HC Deb 20 June 1967 vol 748 cc1539-63
Mr. Skeffington

I beg to move Amendment No. 11, in page 2, to leave out lines 27 to 30 and to insert:

(1) For purposes of this Part of this Act, 'house' includes any building designed or adapted for living in and reasonably so called, notwithstanding that the building is not structurally detached, or was or is not solely designed or adapted for living in, or is divided horizontally into flats or maisonettes; and

  1. (a) where a building is divided horizontally, the flats or other units into which it is so divided are not separate 'houses', though the building as a whole may be; and
  2. (b) where a building is divided vertically the building as a whole is not a 'house', though any of the units into which it is divided may be.
(1A) References in this Part of this Act to a house do not apply to a house which is not structurally detached and of which a material part lies above or below a part of the structure not comprised in the house.

Mr. Speaker

With this Amendment we can discuss the Amendment to the Amendment, to leave out subsection (1A), which is in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin), plus Amendment No. 106, in Clause 14, page 22, line 34, at end insert: (6) Notwithstanding anything contained in section 2 of this Act, where a building is divided horizontally into flats or other units designed or adapted for living in and subject to separate long tenancies at low rents, the obligation to grant an extended lease provided for in this section shall apply to each such flat or other unit as if it were a separate house and shall not apply to the building so divided.

Mr. Skeffington

Hon. and right hon. Members who were on the Committee will remember that it was suggested that the Government should give some further positive definition to the word "house" in the Bill, so that for the purposes of these benefits while there would not be too narrow a definition there would be something a little more precise than that which appeared in the Bill at that time.

Some guidance was given as the Bill was originally introduced by the words in Clause 1(2,b) about the tenant's occupation of part of the house counting as occupation of the whole unless two or more parts are so divided off from each other as to make the house in its existing state unsuitable for one occupation. This provision was much criticised. It was suggested that a leaseholder who had attempted to deal with possible occupancy of his premises by others in a sensible way by making a permanent alteration would be excluded by the operation of the words so as to make the house in its existing state unsuitable for one occupation whereas a leaseholder who had behaved in a more slapdash fashion and not made arrangements, by way of a separate staircase, for example, would be within the Bill.

When the Committee agreed to the removal of the words in relation to a house being so divided as to be unsuitable for one occupation, it became clear that, although we had been doing the correct thing, as the Government thought, in bringing in a leaseholder who had made a proper conversion, we were at the same time, by the wording of the Clause, running some risk that the other type of leaseholder would fail to qualify. Hence the present redraft to Clause 2 which, while not dealing exhaustively with "house", gives it a wide meaning to include, first, converted property. This could be a converted mews or, in the country, a barn or oast-house, or perhaps a purpose-built dwelling and shop combined.

It has always been the Government's intention that mixed premises of this type should be covered by the Bill. This also includes, not purpose-built flats, which are excluded, but old property which has been the subject of a lease and which has been converted into flats. These are now within the definition of the new subsection (1). Paragraph (a) enables a leaseholder to count as a house a house which has been converted into flats or maisonettes. An individual flat will not count as a house. So a leaseholder can compulsorily enfranchise the whole building as long as he has the long lease of it and can live in one flat himself.

Paragraph (b) deals with the case where a leaseholder living in a house formed out of a vertical division—it may be an old house—it might be an old vicarage, premises of the type in which I live, which could be vertically divided, although they have not been so vertically divided, but where two separate hereditaments are created—and by that division it counts as a house and so qualifies.

Subsection (1A) is the previous subsection (1) cut down. There was a specific reference to a semi-detached house or a terrace house. Now the provision goes a little further, as it covers what ordinarily would be counted as separate houses, for example, houses built on a slope. Now we have the definition which we have had to introduce elsewhere to exclude flats. It is often the case that where there are separate houses in this kind of geographical position the question of support arises. Portions of one house may overhang another house. These houses might raise problems of shelter or support. Subsection (1A) goes much further and I hope this makes the whole position clear.

It is true that we have not given an absolutely precise definition. One could have gone a good deal further, but the danger of going much further is that one could exclude perfectly genuine residences, particularly those made by conversion in one form or another. This is very popular today, and what we are putting to the House now is the result of the best advice we could get. The question has been discussed widely, and what is now proposed has been generally accepted by various bodies. We had to tidy up the Clause because we removed the provisions about dividing the house so as to make it incapable of one occupation. but, at the same time, we have not, we hope, drawn it so rigidly as to exclude those cases of conversion which might fall outside a more precisely drawn definition.

Mr. Hale

Before my hon. Friend sits down—

Mr. Grieve

Before the Minister sits down—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Two hon. Members seek to ask a question before the Minister sits down. We will take them in turn.

Mr. Hale

I am not trying to impugn the validity or desirability of the point which my hon. Friend makes, but I am concerned, because I had not heard him clearly, on the question of a house divided horizontally and a house divided vertically, expressions which do not convey anything very clear to me, unless one is talking—if this is it, we had better say so—about the division between separate tenements or separately occupied parts of a house.

