HC Deb 26 June 1968 vol 767 cc735-55


Mr. Deputy Speaker

The next Amendment selected is Amendment No. 79, with which we may discuss Amendment No. 84, in page 9, line 21, leave out subsection 7 and insert: (7) This section shall not apply to Scotland.

Mr. Roebuck

On a point of order. May I seek further clarification on the books and documents that may be read during the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. A short time ago I drew attention to the fact that the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) was making a detailed study of the Fulton Report on the Civil Service.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

On a point of order. May I draw attention—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is outside the House, and I am dealing with a point of order anyway.

Mr. Roebuck

You ruled, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it was possible for documents to be read which had some connection with the debate. I then said that I could not see the connection between the Report and the debate. Since then I have consulted Erskine May—in no sense to challenge your Ruling—and I should like to direct your attention to page 460, where it is stated under the heading, "Reading of Books, Etc.": Members are not to read books, newspapers or letters in their places. This rule, however, must now be understood with some limitations; for although it is still irregular to read newspapers, any books and letters may be referred to by Members preparing to speak, but ought not to be read for amusement or for business unconnected with the debate. It is not part of my case that the hon. Gentleman is reading the Report for amusement. But I suggest, notwithstanding the great temptation to say that anything would be amusement after listening to the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends, that the Fulton Report has no bearing on any of our discussions now, and it is quite out of order for him to be reading it. I raise the matter out of my customary chivalry towards other Opposition hon. Members.

Mr. Emery

As the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) has not been here for the greater part of our debates on the matter he would be quite unable to judge what would or would not be relevant. If he would like to know how much prices and incomes and wages are relevant to the Report, I suggest that he starts to learn. There are specific references to them in the Report. If he presses me, I shall make a long and tedious speech on it later.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It has not been the practice of the Chair to inquire into which official papers an hon. Member carries when he comes into the Chamber. Newspapers have been specifically ruled out. It is for the hon. Member to give his attention to the House, and the Chair has not inquired more fully than that.

Mr. Ridley

Further to that point of order—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have disposed of the point of Order. I think that the House will be happy to go on with the business.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

I beg to move Amendment No. 79, in page 8, line 44, to leave out '(and in Scotland sufficient evidence)'. This is a consequential Amendment. The substantive Amendment is No. 84— page 9, line 21, leave out subsection 7 and insert: (7) This section shall not apply to Scotland. It is designed to have the effect of ensuring that the Clause, which provides for additional Ministerial supervision of regulated tenancies, shall not apply to Scotland.

I wish to make two brief general points by way of introduction. I welcome the presence of the Minister of State, Scottish Office, whom I am glad to see has joined us for this debate and, I hope, for some subsequent debates. First, there is not in this Amendment or in any of the subsequent Amendments in my name or that of my hon. Friends anything which would oblige any owner of any type of property in Scotland to raise the rent on that property during the period covered by the Bill. Secondly, it is not a policy which 1 or any of my hon. Friends are suggesting that we should bring about a decline in the living standards of any of our constituents in Scotland by inducing an increase in rents at a time when wages and salaries are pegged by Government action. That is the policy of the Government, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made it clear that it is his strategy that living standards should decline. In so far as it applies to prices and wages, presumably it also applies to rents.. If the consequence of accepting Amendment No. 84 were to be that in some instances there were a decline in the standard of living of people, that is the Government's policy. It is certainly not the Opposition's policy.

We must ask whether, within the context of this highly controversial Bill, it is suitable that the rents of regulated tenancies in Scotland—and those cover all houses in Scotland in the private sector let at an annual rent of £200 a year or less, which embraces the vast majority of privately rented accommodation in Scotland—should be further controlled by Clause 9. I have nothing to say about the wisdom or otherwise of further controlling regulated tenancies in England. I will direct my arguments entirely to the difference in conditions prevailing in Scotland from those prevailing in England, which might lead one to feel that it was desirable that a distinction should be made in the incidence of Clause 9 between regulated tenancies north and south of the Border.

