we will certainly make a serious effort to see whether something 534 can be produced for another place to give protection to the tenant who might be subjected to undue alarm by unjustifiable notice.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
I find the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument extremely unconvincing, and I cannot think that his heart is in it. It is surely quite simple to devise a reasonable form of notice to alert the tenant to his basic rights under the Bill. That is all that is needed. There are any number of precedents. The learned Attorney-General has referred to the notice under the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1954, but there are other precedents. Under the Agricultural Holdings Act the landlord has to give the tenant certain information in the notice.
In this kind of case it is very necessary to alert the tenant to his basic rights. We do not expect the notice required of the landlord to give all the detailed rights of the tenant, or the detailed obligations that fall on him under the Bill. I am sure that in a very short time a form of notice could be devised that would enable the tenant to know his basic rights.
I was also amazed to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggest that this state of affairs could be remedied in another place. I did not know that the Government were so keen on another place and its revisionary powers that they had to resort to it to put these things right. Why, with all their resources, is it impossible for the Government to devise a form that could be readily available to the tenant; and to accept this Amendment? It shows a reactionary, conservative attitude on the part of the learned Attorney-General which I must say I had not hitherto, in a long association with him, connected with him at all.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
The Bill is becoming incredibly bewildering. It certainly bewilders the Government and the Opposition, and we now have a situation in which, having had more than 60 Amendments put down for this Report stage by the Government, we see another place becoming equally clogged up as it starts trying to sort out other problems arising as we go along. If the Bill ever becomes law, and is put into practice, I fear that the situation will arise in which tenants who are to be protected by it will 535 be so bewildered by its complications that they will find it almost impossible to discover where their measure of protection really is.
I would suggest to the learned Attorney-General that even if he cannot find a suitable form for this notice, at least he should make sure that the Government are urgently considering a document which will be available to every landlord and tenant, setting out in simple form what the Bill is all about.
As things stand, I am getting in my mailbag letters from landlords and tenants alike who are absolutely confused by the provisions of the Bill. This Clause points, I think, to a particularly important aspect—that of the confusion that will be in the mind of the tenant receiving bullying communications through the post—and I hope that even if we cannot get a concrete form of notice at least we can have a thorough explanatory note.
§ Mr. Carlisle
It is really extraordinary that for the second time during today's sitting we have heard the Government say that they propose to put down Amendments in another place to review yet again matters raised first in Committee on this Bill.
§ The Attorney-General
I am beginning to wonder what conception hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite really have of the functions of a debate on Report. I had understood that this was part of the Parliamentary process of the offering of criticism by the Opposition and the consideration of it by the Government. Really, the suggestion that to accept after consideration arguments put forward in the House is an indication of (a) incompetence, and (b) behaving in an irresponsible fashion, is the biggest lot of gibberish I have heard in the House for years.
§ Mr. Carlisle
With a very great deal of respect to the learned Attorney-General, the point I am making, and I still believe that it is a relevant point, is that these matters have not been raised for the first time on this stage of the Bill. This matter, and the previous matters on New Clause No. 11, were raised in Committee as well, and the point I wish to make is that if, as the Attorney-General is 536 now conveying to the House, it is practicable to make such an Amendment, or to accept such a new Clause as the hon Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) has moved, surely the Government would have been in a position, after considering this in Committee, to have brought it forward for debate on the Report stage in this House.
With the greatest respect to the hon. Member for Orpington, although I have a great deal of sympathy with what is behind his intention, I really do not believe that it is feasible for the Government at this stage or in another place to carry out such an amendment as is proposed, and that is why, I suspect, they said that they will reconsider it.
Although I think that if one could arrange for a notice to quit to be in a prescribed form it would be an excellent idea, when one considers the precedents under the 1954 Act and the precedents under the Agricultural Tenancies Act, one has to remember that there is one great distinction between this Bill and those Acts. In almost all cases where one has notice to quit in a prescribed form, one is tending to deal with landlords likely to be professional landlords, likely to have professional advisers who are likely to know the form in which notices are to be served.
What perturbs me about this Clause—and I ask the Attorney-General to consider this before going ahead and bringing in a new Clause in another place—is that many of the people with whom we are concerned with reference to residential accommodation are people who, perhaps, have let one room in a furnished dwelling. They would be covered as also would be anyone who owned one house and let another house. Is it practicable to expect those landlords to serve a notice to quit in a prescribed form? Although I have some sympathy with the idea, I doubt whether it is practicable to bring this in and whether it would not cause much injustice to landlords.
§ Mr. Roderic Bowen (Cardigan)
Is the hon. and learned Member suggesting that a landlord in that position will be capable of serving a valid effective notice, but incapable of getting hold of the prescribed form?
§ Mr. Carlisle
The hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) would 537 agree that they have enough difficulty at the moment in serving a valid notice to quit.
§ Mr. Carlisle
Knowing the strict rules already applying to valid notices to quit, we might put too great a strain on a landlord—not a big company, but one of these landlords—if he had to serve a notice in the prescribed form.
The point I wish to raise does not come under the part of the new Clause which is open to argument. What perturbs me is Amendment No. 50, which is in the names of two hon. Members of the Liberal Party. I hope that the intention of the Government to consider a prescribed notice does not go so far as to consider that Amendment with favour. Presumably the word "illegal" means "invalid".
§ Mr. Carlisle
If the landlord knows it to be invalid, I cannot see that it is such an act as should be liable to the serving of a six months' term of imprisonment.
§ Mr. Carlisle
Not by this Clause. Accepting that the landlord knows that the prescribed form is required, what if, in all good faith, knowing that, the landlord serves another notice? Is he in that way committing an offence which would make him liable to six months' imprisonment? I should have thought that the Attorney-General was absolutely right in saying that the persistent service of notices in this matter would in itself amount to harassment under Clause 25 as it stands.
The final point I make is one which I made in Committee. I still do not fully appreciate why it is a greater harassment or embarrassment to the tenant to serve an invalid notice to quit on him than a valid one and that it is calculated to cause him discomfort. Surely the service of a valid notice may be just as great an embarrassment and disturb his peace and comfort as would the service of an invalid notice. Although if it were practicable one would like to see some form of prescribed notice, I very much fear that it 538 is not practicable. I would be very much concerned with some of the implications of the Amendment in relation to Clause 25.
§ 2.45 a.m.
§ Mr. Bowen
I had not intended to intervene in this debate, but I have been provoked to do so by the remarks of the hon. Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle). In this observations on Amendment 50 he forgot entirely the fact that knowledge that a notice to quit is illegal or invalid is required when serving that notice. I would have thought that when a person quite deliberately serves a notice which he knows to be invalid according to the conditions clearly laid down in Clause 25 it is harassment and something with which we would wish to deal.
When the hon. Member referred to the serving of notice on a prescribed form he omitted entirely to point out that none of this operates unless the first part of Clause 25 comes into operation. The Clause lays down thatIf any person with intent to cause the residential occupier of any premises—(a) to give up the occupation of the premises or any part thereof; …does acts calculated to interfere with the peace or comfort of the residential occupier or members of his household …or with that object in mind, that type of conduct is harassment and should be dealt with under the Bill.
When one is dealing with the prescribed notice to quit in the 1954 Act which dealt with agricultural tenancies, one is normally dealing with a landlord who has legal advisers whereas many landlords covered by the Bill do not have legal advisers. They are precisely the people who should receive additional and very much-needed protection by the provision of a prescribed form which would set out quite specifically their rights and obligations under the Bill. The arguments which the hon. Member for Runcorn used against the prescribed form were most positive arguments in its favour.
The Attorney General has rather overstated the difficulties. Presumably at some stage a leaflet will be issued, explaining the operation of the Bill when it becomes law. If it is possible to do that I see no reason why the same kind of information as contained in the leaflet should not be set out in the prescribed 539 form. I would like there to be information about tenants' rights to legal aid and his position when seeking guidance from local citizens' advice bureaux and similar organisations.
§ Mr. Forbes Hendry
At first sight, the proposal in this Clause seems attractive to me as a Scottish lawyer who has had considerable experience of notices to quit on prescribed forms. In Scotland for many years we have had rather more civilised ways of getting rid of our tenantse than seems to have been the case in England and Wales. As the House knows it has never been the practice, although theoretically possible, to proceed to an eviction without recourse to the courts. The Sheriffs Courts Acts from 1907 to 1913 laid down prescribed forms of notices to quit.
These notices to quit must be in statutory form if they are to have validity. We have heard that word "validity" several times in the course of this short debate. It seems that the mover of the new Clause, the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Eric Lubbock), has become a little confused about what is a notice to quit and what is not. He has in mind something which is very different from a notice to quit, which is intended to have legal validity in bringing to an end a tenancy. He spoke about lawyers' letters. If we are going to widen the Clause so as to include a whole series of notices and lawyers' letters then we are getting on to very dangerous ground indeed.
We discussed at length earlier in the evening the first new Clause which prescribed certain circumstances in which a landlord could recover possession of his house. That Clause provides that to recover possession of his house a landlord must give notice to the tenant of his intention to resume possession. In certain circumstances the normal way of giving notice would be for the landlord, or his solicitors, to write a letter to the tenant saying, "I intend to resume possession of my house at such and such a date, in accordance with my entitlements under this Act".
It may be that the tenant, in accordance with the contract between the two parties, would act upon that. That is a much nicer way of doing it than sending a 540 missive to him on a prescribed form, with all sorts of references to imprisonment and all the rest of it. Very great care would require to be taken in formulating any sort of notice to quit which is to be made under the circumstances envisaged under the Bill.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)
Is the hon. Member seriously suggesting that people put out into the street would feel happier if they received a nice letter from a nice landlord instead of properly framed legal form showing them their rights?
§ Mr. Hendry
The hon. Member should use his brains and think out what happens on these occasions. Under new Clause No. 1 we have the case where there is a solemn bargain between a landlord and tenant that the tenant will occupy the house, until the purification of a certain event, whether the lapse of a certain period, or some event taking place. The landlord knows what the circumstances are and the tenant knows, also. In such circumstances, the landlord and tenant will be on friendly terms, and if they are not they ought to be. I believe that 90 per cent. of landlords and tenants are on perfectly friendly terms and that it is far nicer for the landlord or his solicitors, to write to the tenant and say that that event has taken place and that if is now time for him to leave the house.
The case has already been mentioned of a lady having sublet part of her house to a tenant. She does not go to a solicitor and serve notice. She says, "My laddie is coming home and I need your room." This is a verbal notice to quit. Has she got to get a form and send it to the sub-tenant, because that is what it boils down to? It seems ludicrous that a person could, under the proposed Clause render himself liable for six months' imprisonment. We must have a sense of proportion about this. Clause 25 provides that for the first offence a person is liable to a fine not exceeding £100, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or for both. On a second or subsequent conviction, if someone writes a second nice letter, he will be liable to a fearsome penalty, toa fine not exceeding five hundred pounds or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to both".541 I have had great experience of this professionally, not only acting for landlords, but acting for tenants. In the majority of cases, there are the best possible relations between the two parties. To have to sit down and send out a fearsome notice with reference to a fine of £500 and six months' imprisonment, or both, is ludicrous when it can be done simply by a lawyer's letter.
I hope that the Attorney-General will consider these difficulties. If he considers providing a statutory form of notice to quit, he should have in mind a notice to quit which would be necessary, as is done in Scotland, for the purpose of validating the termination of a tenancy and not for setting up impossible barriers between landlords and tenants who may be on very friendly terms.
Although the hon. Member for Orpington has the germ of a good idea, he simply has not thought it out properly. In making such a proposal, it is up to the Member who moves it to say exactly what he has in mind. Obviously, the thing is so wide as to be completely and utterly unworkable.
The Attorney-General has stated that the Clause in its present form is unacceptable to him. I hope that he will give further thought to it and greatly narrow down the position. Certainly, if he finds it necessary to prescribe a form of notice to quit, I hope that it will not be hedged about with all the fearsome penalties which are contained in Clause 25, which would be the natural consequence of the Clause as drafted.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
This has been a rather curious debate on the new Clause. When I looked at the Notice Paper, some hours ago, I thought that this would be a joint Liberal-Labour effort, the first fruits, perhaps, of the initiative of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) to establish friendly relations with those who disagree with him on fundamental issues.