The opening words of the new subsection provide that "house" includes any building designed or adapted for living in, which could cover a pig sty or a bird cage, notwithstanding that it was not originally solely designed for living in, which could bring in a piece of cheese. It seems to me that the inclusion of the rather curious words to the effect that the building could reasonably be called a house is made simply because nothing else in the Clause could reasonably be called a house, and if the judges have to decide what can reasonably be called a house, the words of this Amendment will give them a rather vague question to determine.

Mr. Grieve

I have always understood that there are many houses, certainly older houses in London in terraces, where parts do overlap. Is the effect of subsection (1A) to exclude from the Bill such terrace houses where there may be overlapping of the structures? If so, is that the intention?

Mr. Skeffington

I said that we desired not to have too close a definition, but I did not think that we had gone so wide as to encompass the matters suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale). It includes any building designed or adapted for living in, and, if it is designed or adapted for living in, it must be such as to comply with the regulations made under the Public Health Acts.

Perhaps I had better recite the matter again. Originally, we were in the difficulty that, for reasons which have been given ad nauseum in Committee and subsequently, we could not in this Measure, whatever may be done hereafter, include purpose-built flats. There was an argument in these circumstances, where an old house had been converted either horizontally or vertically, about whether in such cases the apartments should be enfranchised, whether the leaseholder of the whole house lost the benefit. The Bill was rather narrowly drawn in the first place, and it had the result that, where a proper conversion, so to call it, had been made, with separate entrance and staircase, the leaseholder who had done the conversion could lose his rights to enfranchise, whereas, if it had been a casual arrangement, with some people living upstairs and using a common staircase, the leaseholder would be able to enfranchise. Therefore we took out the words to which I referred: … unless two or more parts are so divided off from each other as to make the house in its existing state unsuitable for one occupation. When we did that it was said that one would have to define the purpose of a house rather more carefully than before in view of the gap we had torn, and at the same time to cover the sort of conversions which are common. With respect to my hon. Friend, I do not think that a birdcage would be suitable, for the reasons I have given, but there is no reason why oast-houses, barns and mews cottages which are now very common conversions should not be included.

9.45 p.m.

The point of the hon. and learned Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) is that, whereas we subsequently define flats which are excluded for the purpose of the Bill, there are cases such as I have mentioned, particularly of the geographical type, where houses are built on slopes and therefore one part of a house goes over another. These are to be excluded by reason of the definition which excludes purpose-built flats. That is one case. The other is where there may be a row of houses in which one will perhaps find that a small box room or a cistern is over the ceiling of the house next door. Those are not to be excluded, and this definition brings them in.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

My hon. Friend has explained the purpose of the Amendment—

Mr. Speaker

Will the hon. Gentleman speak up? I think that the reporters find it difficult to hear him.

Mr. Silkin

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend has explained the purpose of the Amendment, which arises from the removal in Committee from Clause 1 of certain words which had the effect that a conversion of an ordinary house was excluded from the benefits of the Bill. But it was thought that the words in Clause 2(1) might still exclude that type of property. I applaud the way in which the problem has been dealt with in the first part of the Amendment. The dilemma was that one wanted to include that type of building and at the same time to give effect to the Government's determination, at this stage at any rate, not to include flats in the benefits of the Bill. It was necessary to devise somewhat complex wording to achieve those two objectives.

It seems to me that the objective has been clearly achieved in the first part of the Amendment. There it is specifically stated that where a building is divided horizontally the flats or other units into which it is so divided are not separate houses, and therefore do not attract the benefits of the Bill. For some reason which escapes me at present, the draftsmen, having accomplished both those objectives, has reincorporated into the Amendment the wording to which objection was orginally taken in Clause 2(1) and has put that into subsection (1,a).

It seems to me that either that is quite unnecessary, because the flats problem has already been dealt with in the first part of the Amendment or that it achieves something, that it achieves the kind of thing to which the hon. and learned Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) has referred, that is, it excludes from the benefits of the Bill any building which happens to be above some part of another building. For example, it might be that an ordinary house is built with part above the garage of the next-door neighbour. Indeed, this kind of architecture is becoming more and more common these days.

Mr. Grieve

The sort of case I had in mind, and which the hon. and learned Gentleman has in mind, is where one house has taken over the basement or cellar of the next house or another floor.

Mr. Silkin

These are other examples of the kind of thing which could happen. I cannot follow why 1(a) is necessary at all if the purpose is to give effect to the Government's intention at this stage to avoid including flats in the Bill. I hope that my right hon. Friend will look at this matter again because it seems to me that it may have a more far-reaching effect than is necessary and that the Amendment could well accomplish its intent without 1(a).

Amendment No. 106 is a matter of more substantial principle. Its effect would be that, although flats will not be included in the provisions of the Bill for the purpose of enfranchisement, they would be included for the purpose of the alternative of the extension of the lease. The whole question of fiats was argued at considerable length in Committee. My right hon. Friend advanced a number of substantial reasons as to why we should not give the right to the lessees of flats to acquire their freeholds in advance of the implementation of the Wilberforce Committee's Report on Positive Covenants and other measures which would make it easier for freehold flat ownership to become as accepted in England as I understand it is already accepted in Scotland.

