HC Deb 01 November 1965 vol 718 cc789-94

Lords Amendment No. 22: In page 18, line 35, at end insert new Clause "C": C. Where any premises are let as a dwelling on a lease which is subject to a right of re-entry or forfeiture it shall not be lawful to enforce that right otherwise than by proceedings in the court while any person is lawfully residing in the premises or part of them.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Dingle Foot)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

I hope that this Amendment will commend itself to both sides of the House. It provides in effect that there can be no forfeiture of a lease except on the order of a court. A lease generally contains a provision that if a tenant breaks any of the covenants, including the covenant to pay rent, the landlord may re-enter the premises and the lease thereupon comes to an end by forfeiture. In that case the tenant is entitled to go to the court for relief, and for this reason it is very unusual for a landlord to seek to bring a lease to an end by forfeiture otherwise than by proceedings in court, but it is well established that he may do so if he chooses. He resorts to what is sometimes described as self-help to enter premises for this purpose, and if he does so the position under the existing law is that the lease comes to an end, subject to the right of a tenant to apply to the court for relief, so he can go to the court in any event.

The effect of the new Clause will be to make it unlawful for a landlord to re-enter to take possession of premises in right of forfeiture, and under the terms of Clause 29(1) any landlord who seeks to do so will be guilty of an offence. The new Clause is consistent with the principle underlying the Bill, namely, that a landlord should not have the right to evict a tenant without first obtaining an order of the court.

It may well be that the position is a little obscure, that under Clause 29 as it stands it will still be lawful for a landlord to re-enter on forfeiture without going to the court, but that is open to argument, and the new Clause clears up the issue which might otherwise be left open to doubt.

There have, of course, been very few cases in recent years where landlords have exercised their right of re-entry on forfeiture, but at any rate we want to clear up the position. We want to make it quite clear that there can be no re-entry and there can be no forfeiture without an order of the court. I hope that that is a principle which will commend itself to both sides of the House.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

I am not quite happy about the question of re-entry. This is a point which arose during the summer months after the Bill was sent to another place.

There are in this country a number of old people's homes run by charitable and religious organisations. The usual practice in these homes is that rooms are let furnished to old people who pay a part of their pension to the home. In many instances an old person says to the charitable trust, "May I bring by furniture with me, and in that event may I have an unfurnished room?" The charity then allows the tenant to take an unfurnished room.

Presumably, the tenant then becomes a regulated tenant under the Bill. But the tenant, being an old person, may become ill and go to hospital, or may become an awkward case and insist on all sorts of rights which the charitable body does not want to give. The usual practice at present is that the trust will re-enter the room and make arrangements for the tenant to go elsewhere and put another old person into that room.

In such instances, it seems to me that the charity should have the right of re-entry into rooms which are unfurnished, and I would invite the Solicitor-General to say a word about that, because there are instances in my constituency of Roman Catholic homes and others which are very well run, where the landlords require the right to re-enter if a tenant gets very awkward or becomes a geriatric case and ought to go to hospital. I should be obliged if the Solicitor-General could tell us what are the rights of the landlord and tenant in such a case.

Mr. Cole

I have no wish to ask the Solicitor-General conundrums at this late hour, but could he tell us what is the position about re-entry in the case of residential accommodation which is included in a business lease? There seems to be a loophole in new Clause C, which is to follow Clause 29.

Mr. Graham Page

Although we on this side agree with the principle embodied in the Clause, it is not quite as simple as the right hon. and learned Gentleman explained it. It refers to "any premises" Under this part of the Bill, it will be unlawful to harass any occupier, and that comes in the present Clause 29. However, in dealing with the lawful taking of possession, this part of the Bill is restricted to occupation which follows something other than a protected tenancy. In Clause 30, the basic protection that one must go to the court in order to get possession applies to those people who are in occupation after a tenancy which is not a protected tenancy. The reason for that is that, if they follow a protected tenancy, in general, they have their rights under the Rent Act, the Agriculture Act or any of those Measures mentioned in Clause 32.

New Clause C which we are now discussing seems to be quite contradictory to the present Clause 32. Surely new Clause C should have been restricted to those who have no rights under the Rent Act, under the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1954, or under the Agriculture Act; otherwise, what we are saying in the new Clause is that to exercise a right of re-entry or a right of forfeiture is unlawful and is harassment under Clause 29. That, surely, is not right. The normal right of re-entry or right of forfeiture comes from a common form clause included in tenancy agreements and leases, that the landlord shall have a right to re-enter or forfeit a lease on breach of covenant, on arrears of rent, if the tenant is bankrupt or makes composition with his creditors. This can apply to controlled, non-controlled, regulated, or non-regulated tenancies; and if applying to the controlled or regulated tenancies, then the occupier has his rights under the Rent Act or whatever other legislation—and there is other legislation—applies. He has that protection.

11.15 p.m.

If this is intended to apply to all tenancies outside regulation, then we say that it would seem to be an unreasonable application. It is not harassment to apply the rights of the landlord for re-entry or forfeiture. Secondly, a point which the Solicitor-General did not touch upon was that concerned with the words "lawfully residing" in the penultimate line of this Amendment. What do they mean in this context? I would suggest that it is a phrase simply inviting litigation. If a right of entry has arisen, then the person occupying the premises, if not the lessee or the assignee of the original lessee, will be unlawfully residing in them. This phrase, left undefined as it is in the Amendment, can only, as I have said, invite litigation.

The Solicitor-General

Three points have been raised and, by leave of the House, I should like to reply.

The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) spoke of the case of old persons living in homes run by a charity and tenants of a charity. I can only say to him that it would seem to me very unlikely that any difficulty would arise here because what we are concerned with are premises let on a lease and subject to re-entry on forfeiture. I cannot imagine old persons in such homes as the hon. Gentleman has in mind being party to a lease subject to re-entry on forfeiture; but, supposing they were under an agreement between themselves and the charity, there is no reason why the old people should not be protected just as much as anybody else, nor why the charity should not go to the courts and not merely re-enter the rooms.

So far as the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) is concerned, the answer is much the same because, before this Clause can operate, one has to have a lease subject to re-entry or forfeiture and, if there is express provision for that, if does not make any difference whether they are classified as business or residential premises. This Clause operates where there is this particular right and this right of forfeiture cannot be exercised without going to the court.

I think that the same answer would apply to the points made by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). He referred to persons "lawfully residing" in the premises, or part of the premises. The answer here is simply that that applies to anyone except a trespasser. Of course, if one tenant went out and somebody else simply marched in, the postion would be different; but I should have thought it would be a position which would rarely, if ever arise. A person lawfully in occupation of the premises, either as the original tenant or in succession to him, or even as a licensee, would be covered. In any case, where there is in the lease a right of re-entry or forfeiture, we say that that right can be exercised only after application to the court; we are not taking away any right.

Hon. Members in all parts of the House have had experience of these matters. I suppose that in recent months we have all had constituents coming to us who have been greatly alarmed because they have been threatened with eviction from their houses. The Protection from Eviction Act, passed earlier in the Session, has been a tremendous protection. Since the passing of that Measure it has not been possible to put people out without application to a court. That principle was established earlier in the Session, and it is one that we wish permanently to enshrine in our law. I therefore invite the House to agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Mr. Graham Page

Before the hon. and learned Gentleman sits down, I would point out that he has not dealt with the point that the Clause does not seem to tie in with the later Clause which accepts protected tenancies, though not those who have regulated tenancies, although the tenancy which may include a clause for the right of re-entry or forfeiture, will already be protected under the Rent Acts. Is this Clause meant to cover them as well as other tenants? Is it meant to give a sort of double protection to the regulated tenant, although he is protected under the application of the Rent Acts?

The Solicitor-General

Whether he has a single protection or a double protection, we intend that the protection should be there. I have only had the question put to me just now, but I would say that it is unnecessary in the case to which the hon. Gentleman refers. But this Clause is absolutely clear. It refers to a lease in which there is the right of re-entry or forfeiture, and we say that that cannot in future be exercised except on application to a court.

Question put and agreed to.