§ Sir D. Glover
My right hon. Friend will, of course, realise that it would cause a split with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) if it went further.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
If I were to be led, even by my hon. Friend, into the 542 entertaining subject of Liberal splits, I should probably be called to order.
That expectation was defeated because the names of hon. Members opposite appear to the new Clause. On the other hand, one of the hon. Members concerned has not appeared at all during the debate and the other, the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger), arrived halfway through but has remained uncharacteristically silent.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
It would be difficult for her to be satisfied with what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said except by telepathy, because I do not think that the hon. Lady was present at the time. I also have far too high a regard for her intelligence to believe that she would have been satisfied by what the Attorney-General said had she been here. The right hon. and learned Gentleman therefore loses both ways.
It is significant that hon. Members opposite put their names to the new Clause and have not had the courage to speak to it. They are rather like a number of hon. Members opposite below the Gangway who spoke violently against new Clause No. 3, but trooped into the Government Lobby when the time came to vote.
I cannot help feeling sorry for the Attorney-General. He is always put up to speak when the House as a whole wants something and is to be told that it cannot have it. It has become even more noticeable now that there is not on the Government Front Bench any Minister from the Department responsible for the Bill. The Minister sees fit to insist on driving his legislation through in the middle of the night. I think that it would be proper if he or one of the Joint Parliamentary Secretaries would condescend to join the proceedings if, in view of the confused mess in which the Government's programme now is, legislation has to be driven through in the middle of the night.
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
The Bill is sponsored by the Minister of Housing and Local Government and by the Secretary of State for Scotland. We resent the 543 implication that we are an adjunct to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
No one would regard Scotsmen as an adjunct to anybody. I have sufficient Scottish blood in me never to wish to make that charge, but the fact remains, and the hon. Gentleman knows it as well as anyone in the House, that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government has the main responsibility for the Bill, and that because the Minister has got the Bill into a mess he is insisting on proceeding with it hour after hour through the night. It is extremely improper and discourteous to the House that neither he nor either of the Joint Parliamentary Secretaries is here to take part in the discussions.
Although the Attorney-General was not perhaps at his best, I think that he showed that there were considerable practical difficulties in the new Clause. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, has now entered the Chamber. It is wonderful what oratory can do.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The Attorney-General made a good point when he said that some tenancies were not brought to an end by a notice to quit. It is probably an insuperable objection to the new Clause as it stands, but I think that it is plain that it is the general wish of the House that something should be done in this direction, and that some action should be taken to deal with the matter. Indeed, the Attorney-General himself accepted this when he said that an effort would be made to bring forward a new Clause in another place.
This was the third occasion during this sitting on which the Government indicated their desire to make use of another place in its legislative capacity. It is perhaps fortunate for the Government that those of their supporters who wish to take away the legislative power of another place have not so far been successful, or the Government could not do what it turns out to be highly convenient to seek to do. On two previous occasions a firm undertaking was given 544 to introduce a new Clause, and on this occasion the Attorney-General has said that the Government will try to do something.
I hope that they will do so, and that they will take advantage of the mass of legislative talent that is available in another place to assist them in that process. It would probably be difficult to press this new Clause on the Attorney-General, because he showed that there were real and substantial objections to it. I am sorry if that breaks up the otherwise united front between the parties in a debate which was made the more remarkable by the intervention of the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen).
§ Sir D. Glover
I agree with my right hon. Friend that it would be difficult for the House to accept the new Clause. The Attorney-General said that the Government were making desperate efforts. What the House needs is not desperate efforts, but intelligent ones, and we have had very little sign of intelligence tonight from the right hon. and learned Gentleman. In fact, this debate has been rather fascinating to anybody in the House who is not a lawyer. On the previous Clause I was convinced that the Law Society was leading by many lengths from the National League of Labour Lawyers, represented by the Attorney-General, but when we came to this Clause we had not only the League of Labour Lawyers and the Law Society; we had learned barristers none of whom agreed with each other, and all of whom explained the intricacies of the Clause, some saying that it was as clear as the ordinary run of Clauses, others saying that it was unintelligible, and some saying that it would not work while others said that it was essential. Listening to these debates between lawyers one is not surprised that most of them die very wealthy men—because they spend most of their time arguing between each other in a most erudite manner, taking money by disagreeing.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Dr. Horace King)
Order. The debate is getting a little discursive. I hope that the hon. Member will come to the terms of the new Clause.