7.0 a.m.

First, I plead in aid the Secretary of State himself. Writing to the Prices and Incomes Board on 8th December, he said: For historical reasons, the advice given to authorities in Scotland has followed different lines from that given in England and Wales. His letter referred to local authority housing. Some of those same historical reasons lead to different considerations applying in the private sector. The chief characteristic of housing in Scotland as compared with England is the relatively low level of rents and the dominant nature of the public sector. They are inter-related because low rents discourage the provision of private houses to let or sell. It is no coincidence that the low rent structure is accompanied, particularly in some of our big cities, by an alarmingly high proportion of old and unfit dwellings still in occupation.

With a low rent structure, incentives to renovation and renewal in the private sector are not present. Furthermore, the public sector is so large that the burden on the local authorities is much heavier than in England. We have to look at the desirable rent structure in Scotland with different criteria from those in England. It is important to recognise two other elements. First, earnings tend to be lower in Scotland than in England; secondly, if a family has grown accustomed to its housing taking a comparatively small share of its income, a sharp increase, though still to a level lower than in other parts of the country, will be a hardship.

It is self-evident that, if one is used to paying 20 per cent. of one's income on housing and is asked to pay 21 per cent., this may not be a serious hardship. But if one is used to paying 5 per cent. and then is asked to pay 10 per cent., although this is substantially less than 21 per cent., such a sharp increase can represent a hardship. We must bear these considerations in mind in application of the Clause to Scotland.

On the other hand, if we are ever to begin to tackle the acute housing problems of Scotland, we cannot afford to put further obstacles in the way of a gradual rise in the structure of rents, in the private as much as in the public sector—the emphasis being on "gradual".

It has to be remembered that what is proposed in Clause 9 is the super-imposition of a further stage of Governmental control on a situation which is already substantially controlled by the rent tribunals which are supposedly fixing fair rents in the first place. Therefore, if the Amendment were accepted, we would by no means be removing all control over rent increases; far from it. We are saying that, whatever may be suitable for England within the context of the Bill, somewhat different considerations apply in Scotland and that this additional measure of control over a situation already controlled is not justified.

We are told that it is and has been the strategy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that we should now experience a decline in our living standards in the months ahead. The Government's whole economic strategy must, therefore, be a further factor in our consideration of the Amendment.

This comparatively modest Amendment makes the simple point that conditions in the private sector of housing in Scotland are different from those in the private sector of housing in England, and that the additional controls to be applied to rents in England ought not to be extended to Scotland.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Dr. J. Dickson Mabon)

While I do not accept some of the phrases of the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne), I grasp the essential nature of the case which he is trying to make. On Second Reading, my right hon. Friend the First Secretary announced that the Government intended to make regulations under this Clause which would restrict increases in rent to 10s. a week for the first year and that where the new rent was not more than 10s. more than the old, the landlord would be able to collect the whole amount immediately. In essence, the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that Scotland should not be subject to this control, that in Scotland tenants in certain circumstances should be charged more than 10s. a week more in the first year.

His case for that is not that there are higher wages in Scotland, not that Scotland is to be exempted from the system whereby we shall see a rise in living standards in line with the increase in national production. He bases his case on the past, on our inheritance of bad housing. Of course we have a long tradition of low rents in Scotland and that has been so for more than 50 years. It is noticeable that in the years in which they were in power, right hon. Gentlemen opposite did not do anything about that. The Rent Act, 1957, did not apply to the kind of houses about which the hon. Member is thinking and about which he has written to me. I have a certain sympathy for the landlords of those houses which have low valuations and were therefore not covered by the 1957 Act.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

The hon. Gentleman should make it clear that our correspondence has been about not regulated but controlled tenancies, which do not come within the context of the Amendment.

Dr. Mabon

That is perfectly true. He has often advocated that we should extend regulated tenancies to controlled tenancies. That is fair. [Interruption.] The other way round? Yes. It is seven o'clock in the morning, but all hon. Members are with me.

I agree that improvement grants provided by previous Governments have failed to improve the value of the stock of houses in Scotland. We will have to do something about that although I am not in a position to make a statement now. The Rent Act, 1965, is beginning to improve the stock. That is why we introduced it and I think we should speed up the application of the Act. But we cannot disrupt the prices and incomes policy by excessive increases of one item of family expenditure in any one year. If 10s. a week is the ceiling for England and if Scottish wages are marginally lower, it seems to me to make nonsense of the policy to say in Scotland: "Let it rip" and not control the amount of the increase of the weekly rent in any one year.

I do not ask him to accept the whole prices and incomes policy on that basis, but one cannot just let one item go. I ask the House to accept neither Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey)

I beg to move Amendment No. 80, in page 8, line 46, at end insert: (d) shall authorise all increases in rent on the grant of a certificate of fair rent consequential upon repairs improvements or conversions carried out to the dwelling house by the landlord.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

With this Amendment we can discuss the following Amendments:

No. 156, in page 9, line 27, at beginning insert: 'Subject to subsections (13) and (14) of this section'. and No. 157, in page 11, line 45, at end insert: (13) Subsection (1) of this section shall not apply to any increase of rent in respect of an improvement which has been effected by a local authority and the improvement was completed after the commencement of this Act. (14) For the purposes of this section 'improvement' has the same meaning as in section 17(1) of the Rent Act 1965'. The Amendment was preshadowed by our discussions in Committee when there was a similar Amendment to draw the Government's attention to the unfair position of a landlord who may well have spent considerable sums in improving a residence and may be unable to pass on the whole or part of the cost by increased rent. In Committee the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that there were two situations where this might happen. The first may be where the premises were empty when the work was carried out, and a certificate of fair rent was granted after the work was completed and then there was a letting. In such circumstances, we were informed that landlords would and should not be able to charge thereafter and that there was no need for special provision.

The other set of circumstances were where works were carried out after a tenant had taken the place and, in those circumstances, the Parliamentary Secretary promised—at col. 925 of the Standing Committee OFFICIAL REPORT—that regulations would be made to cover the situation or the increase would be permitted where improvements and conversions had taken place and a certificate of fair rent granted.

7.15 a.m.

There was also some rather inconclusive discussion concerning repairs which are mentioned in this Amendment. The discussion was concerned more with passing on a percentage of the cost of repairs to the tenant without regard to the grant of a certificate of fair rent. It may be that because regard was not had to that situation, that the repairs had justified the granting of a certificate of fair rent, that the Parliamentary Secretary said that he would not be prepared to make regulations permitting increases in rents where repairs had been done.

The Amendment seeks to draw together these three factors—repairs, improvements and conversions—and to relate them purely to instances where a certificate of fair rent had been granted by a rent officer after the work had been done in a tenancy covered and controlled by the provisions of the Bill. Inasmuch as the Parliamentary Secretary has promised in part to make regulations covering this situation, we ask him to go one step further and to remove the situation at this stage beyond all doubt so that landlords and tenants alike will know precisely where they stand. We ask that this matter, which we are told will be a regulation, be brought forward and put in the Bill so that there is no need for the regulation to be made afterwards. We feel that the wording used here, subject to advice that the Minister may receive from his Parliamentary draftsmen, is sufficient to cover the position.

Amendment No. 156 is a purely paving Amendment. Amendment No. 157 is the substantive Amendment. This is an entirely new proposition which was not discussed in Committee. The Amendment seeks to bring a similar position into play regarding local authorities as we have been urging concerning housing in the private sector. It seeks to remove from the control of the Bill increases in rents where improvements have been carried out by local authorities. As the Joint Parliamentary Secretary knows, there are many authorities up and down the country constantly modernising and carrying out improvements to their properties under their general powers of management under Section 111 of the Housing Act, 1957. There are such things as the provision of bathrooms where bathrooms have not previously existed. Normally when a council improves a dwelling there is negotiated or discussed with the tenant an increase in rent to cover the improvement which has taken place. The improvements vary to such an extent and are so numerous that it would seem to be extremely difficult to cover each individual variation by a blanket regulation.

It is therefore suggested—and this is something which the local authorities themselves desire—that this type of increase in rent should be taken out of the scope and operation of the Bill. We hope that this will commend itself to the Government, otherwise an unnecessarily onerous task will be placed on local authorities and on the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in trying to assess the increase which ought to be allowed in respect of these various conversions and improvements which local authorities undertake in the interests of. good management.

Mr. Frederick Silvester (Walthamstow, West)

It seems to me that the Amendment will enable the Government to take out of the incomes field something which will have an unfortunate effect on the more important long-term development of the housing policy which they are pursuing and which has received a good deal of support from this side of the House.

I should be out of order if I were to discuss housing policy, but one feature of it is relevant to this discussion. Over the years we have staggered from what hon. Gentlemen opposite would say was too much freedom on one occasion to what we on this side would say was too much restriction, but there is one area in which we were agreed we could make a step towards getting more realistic rents at a time when people would accept them, and that was when repairs and improvements were being carried out. These are continuous operations. They do not involve a sudden change in the whole housing and rents policies of large numbers of people at any time. It is a slow dribble during the year of properties being improved. It therefore seems unfortunate that as a backlash from the prices and incomes policy this change in the housing system should be affected. The Amendment will enable the occasions when improvements to houses are made to be excluded from the policy relating to increases in rents.

Perhaps I might briefly draw the attention of the House to the importance which the Government attach to this matter, and ask that the Amendment be given earnest consideration. In the White Paper, Old Houses into New Homes, there is a survey of the stock of houses in the country. It shows that 70 per cent. of privately-rented properties are in need of repairs costing more than £125, and that 14 per cent. of such properties require repairs costing more than £1,000. In those circumstances, it is unreasonable to expect private landlords to put their money into carrying out repairs and conversions if they cannot at the same time have some increase in rent.

I do not believe that by accepting the Amendment the Government will materially affect their prices and incomes policy. The Amendment will permit them to continue their policy, without at the same time handicapping their much longer term aim on the housing front, which could continue during this period of price freeze. In Committee the Government said that they would go some way on this. I hope that the Minister will give us rather more than he hinted at in the past, and will accept the basis of the Amendment.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. James MacColl)

I am afraid that I must criticise the drafting of the Amendment, but there are points I want to make about it which go beyond mere drafting and raise some fundamental misunderstandings of the position.

First, I am referring to Amendment No. 80, which says shall authorise all increases in rent on the grant of a certificate of fair rent consequential upon repairs improvements or conversions… The whole point of a certificate of fair rent is that it is issued before the work has been done. The object is to enable the landlord to obtain, before the work is done, an indication of what the registered rent would be. Nor does it apply to repairs; it applies only to improvements and conversions. So to some extent, by including the word "repairs", the hon. Gentleman begs the important question he raises about bringing in repairs.

The position is, as the hon. Gentleman said, that in certain circumstances where there is in existence a contractual tenancy, or where the house is empty and new tenants are coming in, it would not come within the Act because the Bill only applies to the statutory period. As he said, in those cases there would be no question of phasing, in the case of a certificate of fair rent it would normally be for improvements; it is not likely that there would be a surviving sitting tenant in the case of conversions. In these cases we will, as I said in Committee, make regulations covering them and exempting them from phasing.

On the general question of repairs, I think there is a great difference between repairs which are a continuing liability on the landlord and which should be carried out as part of the duties of a landlord over a time, and improvements which are once for all and, by their very nature, something new which has not happened before. It would create anomalies between one landlord and another if the landlord who had kept his house in repair, perhaps at some sacrifice, was not able to set off the repairs because they had already been done, and the landlord who effected repairs would be able to set them off against the phasing of the rent. I think I cannot meet the hon. Gentleman at all on the question of repairs.

Mr. Rossi

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, I wonder whether he would refer to his own words in the Standing Committee, where he did say Where work to be done is subsequently done, and he was referring here to improvements and conversions the landlord brings to the rent officer the evidence of the work that has been done. The rent officer satisfies himself that it has been properly done, approves the certificate and registers the rent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. Standing Committee F, 17th June, 1968; c. 925.] It would seem from that wording that the certificate can be granted after the work has been done, and should not be granted before the work has been done as has just been suggested by the hon. Gentleman Would he comment on that apparent inconsistency between his two statements, one in the Standing Committee and one here this morning?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order, the hon. Member has made one speech. There must be some limit to interventions.

Mr. MacColl

If the inconsistency is is between what I said now and what I said in Committee it would not surprise me. I would not pretend that I do not occasionally fall into inconsistency. But if one looks at Schedules 6 and 7 of the 1968 Rent Act, it shows that procedure for a landlord making application for a certificate is contingent upon certain works being done, and in the case of Schedule 6, upon producing evidence that the work has been done.

On Clause 10, I would draw the attention of the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Silvester) to subsection (1) which provides that subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by any directions of the Minister, it shall not be lawful for a local authority to charge in respect of any houses … rents exceeding the former rents and so on.

Those conditions, exempting from the rent for the purpose of calculating the increase, could be used to accept money spent on improvements. It is the intention of my right hon. Friend to do this, and before the hon. Member says, "Why do you not put it in the Bill; why leave it to directions?" I should point out that my right hon. Friend is consulting local authority associations and the Greater London Council about what should go into those directions. We want to be sure that we have covered all the points. I have no doubt that this point will require to be covered.

7.30 a.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

We cannot be entirely satisfied with the Parliamentary Secretary's answer. These points are on a very narrow but important front. It is essential that we should continue to encourage landlords to make improvements to their houses and to convert older houses, and not to discourage them by not allowing them a return on the expenditure incurred in doing that.

These are like productivity agreements which allow an increase in wages. Here we are encouraging the owners of property to carry out improvements to their property. We should do everything we can in the Bill before it leaves this House, and we certainly need an assurance that if we are not right in our drafting of the Amendment the question will be covered in the Bill before it leaves another place.

The Parliamentary Secretary said that the certificate of good repair came into operation before the work was done. The owner of the property applies for a certificate on the basis that he intends to carry out improvements or the conversion of property, but he does not get the certificate until he has satisfied the rent officer that those improvements or that conversion have been carried out.

Mr. MacColl

He does not get the rent registered until the work has been carried out, but he has his certificate, which is a guarantee that he will get it registered when the work has been carried out.

Mr. Page

He gets the decree absolute when he has carried out the conversion or the improvements. The registered rent comes into operation when he has carried out the work.

The Parliamentary Secretary said that the certificate of fair rent does not include anything for repairs. We had in mind to take into account cases where the rent is increased not only because of the improvements or the conversion but because of the state of repair of the property. In his decision of what rent to award the rent officer thinks not only of the improvements but the condition of the property.

It is possible that the rather narrow conditions of Clause 9 will apply in a number of cases where there is a sitting tenant. The Parliamentary Secretary has said that it is the intention of the Government to produce regulations which may cover the case of the landlord's having carried out improvements for a sitting tenant and having got his certificate of fair rent, after which he will be allowed by the regulations to charge that new rent without any phasing.

Considering the remarks of the Parliamentary Secreary, both in Committee and in the House, one cannot be certain that the regulations will encourage owners to continue to improve and convert property. That is why we should write this matter into the Bill by way of this simple Amendment to what is a narrow Clause —narrow because it applies only to the case where the rent is payable under a registered tenancy, during the statutory period of a registered tenancy, where it is payable in respect of a house which has a registered rent and where the rent being paid is less than the registered rent. There must be very few such cases and we should do everything possible to encourage the improvement and conversion of property.

