HL Deb 14 March 1918 vol 29 cc445-9

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I rise to propose the Second Reading of this Bill. It is introduced in consequence of certain proceedings which have been considered by various Departments of the Government with regard to the working of the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (War Restrictions) Act of 1915. Representations have been made to various Government Departments, and the matter has been brought particularly to my attention by the Home Office, by the Local Government Board, by the Admiralty, and by the Scottish Office.

Your Lordships are aware that the Act of 1915 was passed for the purpose of preventing an increase of rent over the amount which was paid at the commencement of the war in the case of certain houses of no very great annual value. The value of the houses to which the Act applies is in the country generally £26 per annum, in London £35, and in Scotland £30. Those figures were selected as affording the best available limit at which a line was to be drawn. The effect of that Act, as I indicated, was to prevent the rent being raised above what it had been at the commencement of the war. In order to carry that out it was necessary to give something in the nature of security against the tenants being turned out to make way for other persons who would pay more rent. That was carried out by subsection (3) of Section 1 of the Act of 1915, to a few lines of which I will draw your Lordships' attention. They are— No order for the recovery of possession of a dwelling-house to which this Act applies, or for the ejectment of a tenant therefrom, shall be made so long as the tenant continues to pay rent at the agreed rate as modified by this Act, and performs the other conditions of the tenancy, except on the ground that the tenant has committed waste, or has been guilty of conduct which is a nuisance or an annoyance to adjoining or neighbouring occupiers, or that the premises are reasonably required by the landlord for the occupation of himself or some other person in his employ, or in the employ of some tenant from him, or on some other ground which may be deemed satisfactory by the Court making such order. There are other provisions which for the present purpose I need not trouble to read.

The complaints which have been made, and which I am informed are exciting very great feeling in many parts of the country, arise in this way. Your Lordships will observe that the section I have read provides that the landlord may say that he wants the premises for his own occupation, and that is a ground for determining the tenancy. It was never contemplated at the time that the Act was passed that the power should be exercised by a person who bought for the express purpose of turning out the occupying tenant in order that he, the purchaser, might himself occupy the premises, but purchases to a great extent have been made in different parts of the country owing to a variety of causes, and they have occasioned, and they are occasioning, I am informed, very extensive hardships, very often in the case of the wives and families of soldiers who are serving at the Front who, in consequence, lose the occupation which they had under circumstances where it is very difficult to find another house. This is manifesting itself near London, very largely, I am informed, in consequence of the air raids. There are a great many people who have money to spare who very naturally wish to have a cottage near London for the occupation of themselves and their children, where they would be safe from the danger either of German bombs or of our own protective shells while an air raid is going on. The result has been that in districts to the west of London particularly—I believe the case first brought to my attention was in Buckinghamshire—a great many purchases have taken place by persons who bought only for the purpose of ejecting the tenants.

The same thing has manifested itself in other parts of the country, not always for the same reason. In many cases it has been where there has been a good deal of money going, where people desired to acquire a cottage for themselves, and have bought for the purpose of evicting the tenant who was occupying under the Act. This has manifested itself to a very great extent, I am told, in Scotland, particularly in the neighbourhood of Glasgow. Then, having bought, they proceed to exercise the right reserved by the Act to the landlord of saying that he wants to occupy the premises himself, and that therefore the tenant must go out.

But this is not quite the whole of the case, because, according to the information supplied to me by the Department, in a very great many cases the sales are of a somewhat peculiar character. They often take this form, that there is a conveyance of the cottage, and the consideration consists in the payment of a comparatively small sum down, and then so much to be paid per week. It seems pretty obvious that that is really very like a tenancy, and that it is adopted for the purpose of avoiding the provision that the Act has made against disturbing a tenant. The person who entered into what I think may without offence be described as a colourable purchase of that nature intends to eject the tenant and occupy the premises himself. That is the mischief to be dealt with, and I am informed by the various Departments I have mentioned that it is exciting a great deal of feeling and occasioning a great deal of hardship in many parts of the country, distant a long way from one another. I need hardly say that it was never contemplated, when the Act of 1915 was passed, that such sales should take place. What was contemplated was that the lessor might want the premises for the occupation of himself and his servants, and the right of resumption was reserved. It was never intended that it should apply in the case of a person who bought merely for the purpose of turning out the tenant and occupying, and still less where the sale was of the nature I have described as not uncommon.

The proposal in the Bill for the purpose of remedying the evil is this. The Bill is extremely short. Its effect is to confine the power given to the landlord to the case of the landlord who let—the lessor—and any one who takes from him by descent or by will or under a settlement made before the day on which this Bill was introduced. His successor under a settlement made before the introduction of this Bill will be entitled to exercise the powers which are conferred on the landlord by the Act of 1915. But a purchaser from the lessor will not be entitled to exercise these powers, if the purchase is made after the date fixed for the commencement of the Bill. That is the scope of the measure, and I will read it to your Lordships. The Bill provides that subsection (3) of Section 1 of the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (War Restrictions) Act, 1915, shall have effect as if at the end thereof the following provision was inserted:—"For the purposes of this subsection the expression 'landlord' shall not include any person who since the twelfth day of March nineteen hundred and eighteen has become landlord by the acquisition of the dwelling-house or any interest therein otherwise than by devolution thereof to him under a settlement made before the said date, or under a testamentary disposition or an intestacy." The provision as to the date of the settlement is inserted in order to prevent the possibility of settlements being got up which are intended merely to get round the Act. It is intended to confine it to the case of general settlements, and the test selected is that it was made before the date of the introduction of the Bill. I venture to commend the Bill to your Lordships' favourable consideration, and I now move that it be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)


My Lords, this Bill is apparently to deal with certain cases which have already taken place. As the Bill stands, I do not see that it has any retrospective effect. Of course, if it has no retrospective effect, it really will not deal with a great many of the hardships which have arisen from the present law.


My noble friend is quite right. The Bill, as drawn, has no retrospective effect. It stops the thing for the future. But I am bound to say, now that attention is called to it, that very recently a good deal of information has come to me which leads me to think that it may deserve consideration whether to a certain extent the Bill might be made retrospective. The state of things in some parts of Scotland, I am told, is such as to make anything of that kind, if it could be done, very desirable.


I have seen in the newspapers statements made by officers' wives and widows that they have been turned out. Unless this Bill refers to those cases which have already taken place, it really will not meet the evil.

On Question, Bill read 2a.