HL Deb 19 March 1918 vol 29 cc471-5

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Lord Chancellor.)


My Lords, I want to say a few words on the Motion that the House resolve itself into Committee on this Bill. I am a little disappointed that the Lord Chancellor has not put down an Amendment making the Bill, at all events to some extent, retrospective. The noble and learned Lord will remember I pointed out, when the Bill was read a second time, that if it was not made retrospective a great many injustices that have been done by a colourable reading of the present law will hold good. As the law stood, or as it stands, the landlord may take back one of the small houses for purposes of his own. The law has been made use of in this way—namely, that the landlord has, nominally, resumed possession and given in seine cases an option to the tenant to pay a largely increased rent. The tenant has not been able to pay the increased rent. and it has often happened that a colourable sale has taken place. The result has been to turn out these unfortunate people from their houses, and the houses have been sold to other persons. It seems to me that this is a serious act of injustice. In dealing with agricultural land the law provides that the landlord is not to increase the rent, and therefore he cannot increase it. In the case of these small houses the effect of the law as it stands, and as it has been administered, has been that the landlord, first of all, can either increase the rent or he has the power of selling the house over the tenant's head, although the tenant is quite prepared to continue paying the existing rent. On the former occasion the Lord Chancellor admitted that this was a hardship and said he would consider whether it could be met. I was hoping to have seen an Amendment in his name when this Bill was taken in Committee, but there is no Amendment down. If the Bill is to pass in the form in which it now is a number of cases of very great hardship will exist, many of them concerning widows and wives of men out at the war who really are not able to meet the greatly increased rents. Parliament has professed that it is preventing landlords from increasing rents. In this particular case Parliament has done nothing of the kind, and I think some Amendment is required to make this Bill retrospective.


My Lords, I, of course, have had very much in my mind the observations made by the noble Earl at the previous stage as to the advisability of making this Bill retrospective. The matter has formed the subject of very careful consideration, not only by myself, but in consultation with the various Departments—and there are a good many of them—who are concerned. What is felt is this, that we are hardly in possession at the present moment of sufficient materials for taking the step of making the Bill relate back to an antecedent time, but materials are coming in, and I should hope, before the Bill arrives at the Committee stage in another place, that sufficient materials will be available for the decision of the question, and for deciding what the extent of the retrospective effect of the Bill should be. I most thoroughly realise the class of cases to which my noble friend has referred. At the same time I think that your Lordships will he disposed to agree with me that as a general rule retrospective legislation is to be avoided, and that you should proceed with it only if there is a very clear case to show that justice requires it in that particular instance. The whole matter is being most fully considered, and if it is decided that the materials available justify an Amendment of the kind indicated, no time will be lost in deciding the point. If there is to be such an Amendment, it will be moved in another place. In these circumstances I hope that my noble friend will realise that I have not been in any way forgetful of what he said, and that I am most fully conscious of the importance of the question.


My Lords, I realise, as I think any lawyer must, the objections to retrospective legislation, and the extreme difficulty that is involved in not doing injustice by legislation of that character. But I think that the man in the street now feels rather strongly about what may be regarded as cases of the profiteering character during the war—cases of taking advantage of people's necessities. If I might make a suggestion to the noble and learned Lord, it would be this. Would it not be possible in another place to put in the Bill a subsection giving powers to some tribunal to annul these colourable sales where they were distinctly proved to have been colourable, and to have really evaded the intention of the Act of Parliament? I am certain that no one in this House desires that any member of the public, merely for grasping reasons, should have been enabled colourably to evade a Statute, and some method might be devised—I agree that it would be extremely difficult—by which a tribunal could at any rate decide in a clear case that it had not been anything but a colourable evasion of the Statute, and could therefore say that the transaction must be set aside. It might be possible to introduce words of that character into the Bill.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL, of KINTORE in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Restriction of meaning of landlord in 5 & 6. Geo. 5, c. 97, s. 1 (3).

1. Subsection (3) of section one 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.


My Lords, I desire to raise a small point on Clause 1 to which I want the kind attention of the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor. This Bill was presented to your Lordships' House on the 14th inst. and was read a second time on that day, but it is dated back to operate from the 12th. That, I am informed from Glasgow, will cause a good deal of hardship to perfectly innocent people in that city. I have in my possession a letter from a firm of solicitors of high standing who know of a case in which a sale—a perfectly honest sale—took place on the 13th. The date fixed in the Bill is the 12th, and if that date stands the person who bought the house upon the 13th will have his purchase annulled. That person has already given up his own house which he cannot get back again, and if the sale of this other house to him is annulled he will be houseless. It seems to me that it is not fair to make this Bill date back previous to the time when the public, by the ordinary channels of information, could have been made aware of the fact that the Bill was contemplated. My suggestion to the noble and learned Lord is that the word "twelfth" in line 10 should be made "fifteenth." Even that is giving a good deal, but any one following current events in the newspapers would know upon March 15 that this Bill would interfere with the bargain. Future purchasers would also, of course, be aware of the position; and if there is anything of the illicit purchasing—what I call "illicit" purchasing is purchasing for the purpose of private interest—mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, by Lord Camperdown, or by Lord Russell, I quite agree that it should be stopped. I do not, however, think that it would be fair to penalise perfectly innocent people who will be caught in the way I describe, and—purchasing a house on the 13th, having previously given up their own house—will be left homeless if this Bill passes as it is.


I may remind my noble friend that this Bill was introduced upon the 12th, and that is the reason why this date is inserted. The introduction of the Bill is, of course, notice to every one, and there is nothing retrospective in saying that from the time the Bill is introduced it will have effect, for its introduction is notice of that fact. Although I do not think that the Bill as it stands can be said to be retrospective, the observations of my noble friend illustrate the great care that must be taken before you propose legislation of a retrospective character. The noble Lord mentioned a particular transaction in Glasgow which would be affected so as to occasion some hardship. Any representations that my noble friend may make to me as to the possibility of many cases of this kind will be most carefully considered by me and communicated to those who will have charge of the Bill in another place. I do not think that my noble friend has moved any Amendment, and I hope that he will be satisfied with having called attention to the point. I will see that it is not overlooked when the Bill is being dealt with in another place.


I did not actually move an Amendment, although it would have been quite fair to do so as we are in Committee and one can move without notice a single Amendment of the kind I have indicated. I quite agree that it would be fairer to wait till subsequent stages, and it is open to me upon the Third Reading of the Bill to move it at that time by giving notice if I think fit. The noble and learned Lord, however, has rather missed the point of what I said. The point was this, that I thought it unfair to date the Bill from a time when it could not be generally known that it had been introduced into this House. It was not generally known until it was advertised by a debate which took place on the Second Reading. I will go no further to-day, but I will communicate with the noble and learned Lord if he will allow me, and upon Third Reading, if necessary, I can move that the word "twelfth" be eliminated and "fifteenth" substituted.


I will just say one word, if I may, in explanation. On the 13th the fact that the Bill had been introduced would be known through the ordinary channels of communication.


I am sure that Lord Balfour has satisfied himself that this sale was an honest and bona fide one, but as a matter of fact it took place in Glasgow, and it is in that neighbourhood, I believe, where a good number of what I might call bogus sales have occurred, and I have reason to think that a good many of them have been made by munition workers who wish to get the houses of other people. After what the noble and learned Lord has said, I am sure we may rely upon it that this matter will be thoroughly and fairly considered. With that I am content.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment.