HC Deb 30 June 1965 vol 715 cc739-44

Amendment made: In line 40, leave out subsection (2).—[Mr. MacColl.]

Mr. Evelyn King (Dorset, South)

I beg to move Amendment No. 56, in page 16, line 8, at the end to insert: Provided that exclusive possession of the premises is not reasonably necessary for another person engaged in his place in that employment. A few minutes ago the right hon. and learned Attorney-General was explaining to us that if a landlord sought to evict a tenant by means of harassment, that landlord would become subject to a penalty of £500 or six months' imprisonment. That dealt with the generality of the case where a landlord and tenant exist. This Amendment deals with a number of small but very important exceptions. I must first read part of the Clause before explaining what we seek to do: For the purposes of this Part of this Act a person who, under the terms of his employment, has exclusive possession of any premises otherwise than as a tenant shall be deemed to have been a tenant … To this we add the words: provided that exclusive possession of the premises is not reasonably necessary for another person engaged in his place in that employment". We are dealing with the very small but important body of persons whose employment and whose roof go together. We are not concerned with the agricultural worker in a tied cottage, but with persons other than agricultural tenants. Why does such a person have a tied house at all? No employer who already has to provide salary or wages for his employee will normally provide him with very expensive housing unless there are very good reasons for so doing. Those reasons are normally that the employee, and also the tenant, has a job to do of such a kind that danger to life or limb is likely to be involved if a person is not always on the premises.

It follows that it is vitally important that the tenants of these houses should always be there. The danger in this Bill is that a person who holds a job of that kind, can now stay on for a period that may be—subject to some argument, and after allowing for various court procedures—something up to two months. Thus, the institution by which the person is employed will be deprived of an employee vital to it. To take the example of the housemaster or schoolmaster, it does not matter whether the schoolmaster is teaching in a borstal or a grammar school. Headmasters and governing bodies sometimes make mistakes in their appointments and if a housemaster or a schoolmaster should, for whatever reason, take to drugs or drink, or assault a pupil, or something of that kind, then in these instances, which as the right hon. and learned Attorney-General will know, are not entirely unknown, I should have thought everyone would share the view that such a person must go forthwith.

It would be intolerable if such a person were allowed to remain on the premises for two months, thus keeping out his successor as well as obviously causing the school a considerable degree of embarrassment. There is also the example of the resident medical officer, serving perhaps in a mental hospital. There are cases of breakdown, ill-treatment, drink or drugs and it would be quite intolerable for such a person to be permitted to remain in residence, although he had previously had charge of the institution. Under this Bill he could elect to do so.

It may be argued that such a person would normally, for very shame, move out the following day. But we are dealing, ipso facto, with a person who is not ordinary. People charged with or who are guilty of offences of such a character are the very people likely to be difficult, who usually claim to be innocent and remain to continue the job. I have referred to the schoolmaster and the medical officer. There is obviously the question of the resident nurse. There is the vital question of the resident engineer, perhaps in an atomic establishment upon whom responsibilities of almost any kind may rest.

I do not want to carry this too far, but there was the case of the sergeant in the American Air Force who, while in charge of such an establishment, was found to be mentally unstable. I should think that the American forces got rid of him very quickly. If such a case were to arise in this country, it would be intolerable that under this Bill someone who told that person to go forthwith should be subject to a fine of £100 or six months in prison. As I understand it, that is precisely what might happen under the Bill.

The point that I seek to make—and I will not weary the House with further examples because I want to get on—is that whatever good effect the Clause may have in the generality of landlord and tenant cases, there are quite exceptional cases in which the relationship of landlord and tenant is supplemented by the relationship of employer and employee in respect of which such provisions become, apparently, unsuitable. The difficulty is that in a Bill mainly concerned with landlord and tenant we have got inextricably tied up with a totally different problem—that is, the relationship which exists between employer and employee.

This small Amendment seeks to except from the Bill the small number of people other than agricultural employees who, it might be thought, would be in such a position as I have described.

Mr. MacColl

This matter was explored in Committee. As the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Evelyn King) says, there is undoubtedly a situation here which calls for action by the courts. I think that the difference between us is not whether swift action should be taken, but whether that swift action should be taken by the process of law in the courts or by self-help. Once we accept the principle of the Clause—that the proper way of getting people out of their homes is by the process of law—it becomes difficult to make exceptions to that rule from the purely practical point of view.

If an employer wanted to get out someone who was in a service occupation of this sort, he would not, under the Amendment, be sure of getting him out safely unless he was confident that in an action against him—either a criminal prosecution or in litigation for assault—he was able to establish that it was reasonably necessary for another person to be in that place of employment. I imagine that no sensible employer would be likely to risk that. If anybody had to decide whether the other person must have the home, he would say, "This is a matter which I must obviously take to the court. I cannot decide it myself".

I do not think that the Amendment would help to meet the mischief to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention, and I do not think that it would be a wise exception to make to the general rule laid down in the Clause.

Mr. Lubbock

Would the Parliamentary Secretary tell me whether the criteria laid down in paragraph (g) of Schedule 1 of the Rent and Mortgage Interest Restrictions (Amendment) Act, 1933, would cover the kind of case which the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Evelyn King) has in mind? The Schedule says: A court shall … have power to make or give an order or judgment for the recovery of possession of any dwelling-house …"; Paragraph (g) states: the dwelling-house is reasonably required by the landlord for occupation as a residence for some person engaged in his whole-time employment or in the whole-time employment of some tenant from him or with whom, conditional on housing accommodation being provided, a contract for such employment has been entered into". 9.45 p.m.

If those words apply to the kind of tenancies that the hon. Member for Dorset, South has in mind, such as a schoolmaster or another person who occupies a house as part of his employment, if such a person was dismissed for the kind of reasons which have been given and the new employee required the premises, this paragraph would seem to give the landlord power to bring evidence to the courts showing that the dwelling-house was reasonably required by him for the occupation of a new employee and that he could gain possession on those grounds. I should like to know whether this sort of case is already catered for in the Rent Act.

Mr. Evelyn King

The point is not whether the courts will give possession, but that to get possession may take anything up to one or two months. In the case of the person whom I have described, such a delay could be intolerable.

Mr. Lubbock

That is just the kind of case that we considered yesterday when we talked about expedited hearings. The Attorney-General explained that in the 90 cases considered so far, the maximum time taken was 11 days at Boston, Lincolnshire. It was considerably less than this in the London courts. Therefore, nothing like two months need elapse before the landlord could obtain possession in such cases.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

The resistance to the Amendment would be better if it could be guaranteed that 11 days would never be exceeded. There are, however, exceptional cases and it is these which give strength to the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Amendments made: In page 16, line 9, leave out from "Act" to first "the" in line 20.

In line 21, at end insert: and in this section 'the occupier', in relation to any premises, means any person lawfully residing in the premises or part of them at the termination of the former tenancy".

In line 22, leave out subsection (5) and insert: (5) Nothing in this section shall be taken to affect any rule of the law of Scotland prohibiting the securing of possession otherwise than by due process of law.—[Mr. Crossman.]