I can see no objection to Amendment No. 157, which would allow local authorities to charge a higher rent to take account of improvements and conversions which they make. We are not in these cases asking that rents should be increased for the same article, but only where the article has changed; when a house has been improved or converted into two units. Only when there is an entirely new article would the Amendment apply. We would rather have these matters embodied in the Bill than wait for the regulations to ensure that what we want is covered.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Rossi

I beg to move Amendment No. 82, in line 10, leave out from 'be' to"resolution" in line 11 and insert ' subject to affirmative '.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Perhaps it would be convenient to discuss, at the same time, Amendment No. 83, in line 10, leave out from ' instrument' to end of line 12 and insert: 'which shall be laid before Parliament after being made and shall expire at the end of the period of 28 days beginning with the day on which it was made unless during that period it is approved by resolution of each House of Parliament'.

Mr. Rossi

It would, Mr. Deputy Speaker, since the two Amendments taken together represent variations on the same theme, the theme being that we request the Government to alter the provision which requires the Statutory Instrument bringing into effect the regulations controlling rents to be subject to annulment pursuant to a Resolution of either House. We are asking that the Resolution be subject to affirmation by either House, so that in Amendment No. 82 we speak of affirmation simpliciter, while in Amendment No. 83 we place certain time limits to meet objections raised by the Parliamentary Secretary when the matter was discussed in Committee on the Question,"That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

In support of the Amendment I call in aid evidence given to the Select Committee on Delegated Legislation, reported in the 1952–53 Committee Reports, Volume- 4. Paragraph 75 of the Report of that Committee reads: Sir Alan Ellis, speaking with the authority and experience of the Senior Parliamentary Counsel, described to us the normal approach to the problem of choosing between the affirmative and the negative procedures. While he was unable to suggest any rigid principle which would govern the choice, he named three types of case in which it might be expected that the affirmative would be preferred,—

  1. (1) He placed in the first class the powers which, when exercised, will substantially affect the provisions of an Act of Parliament, whether by altering its language, or increasing or limiting its extent or duration or otherwise.
  2. (2) His second class was composed of powers to impose financial changes—such, for instance, as purchase tax orders.
  3. (3) His third class consisted of cases of skeleton powers, where the parent Act fixes the purpose and leaves the whole substance of the law to be dealt with by subordinate legislation …."
It is our submission that we score on two points out of those three because, if one turns to subsection (4) of Clause 9, one sees that the Minister is asking for power by regulations to be able to adapt or modify the Rent Act, 1968. This falls well within the first class of case given by Sir Alan Ellis as requiring an affirmative procedure. These regulations will be altering the language or increasing or limiting the extent or duration or otherwise of an Act of Parliament. What Act of Parliament? The Rent Act, 1968, is a consolidating Act incorporating legislation going back to 1920. A number of Acts dealing with the substantive law of landlord and tenant have been considered by numerous Parliaments, their Lords spiritual and temporal and the Commons over these years, a policy carefully hammered out, a law firmly established and now to be amended at the whim of a Minister by regulation which it is proposed shall be subject only to negative procedure.

This is diametrically opposed to the advice given to this House by the senior Parliamentary Counsel in 1952. It is a matter which the Government should reconsider with the greatest possible care. The negative procedure means that the Minister makes a direction and Order by way of Statutory Instrument and, unless it is prayed against by an hon. Member, it becomes fully effective law. An hon. Member has only a very limited time in which to pray against a Statutory Instrument under this procedure—40 days. If it is not reached by 11.30 at night, it cannot be discussed, or if discussion upon it is started before 11.30, then at 11.30 sharp that discussion must cease. The discussion can start only after the finish of Government business.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member cannot discuss the whole detail of affirmative and negative procedure on that Amendment. He is entitled to make his case as to whether it should be affirmative or negative procedure, but not to explain to the House the whole detail of the two procedures.

7.45 a.m.

Mr. Rossi

I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I am making a point which is of fundamental constitutional importance—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The argument is whether it should be one kind of procedure instead of another.