The Committee was prepared to accept that advice in the Circumstances, but reluctantly, because many of us took the view, just as in the debate on rateable values, that a principles which applies to leases generally should apply throughout the scale—that a principle which applies to houses should apply to flats as well. But we were impressed by the practical difficulties of the freehold flat.

Towards the end of that debate, it was suggested that the difficulties of creating the freehold flat in no way applied to the giving of the alternative of an extension of 50 years to the lessees of flats. If it is the intention of the Government, as many of us hope, that flats will ultimately be brought within the benefits of the Bill, perhaps in a subsequent Measure, it would be more desirable to prepare the path for that by giving at this stage, the lessees of flats the encouragement of knowing that they could at any rate obtain the extension that the Bill provides for.

There are no difficulties that I know of in doing this. There are flats coming towards the end of their leases, although it may be true that the majority are more recently developed than houses. I hope that the Government will, therefore, agree to look at this suggestion once again. It was made towards the end of the debate in Committee and I do not think that my right hon. Friend had the opportunity of giving it consideration and commenting upon it during the Committee stage. He has that opportunity now and I hope he will give it at least sympathetic consideration.

Mr. Graham Page

I hope, on the other hand, that the Minister will not embark on introducing flats into the Bill at this or any later stage.

I have always wondered how the Minister would apply what has been referred to as "Willey's theory" to flats. With land and a house built on it, one can say that the landlord owns the land and the tenant owns the bricks and mortar. What do you say about a flat—that the landlord owns the air and the tenant owns the bricks and mortar inserted into that cube of air? I do not know how one applies the theory to that. We are obviously not ready in this state of the law to introduce flats into the Bill.

I join with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) in criticising the wording or grammar or whatever it may be of the Amendment. He said that birdcages and pigsties might come within the phrase, "adapted for living in." Why do we have to use this phrase, "adapted for living in"? Why not "built as a dwelling" or "suitable for a dwelling"? This is the sort of thing we are used to. Apart from the preposition ending a phrase, it is a most inelegant statement, "designed or adapted for living in and reasonably so called". A pigsty or a birdcage would not reasonably be called a house, but what about things like the public house, the monkey house, the doghouse? I can think of others, too. It is not phraseology that will be very suitable for interpretation when we come to trying to work out whether a tenant is entitled to enfranchise.

The hon. Gentleman was right in tackling this by trying to redefine a house. However, this only increases the difficulty of deciding who is the qualifying tenant. We are being presented on Report with something like a new Bill. The Amendment means that with property which may be converted into six, eight or ten flats, so long as a long leaseholder is occupying one small flat in that building he will be entitled to enfranchise the whole of it. This may be applied to well-converted buildings in St. John's Wood or multiple occupation in Lambeth, but in both instances the building can hardly be called the long leaseholder's home, which is what the Bill was originally intended to protect.

The Parliamentary Secretary said that he was going further than the Government originally intended. He certainly is. He is going further than anyone expected. As I say, we are being presented almost with a new Bill which is enabling enfranchisement of converted houses, and I am not so sure that it avoids the purpose-built flat. The proper interpretation of the Amendment might well be to allow enfranchisement of a purpose-built block of flats, within the rateable limit, if the long leaseholder happened to own one flat in the block.

Mr. Skeffington

By leave of the House; without wishing to bore hon. Members, I will briefly deal with the first point raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin). The problem is to bring in flats in old converted houses, while excluding purpose-built flats, for reasons which I will come to connected with Amendment No. 106. To leave out subsection (1A) would undoubtedly remove the disqualification of flats, and we must certainly not do that at this stage, for the reasons we have given.

As at present advised, we do not believe that there is any point which we have missed.

Mr. Hale

Will my hon Friend say why? We started with a Clause referring to houses not structurally detached.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Ordered, That the Proceedings on the Leasehold Reform Bill may be entered upon and proceeded with at this day's Sitting at any hour, though opposed.—[Mr. McBride.]

Question again proposed, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Speaker

I remind the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) that an intervention must be brief.

Mr. Hale

I hope that account is taken of that necessary intervention in my inter- vention, Mr. Speaker. The Amendment clearly includes the sort of building in which an underground garage or cellar stretches under adjoining houses, and they are frequent and common. I cannot see any argument to suggest that the Amendment does not include those.

Mr. Skeffington

I do not want to rehearse my arguments. Perhaps my hon. Friend did not follow what I was saying before. I was saying that the Amendment of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich to leave out subsection (1A) would remove the disqualification on flats, which is why we think that that provision must stay. I do not say whether there are other consequences. I defined the sort of case, certainly where property was detached—which would be within the scope of the Bill and be enfranchised.

