HC Deb 23 April 1968 vol 763 cc181-4

Order for Second Reading read.

10.39 p.m.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Arthur Irvine)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This is a consolidating Bill covering enactments and parts of enactments beginning with the Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1920 and extending to the Leasehold Reform Act, 1967.

The Joint Committee to consider Consolidation Bills has considered the Bill, has made certain amendments which seemed to it necessary to improve the form of the Bill and to bring it into conformity with the existing law. It reports that the Bill as amended is pure consolidation and represents the existing law.

It is important to point out that what has occurred here is—and I measure my words—one of the biggest consolidations of English statute law that has ever taken place. The result will be of immense advantage to practitioners and will be beneficial to the public interest.

The House will wish me to sincerely thank the Law Commission for the distinguished work which has gone into the preparation of the Bill and also to thank the Joint Committee for the careful consideration which it has given to the matter. I trust that the House will think it right to give to this important and valuable consolidation Measure a Second reading.

10.41 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I join with the Solicitor-General in thanking all those who have had a part in producing the Bill. It certainly is a milestone in the law on this subject and it could be a valuable asset to those who practise law. I regret, however, that I cannot give it an unqualified welcome.

In the previous Bills which we have been discussing tonight the opportunity was taken to remove anomalies before trying to consolidate the law on the subject. As I pointed out in the Criminal Justice Act, 1967, a number of anomalies were corrected and it was possible then to consolidate the law without perpetuating difficult, doubtful and anomalous parts of the law. Half a century of rent restriction legislation has produced a mass of anomalies in this branch of the law.

It seems incredible that the Government should have embarked on this mammoth task without trying to remove those anomalies. They could have done so in some current legislation—for example, by a schedule in the Leasehold Reform Act, which made some amendments to the Rent Acts—or they could have cured the anomalies by recommendations from the Law Commission, put into this Measure; we now have a special procedure for accommodating such recommendations in consolidation Measures. It was ill-advised to consolidate the law on this subject without first putting right the difficulties in the existing law.

As I say, it could have been done by current legislation or by recommendations from the Law Commission. It could also have been done by using the 1949 Act procedure of minor amendments and improvements in the law, recommended by a memorandum of the Lord Chancellor. None of those courses has been taken and the result is that this consolidation Measure perpetuates a great number of anomalies in the law. It is disappointing that such a valiant effort by the draftsman should have been spoilt by the Government not finding time for amending legislation.

I must justify my remarks by giving examples in the Bill. The distinction between what lawyers know as old and new control is now purposeless. It is an anomalous anachronism and it could have been abolished. But the draftsman had to preserve it. One reads with regret his remarks to the Joint Committee, in which he said that he had to include a Schedule on old control—it is Schedule 14—although he considered that there was practically no purpose in it. The old control should have been abolished before trying to consolidate.

There is also the example of controlled mortgages. The draftsman has been obliged to say, in effect, in Clause 93, "You must look up the old law to decide whether or not you are a controlled mortgagee or mortgagor"—and, therefore, he has not consolidated the law at all.

On mortgages, he has been obliged to throw in his hand—he used those words himself before the Joint Committee. The law is so doubtful that all he has been able to say in a consolidation Measure is, "Look up the old law". That is not the sort of thing which one hopes to find in a consolidation Measure. One hopes to be able to look at it and reach finality on the law merely by looking at the Statute.

There is a third example, namely, exchange of tenancies—Clause 14—where again the draftsman has said to the Joint Committee, "This Clause is practically purposeless, but it is still the law and, therefore, I have to put it in the Bill." A fourth example, with the same sort of remarks from the draftsman, is the Sixteenth Schedule, the transitional provisions of the Rent Act, 1957. Seven pages of closely printed Schedule could have been abolished quite easily. It can now affect only a very few people and if it were abolished no hardship would result.

Some of these examples are of matters which could have been omitted from the Bill. There are other examples of the law relating to rent control and security of tenure which ought to have been included in a consolidation Measure and which one would like to have in a con- solidation Measure. For example, Part I of the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1954 is so closely related to rent control and security of tenure. Another example is the provision for the protection against harrassment and eviction without due process of law in Part III of the Rent Act, 1965. These are left out of the consolidation and the practitioner in this branch of the law would expect to find these subjects in a Bill called a Rent Bill and labelled a consolidation Bill.

I wish that I could give the Bill an unqualified welcome, for it could have been such a tremendously valuable consolidation Measure to the practitioners in this branch of the law, but it has missed the boat, because the Government have not given the draftsman the help which he needed in preliminary legislation tidying up the law.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House—[Mr. Gourlay.]

Continued Tomorrow.