Mr. Rossi

My argument is that when the Government are seeking to modify or alter an Act of Parliament in the way they are doing in the Bill, they should give the House a full and proper opportunity of debating the amendment of the Act. The negative procedure does not permit that because, as I have tried to explain, the negative procedure only permits debate—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member must not try to explain to the House the detail of the negative procedure.

Mr. Rossi

Then I will assume, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I must according to your Ruling, that the House is so fully cognisant of the procedure that it is unnecessary to discuss the matter.

I nevertheless press the Government, in amending an Act of Parliament, to use a procedure which coincides with and follows the learned advice which has been tendered to them. The advice applies not only to the circumstance that the Government are trying to amend an Act, but also where the legislation bringing into effect the new regulations is no more than a skeleton, leaving the substance to be dealt with by regulation. That was Sir Alan Ellis's third case. That is precisely what Clause 9 does. It is no more than a skeleton on which the flesh of the regulations, which will contain the substantive provisions, is to be hung.

For that reason also, it is important that both Houses be given full and adequate opportunity to discuss the detailed legislation which is not before it, and which cannot be before it, because we have merely the skeleton or bare bones on which everything else is to be hung.

The Amendments are a plea that the Government should proceed in a democratic fashion when amending an Act of Parliament, when producing a Measure which is merely a skeleton, and that they should come forward with their regulations and give adequate opportunity for discussion by hon. Members when making a substantive alteration in an important part of our legal system in the law of landlord and tenant.

Amendment No. 83 deals with the time question. The reason for the Amendment being positive as an alternative arises from our discussion in Standing Committee, when the Joint Parliamentary Secretary was anxious to avoid the affirmative procedure because, he told us, there would be too great a gap between the passing of the Bill and the making of the Statutory Instrument and this would lead to difficulties from a legislative point of view. In Standing Committee, the hon. Gentleman spoke of the Statutory Instrument having to go to the Statutory Instruments Committee if it were dealt with by the affirmative procedure.

It is to attempt to meet that objection that we have framed Amendment No. 83, which requires that the Instrument shall be laid before Parliament after being made and shall expire at the end of the period of 28 days beginning with the day on which it was made unless during that period it is approved by resolution of each House of Parliament". There is, therefore, a period of 28 days at the most which is to be lost by the procedure proposed in Amendment No. 83. It nevertheless gives the House a full and proper opportunity of discussing delegated legislation of the kind which Sir Alan Ellis strongly urged should be brought before the House under the affirmative procedure.

Mr. MacColl

I speak with a certain amount of trepidation on this subject, because I am conscious of being in the presence and under the baleful glare of two very distinguished Chairmen of the Statutory Instruments Committee. I would not want to say anything which in any way reflected on that very important and active body. I am not advancing this in any sense as a matter of great principle. There is no desire to make a further inroad into Parliamentary supervision of legislation. As I said in Committee, it is simply a practical question of the timing of the operation.

The problem arises from the fact that there is a freeze on. From the appointed day no rents can be raised, except in accordance with regulations. If regulations could be delayed, or if they came into operation and expired after 28 days, which would be the effect of the second of the two Amendments, it would put landlords in a very difficult position. It would be the landlords, not the tenants, who would suffer, because no increase in rents would be allowed. This is the first reason why it is important that the regulations should come into operation on the appointed day.

Under the affirmative procedure the regulations would have to be approved by the Statutory Instruments Committee in this House and by the Special Orders Committee in another place before they could come into operation. If we tried to get round that, we would be in trouble for trying to by-pass those bodies. If the regulations were to be subject to the negative procedure, they would equally come under the scrutiny of the Committee. There would be no way of avoiding that. This is one important reason why the affirmative procedure should not apply.

I presume that it is intended that the 28 days would be 28 sitting days. If they were not 28 sitting days, we might be in difficulties, because the regulations might come into operation at the end of this term of the Session and, if the 28 days included the Recess, we would be in great difficulties. That is one argument— and I think the most important and convincing argument—why the negative procedure must apply.

The second argument, which is a much more uncertain one, is that this is new legislation. It is temporary legislation, but it is new and fairly untried. It is necessary to be able to adjust the regulations if we get them wrong in some respect. We may get them wrong in the interests of the tenant or of the landlord. Whichever it is, we want quickly to be able to adjust them. That is the reason for not having them within the Bill.

The third reason is that these are complicated matters which present difficulties in drafting. I did not mean to joke when I replied to the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) in Committee after he had scolded me for having such an incomprehensible Clause 10. The complications arise from the difficulty of trying to put into the Bill something which, though we know what it means, is very difficult to define. The same difficulties would arise here.

It was said that a debate on a Prayer would continue only till 11.30. I do not pretend to be up Jo date on Parliamentary procedure, which seems to change with bewildering speed, but in the past, when I thought I understood how it worked, Mr. Speaker had power, if he thought a question had not been properly discussed, to allow it to be set down for another day.

I am not trying to knock another nail into the coffin of Parliamentary supervision. This is a purely practical consideration arising out of the special circumstance of the need to have the regulations in operation immediately the Bill is passed. It would do harm to landlords more than tenants if there were a gap. I hope, therefore, that the House will look upon this as an exceptional case and not try to make it into a great constitutional issue, accepting that, in these special circumstances, this is a reasonable way to proceed.

Mr. Graham Page

This is a constitutional issue, not just a practical question of timing. First, let me dispose of the Parliamentary Secretary's worry about the timing of the regulations. The second Amendment would give him opportunity to have his Statutory Instrument ready before the Bill obtains the Royal Assent; he can bring it into operation at the very moment the Royal Assent is given to the Bill. This is nothing new in a Prices and Incomes Bill. It was in the first one and in the second. The orders are ready when the Bill has received the Royal Assent, and they will come into effect at once and be effective for 28 days, expiring at that point unless by that time they have received affirmation by Parliament.

If the hon. Gentleman is worried about the wording of the Amendment, I assure him that it comes straight from the Southern Rhodesia Act, which must be familiar to hon. Members owing to the course of an Order under that Act which came before Parliament recently. The hon. Gentleman may rest assured that the 28 days are sitting days, and his regulations would not expire in the middle of a Recess.

I had hoped that, instead of reading his brief and saying that this is a little practical matter, the hon. Gentleman would have spoken as a Parliamentarian, not as an administrator. He is asking the House to accept a breach of the convention of Parliament concerning subordinate legislation. The Select Committee on delegated legislation made its recommendations in 1952 on the basis of evidence given by Mr. Speaker's Counsel at that time. The convention is that, if a parent Statute sets out a mere skeleton of a scheme and leaves it to the Minister to produce the scheme, it should be done by an Instrument subject to the affirmative procedure. No matter that it may come into operation for a period of time —this is frequently necessary—it should be subject to affirmation by the House within 28 days.

8.0 a.m.

The other and more important point was that if the parent Statute gives the Minister power to alter an Act it should be done only by an Order which needs affirmation from both Houses. Subsection (3) is a typical skeleton scheme for setting out the exemptions to the restrictions on rents. Subsection (4) gives the Minister power to alter the Rent Act, 1968. This is a monument of legislation, covering innumerable Acts of the past half century. It seems to me to be arrogance for a Minister to take power to alter a Statute of that sort, to alter the clear conventions of Parliament in this respect, by a Statutory Instrument which is merely subject to the negative procedure.

The Minister said that he is not making any inroads into constitutional rights here. But he is, and it is a shocking precedent which will no doubt be used in the future if it is allowed to go through. It is a breach of the conventions of the House over subordinate legislation. If the hon. Gentleman does not accept the Amendment here and now I hope that he will take further advice, read up the recommendations of the 1952 Committee, and comply with the expression of the conventions made by it.

Amendment negatived.

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