By his very important Amendment No. 106, my hon. and learned Friend seeks within the compass of the Bill, despite what we have had to say about the difficulties of flats, to give the occupiers of flats or maisonettes on long leases the right to a 50-year extension. Although the difficulties of enfranchisement in this case would not be so great, some formidable objections have been put to us. First, there are a number of old flats on long leases and although the number may be small, which is not a logical reason for not accepting the Amendment, I do not think that there is any great grievance to be remedied.

Granting the right of extension to flat leaseholders at this stage in advance of other possible legislation in relation to covenants would, we are advised—certainly representations to this effect have been made—adversely affect not only the management, but the financial complications which would arise.

In view of the representations which we have had and the fact that the position will be reviewed in the Wilberforce Report, it would be premature even to grant extensions at this stage, and I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will he patient a little longer until the Government can bring forward that legislation.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Graham Page

I beg to move Amendment No. 13, after 'tenancy' to insert 'at a low rent'.

This subsection seeks to take into account the extension of a lease as part of an original long, tenancy, and says: Where the tenant of any property under a long tenancy at a low rent, on the coming to an end of that tenancy, becomes or has become tenant of the property or part of it under another tenancy he shall be deemed to be the long tenant under the original lease.

The Amendment would ensure that his lease at the relevant time is at a low rent, that is, an extended long lease at the ground rent. Otherwise, a tenant on a rack rent who happened to be tenant when he was enfranchised would be able to take advantage perhaps of five years as an ordinary tenant at a rack rent, just because he had continued from a long tenancy. The Clause was not intended to cover a rack rent tenant, I am sure, and the Amendment is, I think, merely a drafting one. I hope that it will be accepted.

Mr. Skeffington

The Amendment is unnecessary and seems to be based on a misunderstanding. It seems to attempt to secure that the provisions of Clause 3(2), which provides that a short tenancy or series of short tenancies granted in continuation of a long tenancy at a low rent is to count as a long tenancy, operates only if the short tenancies are at a low rent. I think that the hon. Gentleman has fallen into error because this Clause deals with what is a long tenancy and the next one with what is a low rent. The two must be read together because of the complications for a leaseholder to qualify. The insertion of a reference to rent here is not only unnecessary but would be complicated.

Mr. Graham Page

I understand that the words are really implied there, and therefore I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mrs. White

I beg to move Amendment No. 14, in page 4, line 35, at the end to insert: (4) Where before the commencement of this Part of this Act a tenancy had been granted for a term of years certain not exceeding twenty-one years, but with a covenant or obligation for renewal without payment of a premium (but not for perpetual renewal), and the tenancy had been once or more renewed so that the total of the terms granted (in- cluding any interval between the end of a tenancy and the grant of a renewal) exceeded twenty-one years, then this Part of this Act shall apply as it would apply if the term originally granted had been one exceeding twenty-one years.

Mr. Speaker

With this Amendment, we are discussing Amendment No. 12, in page 4, line 11, to leave out 'twenty-one' and to insert 'fifty', plus the four Amendments to Amendment No. 14 on page 9246 of the Notice Paper—in line 1, after 'before' to insert 'or after'; in line 2, to leave out 'twenty-one' and to insert 'fifty'; in line 6, to leave out 'twenty-one' and to insert 'fifty'; and in line 7, to leave out 'twenty-one' and to insert 'fifty'.

Mr. Graham Page

On a point of order. As we are taking these Amendments a little out of order, I am not certain whether you would permit a Division, Mr. Speaker, on No. 12 should it be desired.

Mr. Speaker

With all the good will in the world, I cannot go back on the Notice Paper. We are on No. 14 and cannot have a Division on No. 12 now. I am sorry; this might have been thought about before.

Mrs. White

I have moved Amendment No. 14 with satisfaction because it has been tabled to meet the needs of some deserving leaseholders in Abertillery. We should be happy to receive information about other instances from any hon. Members, but, to the best of our knowledge, it is only in Abertillery, for historical reasons, that this form of leasehold has been established. When the Bill was originally drafted, our historical researches were not as comprehensive as they became later. We were not aware that the Bill would have excluded a number of leaseholders in this mining village who in all other respects were entirely comparable with leaseholders in other parts of the South Wales coalfield. Therefore, as in every other respect they were on all fours with people to whom the Bill was intended to apply, my right hon. Friend thought it proper that we should make provision for them.

We believe that the situation is peculiar to Abertillery where there are leases which cannot be said to exceed 21 years but where, on the other hand, without any payment of premium there is an automatic right of renewal. We suggest that this is a sensible way to bring this very small number of people, who have just as much right as their neighbours, within the provisions of the Bill.

Mr. Clegg

Amendment No. 12 seeks to delete "21 years" and to insert "50 years". We had a debate in Committee on a similar Amendment, but that proposed to increase the term to 90 years. In that debate, the Minister made it clear that he wanted to stick to 21 years, for one main reason, that he was following precedent, which, as he told us, he likes to do, particularly the precedent set in the 1954 Act. But I do not think that precedents can help him a great deal in connection with the Bill, because the other Measures with which we were concerned, particularly the 1954 Act, allowed the tenant to stay in the property, whereas in the Bill we are concerned with enfranchisement and the purchase of the freehold, which is completely different.

As far as I know, there is no precedent for what has been called the "Willey principle"—that is, that the bricks and mortar belong to the tenant. In that principle the right hon. Gentleman is breaking completely new ground and therefore he cannot call in aid precedents which left the freehold of the property in the landlord's hands.

In Committee, I detected that the Minister realised that by choosing such a short term as 21 years he was raising many difficulties, one of which we have just discussed today—premium leases— and there might he much wisdom in accepting the term of 50 years to which it would be much more clear that the Willey principle was germane. It is very strange that either the landlord or the tenant, in such a short term as 21 years, could have come to the conclusion that the land belonged to the tenant and the bricks and mortar to the landlord. It would not be an economical proposition for the tenant to enter into a 21 year lease and pay for the bricks and mortar.

In Committee the Minister said that by proposing 90 years we were going further than the Chartered Land Societies. But now we are taking a figure which he said at that time they recommended, namely, 50 years. That figure would be fair and would catch the real long term lease and would not catch, as the period of 21 years does, leases which are outside the spirit of the Bill and which were never meant to be included in it. I hope that the Minister will listen to the arguments and substitute 50 years for 21 years.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. E. Rowlands

On my own behalf and on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Clifford Williams), I want to thank the Minister for the Amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery is the historian who did the researches and who unearthed the peculiar, unusual leases which turned up in his constituency. Following the debate in Standing Committee and as a result of the evidence which my hon. Friend put forward, this Amendment has been moved to cover those leaseholders, and we are grateful to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The Government's Amendment serves to strengthen the suspicion which many of us on this side of the House have had that the whole basis of the Bill, which seeks to alter the English law on leasehold, is based upon the problems of Wales. The fact that an Amendment is put down at this stage to deal with one district of Wales strengthens that suspicion. The law on leasehold in this country has served us very well, and it is quite wrong that it should be altered because of special problems in Wales, rather than the Government bringing forward a proposal limited to Wales to deal with Welsh problems.

I support Amendment No. 12, and I want to express my regret, Mr. Speaker, that, for the procedural reasons which you have indicated, it will not be possible for those of us who support the proposition to show our views in the Division Lobby. If I may say so, it is a great pity, because the issue raised is one of real importance which goes to the root of the Bill.

At earlier stages in the Bill's progress, both the Minister and the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) have argued again and again for the principle by making the assertion that the house was built by the leaseholder. Indeed, the hon. and learned Gentleman will recall that he included that statement, without qualification, in a certain newspaper article which was one of a series to which I had the privilege of contributing.

I do not think that it is generally true in respect even of a 99-year lease, though certainly in that context it is more arguable. However, plainly, it is not true of a lease of 21 years or a little more. It is inconceivable that any sane person would undertake the cost of building a house on land for which he had a lease of only 21 years or a little more. Such a person would not be acting reasonably.

Amendment No. 12 tests the sincerity of the Government's proposal. If the Government are convinced and if their supporters are convinced by the argument for giving all rights in the bricks and mortar free to the leaseholder because the leaseholder, either himself or indirectly at his expense has built the house, that is an overwhelming argument for putting 50 years into the Bill. I accept that there may be cases, though they are not the majority, of leases in excess of 50 years where the house has been built by someone who took the land on a ground lease. In some cases, that must have happened, but I do not think that even the hon. and learned Gentleman, with his great knowledge of the subject. could give me an example of someone who has gone to the expense of building a house on land for which he has a lease of only 21 years.

If that is right, we are going to the heart of the Bill in insisting on taking the Government at their word and saying, "All right. Make this transfer of the rights of one citizen to another without compensation on your theory of the house having been built at the expense of the leaseholder. But do not use that assertion to cover the transfer of property in circumstances in which that cannot conceivably have happened."

I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will press their Amendments, even to what I might call the Abertillery Clause, as a means of indicating, in default of our opportunity to press the matter over the whole field, as I personally would have wished, our opposition to this, and to see whether the Government are using this argument about the leaseholder building as a cover for a general confiscatory measure, or whether the idea, however muddled, really is sincere.

Mr. Clifford Williams (Abertillery)

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. E. Rowlands) for his kind remarks, and I express my thanks to the Minister for tabling this Amendment. If it is accepted, it will relieve great and grave anxieties, chiefly among people in my constituency. With respect to the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), he lives in a more salubrious area. Those who have lived in constituencies such as mine know the problems with which the people there have had to deal for many years, and this provision will be welcomed with joy and with acclamation by them. Because of the leasehold law, we have witnessed legalised robbery for many years. If the Bill is passed it will be one of our greatest measures of social reform, and Amendment No. 14, which I understand is particular to the people in the Abertillery constituency, will settle once and for all the injustice which they have suffered for so long.

