§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, at this late hour of the evening I will be as brief as I can in dealing with this Bill. I will ask you to direct your attention to the various clauses of the measure while I run through them and explain the main alterations to the existing law which we propose to introduce. Clause 2 is the most important in the Bill. It makes a change. At the present moment, if a house is under the Rent Restriction Acts it remains under control even though it may change tenancy. If the owner comes in and occupies the house, then goes out and lets it again, it still remains a controlled house and subject to the restrictions of the Acts. Under this Bill we propose to remove control if the house becomes vacant. If a landlord enters into possession of a house on its becoming vacant then that house will be removed from control. There are two exceptions to this with which I will deal later, but as a general rule vacant houses will come out of the Bent Restriction Acts.
Another point which has been a source of difficulty in the past is the question of leases. It has been found that the restrictions of the Acts are a considerable hindrance to those who wish to conclude leases because they apply both to short lettings and to lettings for any length of time. Naturally, when a lease falls in a landlord does not wish to hamper himself 1120 by concluding a new lease for 21 years or so, subject still to the restrictions which are laid down by the Acts. He prefers to allow the tenant to go on as a statutory tenant until such time as he is able to renew the lease under a free contract. This, of course, is disagreeable to the tenant who does not want to be a statutory tenant. He would much prefer to conclude a lease. He would be quite willing to conclude a lease with his landlord, although the terms might not be within the four corners of the restrictions. The clause which enables this to be done in certain circumstances is purely optional to the tenant He can remain as a statutory tenant and need not conclude a lease unless he wishes. This provision will assist in easing the housing shortage. When a house falls vacant now the landlord does not want to let it; that would bring it under control again. He prefers to put it up for sale and sell it vacant with possession. When a house becomes vacant now he can let it and also put it up for sale, and the buyer will be able to give notice to the tenant and obtain possession of the house if he requires it.
I come now to Clause 3 and I am afraid that it is rather a difficult clause to understand. It is somewhat complicated. I repeat what my right hon. friend said in another place, that when the Bill passes into law the Government will take steps to have the old Acts reprinted together with the Amendments made by the present Bill in order to show the whole provisions of the law. Subsection (b) of Clause 5 of the principal Act makes it possible for a landlord to regain possession if the tenant or some one living with him has allowed the house to deteriorate, or has caused a nuisance in any way, or has used it for illegal purposes. But where the nuisance is caused by the sub-tenant or lodger the existing section does not apply. We have therefore extended it to cover the destructive lodger or sub-tenant and provided that it shall only be possible for the landlord to regain possession if the tenant has not taken proper steps to get rid of the obnoxious sub-tenant who is causing a nuisance.
Now we come to the case of the owner requiring possession for his own use or for one of his grown-up children. I need not enlarge upon the hardship which the limitation to the powers of a man to 1121 occupy his own house have caused. They have been presented in the voluminous evidence which was laid before the Departmental Committee and is available for consultation by your Lordships. There have been constant articles in the Press, and the matter has been ventilated at length in another place. I think everybody, however wedded they may be to the principle of rent control, would wish that some relaxation should be allowed in the case of a man wishing to occupy his own house. Therefore, we say that where a man wishes to gain possession for himself, or one of his grown up children, he should be able to obtain it without conditions, provided that he or his wife, became the owner before 30th June, 1022. In such cases it is only necessary for the Court to be quite sure that the requirement of the house for his own use is really genuine. Of course, a man may buy a house for his own occupation quite genuinely even subsequent to 1922, and, therefore, the Bill says that in such cases, if the landlord can show that greater hardship would be caused by his being kept out of his house than by the tenant being evicted, he is able to regain possession without, providing alternative accommodation.
Some months ago my noble friend Lord Hastings came to me with a deputation on behalf of the Central Land Association, and put forward certain proposals in regard to this Bill. I am afraid that he will, when he reads the Bill, be some what disappointed as the main object which he had in view—namely, to exclude all houses in rural districts—is not embodied in it. But I hope he will agree that certain useful concessions are made to the agricultural interest. For in stance, at the present moment a farmer cannot obtain possession of a cottage for one of his workmen unless he is actually employing that man. This provision is very difficult to work. Very often it is impossible to engage a man at all, or at any rate to employ him, until he is able to find housing accommodation. Con sequently, we have altered the provision of the original Act by saying that in cases whore a farmer has engaged a man conditional upon housing accommodation being obtainable for him ho is in a position to dispossess a tenant who is occupying a house necessary for a man whose employment is required for the proper working of the farm.
