HC Deb 30 June 1965 vol 715 cc644-6
Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (Lewisham, West)

I beg to move Amendment No. 13, in page 4, line 28, after "by", to insert: agreement in writing between the landlord and the tenant or in default thereof by". We discussed words similar to these in Standing Committee. We are here dealing with a Clause which sets out to deal with the situation of adjustment before the registration limit imposed by Clause 3. Here we are dealing with a contract between a tenant and a landlord which can be altered in certain circumstances by an appropriate amount regarding various services. As the Clause is drawn, to make that new agreement valid it has to be determined by a county court. What we suggest in this Amendment is that it should take into consideration a happy agreement between the landlord and tenant.

If we look at Clause 6(5) we find these exact words. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary if, having looked at this matter, he can explain why we cannot have the same form of wording as exists in Clause 6 in Clause 4. I should have thought that would be something which would be welcomed as a happy agreement between landlord and tenant without resorting to a court to give a clear determination.

I hope that the Government will see fit to accept the Amendment.

The Attorney-General (Sir Elwyn Jones)

My right hon. Friend the Minister, in Committee, said that we would be prepared to look at the Clause again to make absolutely certain that it does not exclude agreements, because we agree that that would be a disastrous consequence of the drafting as it is obviously imperative to encourage agreements as much as possible. We are satisfied, having re-examined Clause 4, that this Amendment is unnecessary.

The Clause simply introduces some modifications into the limits imposed by Clause 3(3), that is to say, the limit within which the parties are free to agree a rent. If they agree what increases or decreases are reasonable in the circumstances dealt with in subsections (2) and (4) of Clause 4, no question arises. If no question arises there is no question referable to the court, no matter which falls for the court's adjudication; the court does not come into the picture.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. McNair-Wilson) may care to know that a similar formal provision is provided for in Section 2(b) of the Rent Act, 1920. There were no doubt innumerable increases or decreases under that Section of the Rent Act, 1920, made in the 37 years of the Act's life, but there is no indication whatever that the words used in that Section ever discouraged agreements or caused any difficulties whatever.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

This is an important point. Would the Attorney-General care to clarify how this should be documented? Is it necessary for there to be an exchange of letters and of contracts? Where should this agreement be shown? So many small landlords do not understand the law, although they are all anxious to maintain the law. In order to get the matter right, could the right hon. and learned Gentleman give a little more advice to the House on this question?

The Attorney-General

I should not think that a formal agreement or contract was required, but it is always desirable for the parties to embody any agreement in writing and an exchange of letters would be quite adequate for the purpose.

Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

The assurance of the Attorney-General will probably carry a great deal of weight. It may well be that we shall not feel it necessary to discuss this matter much further, but there is a point which has been made about the drafting of this Clause which the Attorney-General has not answered. That is the difference in this respect between the words in the subsection we are discussing and in Clause 6(5). That subsection also begins with the words, "Any question" and there is express provision for agreement in writing. The question naturally poses itself: if the right hon. and learned Gentleman is right about Clause 4, why are these words necessary in Clause 6?

The Attorney-General

By Clause 6(5) it is necessary to refer an agreement, because otherwise the parties could not override the limit laid down by Clause 5. On the other hand, Clause 4 is concerned with agreements, since it varies the limit on the contractual rent. That, I understand, is the distinction justifying the difference.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

In view of the assurance given by the Attorney-General, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.