I shall not delay the House for very long. The company which owned a good deal of land in my area some years ago was known as the forty thieves, as were some other people, one of whom lived in another salubrious area, Penarth. Parliamentary language prevents me from using the vernacular of the pit to describe her. Here was one ground landlord who, without pity and without compassion, ruthlessly used this instrument of legal piracy of short term recurring leases to inflict great social consequences on leaseholders for more than 70 years. This is why I must pay my sincere tribute to my hon. Friend for introducing the Amendment.

In Committee I quoted a poem which was written many years ago, and perhaps I might quote it again: The law locked up the man or woman, Who stole the goose from off the common, But left the greater villain loose, Who stole the common from the goose. It is only poetic justice that after all these years opportunities will be given to short term leaseholders, not to rob, not to steal, but to have a fair chance of securing their homes for all time.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) raised the question of how one is to ensure that the bricks and mortar principle as applied in the Bill is restricted to those cases where it properly applies, that is to say where the lessee—or his predecessors in title—is the person who has constructed as well as maintained and improved the house. If the right hon. Gentleman had been a Member Of the Standing Committee, he, like his hon. Friends, would have heard a series of debates in the course of which I put very strongly the point of view that it was essential, if the equities of the Bill are to be preserved, that there should be proper definitions and proper limitations to ensure that we give effect to that principle.

I took the view—and I still do—that one can give effect to it best by the use of Clause 4 rather than Clause 3, and when we come to the next series of Amendments that matter will be considered. Although I have the utmost sympathy for the position in Abertillery, my Amendment raises an entirely different and much more general problem. I am concerned to ensure that in future landlords do not make use of devices for evading the provisions of the Bill so as to deprive lessees of benefits that they would otherwise receive.

The purpose of my Amendment is to ensure that where, in the future, a lessor provides that the initial term of a lease shall be 21 years only, and it therefore does not attract the benefit of the Bill, he is not enabled to avoid the effect of the Bill by giving the lessee a right to renew the lease at the end of 21 years, again at the end of 42 years, and perhaps yet again at the end of 63.

We can test the position in this way: if a lessee were given a lease for 84 years, with a right, at the lessee's option, to break the lease at 21, or 42, or 63 years, there could then be no doubt whatever that he would be entitled to the benefit of the provisions of the Bill. If, on the other hand, the lessor gives a lease for 21 years with a right to extend to 42, a further right to extend to 63, and yet another right to extend to 84, owing to the provision that it is necessary to have an original lease of more than 21 years the lessee would not have the benefit of the Bill's provisions.

This question was raised in Committee and I understand that my right hon. Friend said that he would reconsider the matter. He has done so, and has given me to understand that the view taken is that such a lease would not be regarded as a commercial proposition and that no lessor would grant such a lease to a lessee. With the greatest respect to the advice that he has received, in my opinion, in conditions of scarcity—which still obtain—it might well be practicable for lessors who are anxious to avoid the effect of the Bill upon their estates in future to refuse to grant leases except upon these terms. The lessee, in effect, will be getting precisely the same as if he were granted an ordinary long lease—except the right to enfranchise.

If the right to enfranchise is that which makes such a lease commercially impracticable, what on earth is the point of the Clause providing that any covenant which seeks to include the right to enfranchise shall be of no effect? This is a real danger. It could be cured simply by the insertion of the words in my Amendment, and I can see no reason—even if there is only a suspicion that the danger exists—why the Government should not accede to my proposition.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

It seems to me that the hon. and learned Member is saying that in his opinion no leases should be granted in future. Will he say whether that is the case? It is of some interest to the Committee to know what hon. Members intend in respect of the Bill.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Silkin

I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman has so construed what I have said. I said nothing of the kind. I said that rather than grant a lease of, say, 84 years with the right to break at certain periods, it would be open to a lessor to grant a lease initially for 21 years, with an option to the lessee—the lessee alone—to extend it on a number of occasions, so that, in the end, he would have the 84 years in exactly the same way. For the purely technical reason that one is done in one way and the other is done in the other way, one will have the right to enfranchisement and the other will not. That is what I object to.

Mr. Graham Page

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are discussing with Amendment No. 14 both Amendment No. 12 and the several Amendments to Amendment No. 14. Mr. Speaker ruled tht, as we were taking them in that order, it would not be in order to have a Division on Amendment No. 12. Might we move our Amendment to Amendment No. 14—in line 2, leave out 'twenty-one' and insert 'fifty'—and have a Division upon that? It has the same sort of principle as Amendment No. 12.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I understand that the position is that we have passed Amendment No. 12 and Amendment No. 13 and are discussing Amendment No. 14. If the Opposition would like to have a Division on the Amendment to Amendment No. 14—in line 2, leave out 'twenty-one' and insert 'fifty'—I am prepared to put the question in order that there may be a Division on it. If it is convenient to the House, I will put it now.

Mrs. White

It is, of course, for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to rule on how the business is to be conducted. Amendment No. 14 is intended to meet a particular situation and would not be improved if the Amendments proposed to it were accepted. I thought that I had made it clear that it was concerned with a special instance in the Abertillery district. I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Clifford Williams) here and that he was able to convey to the House something of the feelings in that part of the country.