§ Sir D. Glover
I thank you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for calling me to order. I was carried away by the eloquence of 545 those Members who belong to the legal profession. This has been very much a lawyers debate.
§ Sir D. Glover
The hon. Member need not inform the House of that. The pedestrian way in which he moved the Clause made that clear.
§ Sir D. Glover
I will certainly get down to the meat of the Clause. Engineers are not supposed to be backing this Clause. [Interruption.] I never ask for your protection, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I am under attack from the Liberal benches, from a comatose position.
The learned Attorney-General made it clear—it is about the only thing that he did make clear—that the Government were making desperate efforts to achieve what the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) wanted to achieve. But we do not need desperate efforts; we want intelligent efforts. There is a good body of opinion in the House—despite the legal arguments—that there is some sound sense behind the Clause.
§ Mr. Lubbock
On a point of order. Is not there a rule against tedious repetition, Mr. Deputy-Speaker? I distinctly heard the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) use precisely the same words twice. He said that we did not need desperate efforts; we wanted intelligent efforts. He said that more than once.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) must not imagine that the Chair cannot hear. I hope that he will leave order to the Chair.
§ Sir D. Glover
However hard I tried I could never emulate the hon. Member for Orpington in the matter of tedious repetition.
We come to the question of an intelligent approach to this problem. There is a real desire among many hon. Members for a form of notice to quit. We have had the matter debated by the lawyers, 546 who have pointed out the difficulties. We come back to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said when he intervened some time ago—when he said he thought that there was a good deal of—
§ Sir D. Glover
I do not know why the hon. Member interrupts me. I am supporting his Clause.
We said that there was a good deal of strength in the arguments put forward for the Clause and he said that he was desperately searching for a solution. Now that the Government have realised the value of a formal notice, it would be a good thing if, before the Bill becomes an Act, they used their intelligence to try to produce a form of words which would fill the need for a statutory notice to quit. It would not be open to the objections which the Attorney-General reckons these words have, but would build the argument which he put forward and would build the arguments of the other lawyers who have intervened in the debate. An enormous number of tenants would feel a far greater sense of security and certainty if there were a recognisable form for the notice than if they had a verbal notification or a letter which they did not understand written by someone who was not versed in legal jargon.
There would be a far greater certainty and a far greater degree of uniformity across the country if there were a statutory form for these orders. Therefore, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider again whether something on these lines cannot be introduced into the Bill. I am sure that it would be a great protection and, far more important, a great assurance to many ordinary people who would be affected by the Act.
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
After three o'clock in the morning, I hope that I shall not be departing too far from precedent if, when I say that I shall be brief, I mean it.
Two arguments have been produced against the Clause, neither of which was valid. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) suggested that these words could not be accepted because some tenancies did not require a notice to quit, but, of course, this Clause would not 547 apply to such tenancies. There is no such reference in the Clause. All that the Clause seeks to do is define what form a notice to quit should take—clearly, in those cases where a notice to quit is required.
The other argument produced against the Clause was put forward by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry), who seemed to have a rather rosy view of the landlord-tenant relationship. He seemed to think that it was based on people sending nice letters to one another and having cosy chats on the doorstep. That may be true in some cases, and in those cases there is nothing to prevent people sending nice letters along with the formal notice to quit or handing them over during the chat on the doorstep.
What we are trying to do, and what should be the concern of the House, is to see that the whole landlord-tenant relationship should, wherever possible, be simplified and that people should be aware of their rights. I do not accept that any argument against the Clause has been valid. I hope that we shall not be thought mischievous if we cut across this Tory-Labour pact between the Front Benches and urge the House to accept the new Clause.
§ Question put and negatived.