We fully appreciate the logic of the Amendment proposed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin). He is quite correct in suggesting that in future it would be open to a landlord so to offer property that he would, in a way, defeat the purpose of the Bill. We feel that my hon. and learned Friend has made out a convincing case that it would be open to the landlord to offer leases of 21 years which would. in the aggregate, amount to very long leases, with possible breaks. He is right to suggest that we should make provision in the Bill on the lines he proposes and I am happy to say that in this instance the Government wish to accept his Amendment.

I turn now to matters raised by the Opposition. I believe that it is the first time that they have put the case in a way which leads one to understand that presumably they are now converts to regional differentiation. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) suggested that the Bill should be confined to Wales. But there are other parts of the United Kingdom also very much affected, although we in Wales have had a peculiar historical position in this respect which makes us feel so intensely about it. Apparently, the right hon. Gentleman has been reading again the leading article in The Times this morning, in which it is proposed, rather late in the day, that enfranchisement ought to be confined to those areas, mostly in South Wales and the industrial North-West, where the monopoly power of the original landlords was greatest and the social grievance is keenest … We ought to be told whether this is now the attitude of the Opposition. In Committee, we had some eloquent speeches from other hon. Members opposite, for instance, the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi), generally in favour of the principle of enfranchisement for their constituents. If they are now following the line of the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, they will, no doubt, make clear their view that they are quite content that the provisions of the Bill should be confined to Wales, perhaps with some extension to the industrial North-West.

As this argument has been adduced in terms only by one right hon. Member opposite, and rather late in the day at that, perhaps we need not take it too seriously. On the other hand, the purpose of the Opposition Amendments is to extend the period of 21 years to 50 years. They made a spirited attempt in Committee in favour of 90 years, which was defeated, and they have now come back to the attack, in somewhat modified form, in favour of 50 years.

It is curious that it was the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames who came in on this again. We had a little badinage earlier in our discussions on the subject of conversions. It seems that the right hon. Gentleman has seen some light—or darkness, whichever way one takes it—because he is on record as saying quite specifically, apropos of the White Paper in which the reference is to 21 years, that We do not disagree with the White Paper which itself follows our own 1954 Act in limiting the provisions to leases originally in excess of 21 years.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

If the hon. Lady will quote fully what I said in context, in a speech, which, I admit, was of some length though, I think, rather good, she will find that I argued there for enfranchisement on fair terms in respect of leases of 21 years and more. My argument today in favour of 50 years was based, first, On the fact that the Bill does not offer fair terms, and, second, on the Government's refusal to offer fair terms on the ground that the leaseholder built the house. The 50 years argument relates to the allegation that the leaseholder built the house. Perhaps the hon. Lady will deal with my challenge on whether she knows of any leaseholder who built houses on 21-year ground leases.

Mrs. White

When commenting on the White Paper, the right hon. Gentleman was well aware of the basis on which the Government were putting forward this proposition, so he cannot expect to put that across now. We had a very long argument in Committee on this question of the 21 years. It was included in the White Paper as well as in the Bill. We shall not benefit much by going over the ground again. My right hon. Friend said in Committee that he thought it would be wrong to leave the impression that the Government had any intention of changing their minds. He gave fair notice that, on this question of the 21 years, we had no intention of changing Our mind. We have no such intention and we,

therefore, ask the House to reject the Opposition's Amendments.

Mr. Grieve

I had not intended to intervene, because all that I could have said had been admirably covered already by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), but, since the hon. Lady has suggested that my right Friend stood alone in suggesting that the law of this country ought not to be distorted, private rights ought not to be over-riden, and private property ought not to be taken away without adequate compensation, for the sake of a peculiar situation in South Wales, I rise to say that he is not alone in taking that view. I take it, too, and I believe that there are many others on this side who take it. I believe that there is a case, as was suggested in that leading article this morning, if there is a peculiar situation in South Wales, for legislating for that peculiar situation, but not for legislating for the whole country, destroying the leasehold system which has stood the country in good stead for many hundreds of years and destroying private rights without adequate compensation, for the sake of that peculiar situation.

Amendment proposed to the proposed Amendment: In line 1, after 'before' insert 'or after'.—[Mr. S. C. Silkin.]

Question, That 'or after' be there inserted in the proposed Amendment, put and agreed to.

Amendment proposed to the proposed Amendment: In line 2, leave out 'twenty-one' and insert 'fifty'.—[Mr. Graham Page.]

Question put, That 'twenty-on' stand part of the proposed Amendment.

The House divided: Ayes 184, Noes 102.

Division No. 374.] AYES [10.40 p.m.
Abse, Leo Blenkinsop, Arthur Crawshaw, Richard
Albu, Austen Boardman, H. Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Booth, Albert Cullen, Mrs. Alice
Alldritt, Walter Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Dalyell, Tam
Allen, Scholefield Bradley, Tom Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)
Anderson, Donald Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Davidson, James(Aberdeenshire, W.)
Armstrong, Ernest Buchan, Norman Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Davies, Ifor (Gower)
Barnes, Michael Cant, R. B. Dell, Edmund
Barnett, Joel Carmichael, Neil Dempsey, James
Beaney, Alan Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Dobson, Ray
Bence, Cyril Coe, Denis Donnelly, Desmond
Bidwell, Sydney Coleman, Donald Dunn, James A.
Binns, John Conlan, Bernard Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)
Blackburn, F. Corbet, Mrs. Freda Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)
Eadie, Alex Leadbitter, Ted Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Edelman, Maurice Ledger, Ron perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)
Edwards, Rt. Hn. Ness (Caerphilly) Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton) Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)
Faulds, Andrew Lee, John (Reading) Price, William (Rugby)
Fernyhough, E. Lever, Harold (Cheetham) Probert, Arthur
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Rees, Merlyn
Foley, Maurice Lipton, Marcus Reynolds, G. W.
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Loughlin, Charles Rhodes, Geoffrey
Ford, Ben Luard, Evan Richard, Ivor
Forrester, John Lubbock, Eric Robinson, W. 0. J. (Walth'stow, E.)
Fowler, Gerry Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Fraser, John (Norwood) Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Rose, Paul
Gardner, Tony Macdonald, A. H. Rowland, Christopher (Meriden)
Ginsburg, David McGuire, Michael Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)
Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) McKay, Mrs. Margaret Sheldon, Robert
Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony MacPherson, Malcolm Shore, Peter (Stepney)
Gregory, Arnold Mahon, peter (Preston, S.) Short, Mrs. Renée(W'hampton, N.E.)
Grey, Charles (Durham) Mahon, Simon (Bootle) Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Manuel, Archie Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly) Mapp, Charles Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.) Marquand, David Skeffington, Arthur
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Maxwell, Robert Sprigge, Leslie
Hamling, William Mellish, Robert Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Hannan, William Mikardo, Ian Thornton, Ernest
Harper, Joseph Miller, Dr. M. S. Tinn, James
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Milne, Edward (Blyth) Tuck, Raphael
Henig, Stanley Molloy, William Varley, Eric G.
Hilton, W. S. Moonman, Eric Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Hooley, Frank Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Horner, John Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Watkins, David (Consett)
Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough) Moyle, Roland Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.) Murray, Albert Weitzman, David
Howie, W. Neal, Harold Whitaker, Ben
Hoy, James Norwood, Christopher While, Mr. Eirene
Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) Oakes, Gordon Whitlock, William
Hynd, John Ogden, Eric Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) O'Malley, Brian Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Jeger, Mrs.Lena (H'b'n & St.P'cras,S.) Orbach, Maurice Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford) Orme, Stanley Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Oswald, Thomas Winnick, David
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Owen, Will (Morpeth) Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Paget, R. T. Winterbottom, R. E.
Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Palmer, Arthur Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Judd, Frank Park, Trevor TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham) Parkyn, Brian (Bedford) Mr. loan L. Edwards and
Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Pavitt, Laurence Mr. Neil MeBride.
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Harvey, Sir Arthur Vee Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)
Astor, John Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Percival, Ian
Balniel, Lord Heseltine, Michael Pink, R. Bonner
Biffen, John Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Biggs-Davison, John Holland, Philip Prior, J. M. L.
Black, Sir Cyril Hornby, Richard Pym, Francis
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Hunt, John Quennell, Miss J. M.
Brewis, John Hutchison, Michael Clark Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Brinton, Sir Tatton Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey
Bruce-Gardyne J. Jopling, Michael Rossi, Hugh (Horneey)
Carlisle, Mark Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith Russell, Sir Ronald
Clegg, Walter King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Scott, Nicholas
Cooke, Robert Lancaster, Col. C. G. Sharples, Richard
Costain, A. P. Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Dean, Paul (Somersel, N.) Mac Arthur, Ian Sinclair, Sir George
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M. (Ripon)
Dodds-Parker, Douglas McMaster, Stanley Summers, Sir Spencer
Drayson, G. B. Maddan, Martin Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Elliott, R.W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.) Maginnis, John E. Tilney, John
Farr, John Marten, Neil Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. van Straubenzee, W. R.
Fortescue, Tim Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Foster, Sir John Mills, Peter (Torrington) Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Gibson-Watt, David Miscampbell, Norman Wall, Patrick
Glover, Sir Douglas Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Walters, Dennis
Glyn, Sir Richard Monro, Hector Ward, Dame Irene
Goodhew, Victor More, Jasper Webster, David
Grant, Anthony Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Gresham Cooke, R- Murton, Oscar Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Grieve, Percy Nicholls, Sir Harmar Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Worsley, Marcus
Hall, John (Wycombe) Onslow, Cranley TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Harris, Reader (Heston) Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth) Mr. Reginald Eyre and
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Page, Graham (Crosby) Mi. Bernard Weatherell.

Proposed words, as amended, there inserted in the Bill.