1122 I now come to the second class of provisions in Clause 3, namely, those whereby a landlord can obtain possession of his house by the provision of alternative accommodation. I should like to draw your Lordships' attention in the first instance to the fact that we have made a considerable alteration with regard to alternative accommodation. As the law at present stands, alternative accommodation is described as "accommodation reasonably equivalent as regards rent and suitability in all respects." That provision was found to be almost impracticable. It was held, for instance, that if a tenant was able to take in lodgers, the alternative accommodation should also enable him to take in lodgers. It was further held that the rooms in the alternative accommodation must be neither larger, nor smaller, nor less in number, and so forth. In fact, it was practically impossible to obtain alternative accommodation under the conditions laid down by the former Act.
Consequently, we substituted for the definition which holds good at the present time a somewhat longer one, but one which, I trust, will be more suitable to the needs of landlords and tenants. This new form describes alternative accommodation as accommodation "reasonably suitable to the means of the tenant and to the needs of the tenant and his family as regards extent, character and proximity to place of work, and which consists either of a dwelling house to which the principal Act. applies or of premises to be let as a separate dwelling on terms which would afford the tenant security of tenure reasonably approximate to the security afforded by the principal Act."
Possibly these last words will require a little explanation. It has been pointed out that with the abolition of the control of vacant houses a man who is offered a house which is not controlled may be turned out again in a week, so that if a landlord had two houses exactly alike and adjacent to one another, one occupied by a tenant and therefore controlled, and the other vacant and therefore uncontrolled, he might offer the empty house as alternative accommodation, and so obtain possession of the controlled house. If the tenant went into the vacant house he might, of course, be turned out in a week, and he would have no security 1123 of tenure whatever. Accordingly, we say that alternative accommodation must also offer security of tenure. If, as will undoubtedly be the case, but few vacant houses will be subject to the provisions of the principal Act, fixity of tenure will have to be provided for by some form of lease.
We also extend to private enterprise the facilities for obtaining possession of premises which local authorities or statutory undertakings now possess. For instance, one may cite the case of a hospital which may wish to erect a wing and may not be able to do so because there are one or two controlled cottages on the land where the wing is to be erected. If that wore the case, the hospital authorities could now go to Court and would probably be able to obtain possession of those cottages by offering alternative accommodation.
I think I ought to mention a safeguard which has been introduced to protect tenants against the consequences of houses being decontrolled. Under the original Act a landlord could get rid of a tenant by misrepresentation of facts, and if he did so he had to pay him compensation. If a landlord were to take this step, he might be able to get rid of his tenant and find it worth his while to misrepresent the facts and to pay compensation in order to get possession of a vacant house. Consequently, we provide that in such cases the house will not come out of control. If the landlord, by misrepresentation, gets a tenant out of a house he will have to pay him compensation and the house will return to control. This is one of the exceptions to which I referred where vacant houses will not be decontrolled. The other is where a tenant is evicted by his landlord for non-payment of rent. The landlord then regain" possession of his house, but the house is still subject to control.
> I come now to Clause 4, the object of which is to simplify the present procedure. It has been suggested that some landlords have not spent the 25 per cent, of increased rent on repairs. The procedure under the present Act is cumbersome and is not fully understood by tenants, and consequently we alter that procedure by saying that the service of a certificate from a sanitary authority shall be a good defence to any claim against the tenant 1124 for an increase of rent. As regards Clause 5, which, I think, is an important-clause, it has been found that inconvenience and hardship to landlords have been caused by the fact that any small error in the notice served for increase of rent may vitiate the whole notice. We are here giving power to the county court to amend such notice by correcting errors and supplying omissions.
Next, I turn to the question of the sub-tenant, which is dealt with in Clause 6. In England, as a general rule, no provision is inserted in a lease to forbid sub-tenancies. I believe that in Scotland there generally is such a provision; the Scottish landlords are it appears, more cautious than the English landlords. It is perfectly legal, therefore, for a tenant to let to a sub-tenant, but owing to the shortage of houses there are a great many more sub-tenancies than existed before the war. In those days, if a landlord had objected to his tenant's subletting he could have stopped it by saying that unless the tenant got rid of the subtenant he would give him notice to quit He cannot do that now, and he has to allow his house to be used in any way that the tenant chooses so far as subletting is concerned. We feel that the landlord is entitled to a slightly increased rent in consequence of the additional use to which his house is put, and accordingly we say that in respect of the part of a house which is let to a sub-tenant a landlord shall be entitled to receive from the tenant 5 per cent. more than the apportioned rent on that part of the premises. Then again, at the present moment, unless he contravenes the law, a tenant is allowed to charge only the amount of rent which he pays to his landlord for the premises which he sublets. We think that he should perhaps have some additional advantage, and it is suggested that he should also be allowed to take for himself 5 per cent, of the net rent of that part of the premises.
The next two clauses deal with two grievances. The first regards the sale of furniture at an excessive price. That has been done to get over the prohibition of premiums. Furniture or fixtures have been sold at an enormous price as a condition of the renewal or continuance of a tenancy. We say that the price of any furniture sold under such conditions shall be stated, and if that price is in excess of the value, then the excess shall be 1125 treated as if it were a premium. Then there was another method by which it was suggested that the Act was evaded. That was by giving some very limited form of attendance, and it was held, I believe, that even a delivery of coals once a week, or something of that kind, was sufficient to class the premises as a letting with attendance. We endeavour to meet this by saying that the value of such attendance must form a substantial portion of the rent paid if the letting is to count as one with attendance. At the same time in calculating the amount in the rent attributable to the attendance regard must be had to the value of that attendance to the tenant: which of course might vary in different circumstances. The same provisions as are attached to attendance apply to furniture let with the house. Lastly, there has been a great deal of trouble in determining standard rent. The Courts have held that they cannot settle these questions unless they crop up incidentally in an action, so in Clause 9 we give power to the county court to determine these questions summarily, and so to arrive at a settlement.
These nine clauses conclude Part I of the Act, and Part I of the Act—that is, the Rent Restriction Acts plus these Amendments—continues until June, 1925. On June 25, 1925, all the provisions of the Rent Restriction Acts lapse, and in their place Part II of this Act comes into force. Part II is, if I may say so, the second step on the bridge between complete control and complete decontrol, Part I being the first.
Part II of this Bill is designed to afford sufficient protection to tenants to render prolongation of the Rent Restriction Acts after June, 1925, unnecessary. The period provided for in Part II is five years, though Parliament may by resolution shorten it. Thus the protection afforded in Part II will last till 1930—and 1930 was the date which the Minority Report of the Departmental Committee regarded as that to which restrictions should be continued for the houses which came within the category of the 1915 Act.
Now when the Pent Restriction Acts come to an end in 1925 some landlords may desire to take advantage, of their freedom: they may want to let their houses to other tenants, they may have had difficulties with their tenants and 1126 want to get rid of them and get better tenants, or they may want a change for any other reason. If a landlord wants to change his tenant and the tenant does not wish to give up the house, he may appeal to the county court, and if the court think that the conduct of the landlord is harsh or oppressive, or that the tenant would be caused exceptional hardship, it may refuse to allow the landlord to evict the tenant. Then, of course, the landlord may say, or he may have already said, that the tenant must pay an increased rent, and again if the tenant objects to this he can appeal to the court and the court has power to decide whether the rent shall be increased, and what increase is fair and reasonable. The criterion is to be the character and condition of the house and the rents of similar houses in the neighbourhood. But it may be said that though considerable hardship might be caused to a tenant in being evicted, if the landlord is not allowed to evict him the landlord himself may be caused greater hardship than the tenant has to undergo by being evicted from his house. In these circumstances, where the greater hardship might be inflicted on the landlord, the court would have power to grant the eviction.
When Part II of the Act comes into force I think you will agree that a great deal of work will be thrown on to the county courts, and therefore we provide machinery by which reference, committees may be set up to relieve the county courts of some of the mechanical part of this work. The functions of these reference committees will be to determine questions in relation to rent, character or condition of houses. They can be moved into activity in two ways, and two ways only. First a County Court Judge may ask for their advice on the question of the appropriate rent, having regard to the condition and character of the house in question. The reference committee does not decide the question but only advises. Secondly, where both the landlord and tenant agree to do so, the question of lent may be referred to them directly. There has been a great deal of, I think, unfounded alarm at the constitution of these committees, which have been characterised as "the stepping-stones to rent courts." Really they are nothing of the kind: they are simply there to relieve the county court of the work of determining the specific questions which I have mentioned.
1127 Your Lordships are familiar with, the provisions of the Acts relating to compulsory purchase, and we are all aware that if land is sold under an Order and there is a difference of opinion in regard to price, the price is settled by an arbitration tribunal; but this is a very different thing from a land court, and these committees are very different things from rent courts. They act simply in an advisory manner. They will be set up, if ever they are set up, by regulations, and those regulations will be laid before both Houses of Parliament. No reference committees will be set up—and this is an important matter—unless both Houses of Parliament pass a Resolution confirming them. As your Lordships are aware orders which are laid on the Table of the House are confirmed automatically unless one House or another pronounces against them; in this case the regulations will not become operative unless both Houses confirm them by Resolution.
I have only one other matter to draw attention to, and that is the clause dealing with repairs. When a tenant complains to a county court that the landlord has not carried out his obligations in regard to repairs the court may order that the rent shall be reduced until those repairs are carried out.
The questions which are dealt with in this Bill are some of the most difficult that have confronted any Minister at a period when every Minister is confronted with questions of more than ordinary difficulty. I think that whatever opinion may be held as to this measure, or as to particular parts thereof, it has been generally recognised throughout the country that my right honourable friend has made a sincere and honest attempt to grapple with a problem of acute controversy, and that he has made a sincere and honest endeavour to hold the balance fairly between the many conflicting interests. As such I commend the Bill to your Lordships.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Onslow.)
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, I cannot help regretting, and I think there must be many members of your Lordships' House who join with me in regretting, that this Bill was not introduced to your Lordships at a time when it would have been possible to give it 1128 the adequate consideration which it deserves. It seems impossible to think that this measure, which is now going to be discussed in an utterly devitalised House, should be the Bill introduced by the Government to remedy a state of affairs which lost them four seats at an early stage of their existence, and which was not inaptly described by the noble Earl, to whom we are indebted for a plain and careful exposition of the Bill, as one of the most difficult measures that the Government have had to bring forward.
I am not so foolish as not to understand that the Government have difficulties in arranging their business, but I think that a Bill which rightly demands, as this Bill does most careful investigation by all members of the House, and which raises in a form of acute controversy what ought to be the proper policy to be pursued with regard to housing in our present economic condition, should not have been introduced to your Lord ships' House at such a time as this. Of course, the first and obvious remedy-would have been that I, representing, as I do on this occasion, our depleted Opposition, should have moved that the House be adjourned, in order that the matter might be fully and properly considered. I am bound to say that I was tempted to take that course. But I know also that this Bill cannot be indefinitely postponed, that time is already occupied by other matters that will arise before this House for consideration, and that, if I were to do that, although there might be many of your Lordships who would think it was the right thing to do, yet, none the less, it would embarrass the Government gravely in carrying into effect a Bill which must be passed by July 31, or there will be grave difficulties ensuing. Therefore I merely protest, in passing, against the Government having put this down at the end of a long day's list. I do not think it is entirely excusable that they should have selected that place in the list when they might-have selected others for its position on your Lordships' Paper.
The Bill deals with the most acute controversy, and is of the gravest importance. It is a Bill which propose to continue restrictions which now exist with regard to the rents that are to be 1129 obtained from the letting of houses. Many people regard this as a Bill containing something more than the mere germs of Socialism. They think that it prevents the proper play of economic forces with regard to house property, and imposes a very grave disability upon people whose investments happen to take the form of owning houses. I admit that I do not share that view. It not only appears to me perfectly plain that there must now be restrictions upon the rents to be obtained from houses in the hands of landlords, but I do not believe that the period assigned by this Bill as the period luring which this restriction is to continue will be found to be sufficiently prolonged.
My reason is this. The economic shortage of houses is due to the fact that the Government interfered during the war and prevented houses being built. It was not an event that happened in the ordinary economic development of the country. It was an artificially created scarcity, and I think it would be the very worst possible example to allow people, who in those circumstances became possessed of what was in the nature of a monopoly, and a monopoly absolutely essential for the life of the community, to draw from their favoured position all that that position enabled them to exact. The maintenance of decent houses at decent rents for our working people is a matter of the very first importance if we desire to maintain order and stability in the government of this country. And therefore my feeling is not at all one of reluctance to continue the restrictions that have been imposed, but rather that the restriction is not imposed for a term sufficiently long. I imagine that the Government, in selecting the date which they did, did so with the comforting reflection that it was more than likely that they would not be holding office when that time expired, and that they would be queath to others the difficult position of knowing what was then to be done.
The first thing that I wish to say about the Bill, remembering what I have said is to the necessity of protecting people from the exaction that must always follow from a few people holding what many people desire, is that it is a little difficult to know why it is that, in Clause 2, the mere fact that a landlord resumes possession of a house should entitle him 1130 there and then to exact what rent he pleases for it. If at the basis of the Bill lies the idea that I have attempted to express—namely, that it is not right to let people get all that can be obtained from the use of an artificially restricted commodity—I see no particular reason why the landlord should be given that opportunity, merely because the house falls into possession. At any rate, Clause 2, for some reason or other, provides that.
Clause 3 is a clause upon which comment is obvious. It is probably the worst drawn clause that has found its way into any Bill that has recently been before your Lordships. If it were read out to you I would undertake to say that there is not a single noble Lord in the House who would have the faintest notion what it meant. As it stands, it is incomprehensible. You cannot understand it without having before you the clause in the principal Act to which this is an amendment. It states that—Subsection (1) of Section five of the principal Act (which relates to restriction on right to possession) shall from and after the passing of this Act have effect subject to the following Amendments:—Then in paragraph (ii) certain words are to be added, and another paragraph is to be substituted for paragraph (iv), while subsection (6) of Section 5 of the principal Act is to be extended. Of course that is, on the face of it, sheer nonsense. It conveys no meaning to anybody's mind. Unless you have the other Act by your side and you add these things on, you can get no value from this Bill at all.
- (a)for paragraph (b) the following paragraph shall be substituted:—
- (b)for paragraph (d) the following paragraph shall ho substituted:—
- (c) for paragraph (e) the following paragraph shall be substituted:—
- (d) the following paragraphs shall be added at the end of paragraph (g):—
It is said that when this Bill is passed the other Acts will be consolidated. That is a very good thing, but why could it not be done to begin with? I know that these complaints about this style of legislation are made by both sides of the House. It is one of those things which people are bound to accept when they are members of the Government, and of which the Opposition always complain. 1131 I feel that I have myself sometimes apologised for such Bills. But I am certain that the noble Marquess who is at present leading the House [Lord Salisbury] will admit that I have from time to time protested against it, even when I was a member of the Government, and I have always done my best, as far as possible, to avoid this method of legislation, which prevents people from understanding what an Act of Parliament means, and which always reminds me of the Roman Emperor who, in order to obtain revenue for his Treasury, put his Acts of Parliament in small letters at the top of a high column, and then, when the people could not understand them, punished them for disobedience to the law.
Let us pass on from that to one or two of these other provisions. Take Clause 3 (1) (d). This provides that the landlord is, as far as I can understand, to obtain possession if the tenant has, without consent, assigned or sub-let the whole of the dwelling-house, or sub-let part of it, the remainder of it being already sub-let. Does that mean that that condition is imposed if the tenant has, without consent, sub-let, even although, under the terms of his original tenancy, he was at liberty to assign or sub-let? If not, is there anything in the original Act that prevents a breach of a covenant like that, giving the landlord the right to Resume possession? If this means that there is to be imposed upon a man who is under no obligation to obtain consent the necessity of obtaining consent before he exercises rights that he now possesses, then I think that this is a very drastic and severe provision which needs to be revised. I do not know, because I cannot carry in my head the entire provisions of the principal Act, and, without the principal Act, it is perhaps impossible to ascertain what it means. But I do not, for the moment, realise why the breach of a covenant not to assign or sub-let would entitle the landlord to obtain possession. If there is not a covenant enabling the landlord so to deal with the property, then I think it is wrong to prevent a man doing what he has the clear right to do—to deal with his property, even if it be a small monthly tenancy, just as law has permitted him to do.
Then there are other provisions with regard to licensed premises which I understand 1132 also give rise to the same question, but with which I do not propose for the moment to interfere. I want, however, to direct attention to subsection (1) of Clause 5. It is said by the noble Earl in charge of the Bill, and I think quite rightly said, that the notice which the principal Act contains and which the landlord must serve upon the tenant before any increase can be obtained is a complicated notice. It certainly looks as though that is so. But you have to remember that there are two people who suffer from this complication. There is the landlord and there is the tenant. If you allow the landlord to make any demand he pleases upon a tenant in one of these notices with the certain knowledge that if the tenant objects all he has to do is to go and put it right at the county court, you will encourage people who are dealing with ignorant men to attempt to exact from them that which the law does not permit. The assumption is that the advantage of the notice is that unless the landlord strictly conforms to what he is entitled to ask the tenant is entitled to disregard the notice.
I know there are disadvantages which may arise from mistakes which are quite honestly made by a landlord in serving such a notice, and this is intended to protect the landlord from such consequences. But while it protects him it exposes the tenant to something far more grave, and I hope the noble Earl in charge of the measure will consider whether it is not possible, before the final stage is reached, to do something to mitigate the provisions of this clause in such a manner as to provide, at least, that the County Court Judge must find out that the mistake in the notice was a genuine mistake and not a mere inaccuracy in the figures.
There is another provision in Clause 6 which also appears to me to be rather hard. That clause deals with the lawful sub-letting of part of a house by the tenant, and provides that when a tenant lawfully sub-lets he is to be at liberty to exact from the person to whom he sublets ten per cent, more than the landlord would have been entitled to receive. I do not quite see why. It is merely an encouragement to the farming out of houses, which is the worst thing in the world, and in order that the landlord may be satisfied he is to have part of what his tenant can get. I should be glad to 1133 know the reason that, induced the Government, in a Bill that is really designed for the protection of tenants—because that is the whole justification of the measure—to place a sub-tenant, to the extent of ten per cent., at the mercy of the landlord's tenant who is to be protected by the Bill.
Finally, the landlord is entitled, under subsection (2) of Clause 6, to call upon the tenant to give him full particulars of any sub-letting, and if the tenant does not comply he is to be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £2. All this is on the hypothesis that the tenant is lawfully sub-letting. If I am exercising my lawful rights and subletting in a lawful way, why am I to be called upon to give full particulars to the landlord when I am asked for them and to be liable on summary conviction to a fine of £2 if I do not supply them? I do not like that clause at all, and unless there is some chance of the Government meeting us on that matter it will be our duty. I think, to take steps to see whether we cannot secure some amendment of it in the course of the Committee stage of the Bill.
There is one thing that I think we must face, and it is this. The idea that the situation which justifies the existence of this Bill is one that is transient and passing away is entirely unfounded. The population of this country is increasing far faster than the accommodation that is obtainable for their proper housing. It is calculated, and I believe there is no doubt about the figures, that in spite of all our distress our population grows at the rate of one thousand a day: so that 365.000 a year are added to the population of this country. And what of the houses? According to the figures I have—of course, they are much more difficult to check than the figures of population—there is an actual deficit in the number of houses required of at least 20,000 a year. The consequence is that the situation which already exists will not grow easier. It is going to grow more and more grave and, so far from this Bill attempting to lighten the restrictions which are now imposed on the letting of houses, I cannot help thinking that, if there be any genuine desire to protect people from exorbitant and unfair rents, this Bill will have to be modified in a manner different from that in which I gathered from the noble Earl 1134 it was the intention of the Government to deal with it. I have attempted to make my criticisms as brief as possible having regard to the hour of the evening, and I hope that I have indicated one or two at least of the points with regard to which we think that this Bill is open to criticism and amendment.
§ LORD DYNEVOR
My Lords, I should like to say one or two words upon this Bill which contains, I think, some very good provisions but is certainly in need of amendment. The drafting in more than one place is very obscure and there is a terrible amount of legislation by reference. I would especially draw the attention of my noble friend Lord Onslow to "paragraph (iv)" in subsection (11 (f) of Clause 3 in which these words occur:—where the dwelling-house is reasonably required by the landlord for occupation as a residence for himself or for any son or daughter of his over eighteen years of age and ….I want to know whether there is going to be a full stop at the word "age," or whether the last part of the paragraph, which I have not yet read, is one with the first part, and whether the whole of it is governed by the date June 30, 1922?
§ LORD DYNEVOR
Then I need not trouble your Lordships any further with that. It is most desirable, of course, that poor people and builders should fully understand what is in this Bill and should be able to follow it easily. It is not going to be administered by the Ministry of Health, but by the County Court Judges. Those Judges have already experienced great difficulty in interpreting the former Acts, and I had great hope that a Bill would have been produced this time which would not have to be taken to all the Courts in the land in order to find out what was meant. I thoroughly agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, in what he said about Clause 3, and I would sug gest that the whole of that clause, which extends over three pages of the Bill, should be recast by deleting Section 5 of the Act of 1920 and bringing in a new clause covering the whole matter. I would also suggest that in Part III, subsection (4) of Clause 15 should be omitted. That subsection permits a sanitary authority 1135 to appoint a committee to deal with the principal Act and this Bill, and it may lead to very great abuses.
I should also like to see such a case as the following dealt with by the Bill. Supposing that a lessor granted a lease on January 1, 1923, for five years until January 1, 1928, at a rent of £70 until June 30, 1923, when he expected the principal Act to expire, and a rent of £90 thereafter. The effect would be that under Clause 1 of the Bill the rent of £90 would be cut down to £70 until June 24, 1925. That seems to me to be a hardship. The contract that was made was a perfectly legal and lawful one. There are other points with which it will be necessary to deal in Committee, but at this late hour I do not wish to trouble your Lordships further on the matter. I hope that ample time will be given before the Committee stage is taken in order that we may fully consider this Bill which has been in our hands for only a very short time.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I feel very acutely the reproaches of the noble and learned Lord opposite, for I share with him a feeling of profound regret that the Second Reading of this Bill should have had to be taken at this time of the evening, in a House which is not very numerously attended by noble Lords. The Parliamentary difficulty of the moment is not altogether the fault of the Government. It is in this sense the fault of the Government, that they fixed July 31 as the ultimate date upon which the existing Act expires. Perhaps they ought to have had sufficient foresight to have known that July 31 was too early, and should have fixed it a week later, but I have a shrewd suspicion, if they had taken that course, that the only result would have been that the proceedings in Committee and Report in another place would have taken so many more days to transact.
We are really brought up against the date when the Act expires, and when it was my duty, with my noble friends who sit around me, to consider the conduct of business, I was very anxious to study your Lordships' convenience to the utmost m my power, and we put the Second Beading down sufficiently early after we received the Bill to enable a number of days to elapse between 1136 the Second Reading and Committee, which I believe to be the most important interval in the passage of all Bills that are not going to be rejected outright. Therefore we fixed the Second Reading for to-night, but I feel that the noble and learned Lord has a grievance, and a very legitimate grievance. We had intended to take the Committee Stage on Monday next, but now that there appears to be an Irish debate on Monday, the House would probably prefer to take the Committee Stage of this Bill on Tuesday, the day following. That will run us very near the limit of days, but I think it can be done. Tuesday is at present quite vacant. Therefore the whole evening would be at the service of the House for this Bill, and if noble Lords opposite would like to continue the general discussion they could do so upon the Motion to go into Committee. In that way, if they wished to do so it would serve as a sort of adjourned Second Beading debate, at any rat for the first hour of the afternoon. I do not suggest they should do that, but I mention it merely as giving them an opportunity, if they care to avail themselves of it, of continuing what would in effect be a Second Beading debate. I am most anxious to meet noble Lords opposite in any way in my power. I have not only allowed a week between the Second Heading and Committee Stage so that Amendments may be put down, but I am also quite willing, if the House thinks fit, to continue the general discussion for at any rate a part of the time available next Tuesday. I think the noble and learned Lord will sec how anxious I am to meet him.
His criticisms of the Bill were acute, as one would expect them to be, and with many of them the House will sympathise. When he complained of the drafting of Clause 3 I may tell him that so far as I am concerned he was only forcing an open door. If he had watched the drafting of the clause as carefully as I have done he would have known that you could have even a more badly drafted clause than that. He would also have known that if the clause had passed in the form in which the Government submitted it to another place it would be a much more reasonable clause than it is now. The close attention which the House of Commons paid to this clause has resulted in an amount of complication 1137 which is truly wonderful. Now that it is presented to your Lordships I do cot know whether we shall be able to do anything to straighten it out at this period of the Session, I think that is more than doubtful. I need not say that any suggestion which the noble and learned Lord can make would receive from us the most careful consideration.
The broad aspect of this Bill is this. We are trying to pass from the condition of limitation and restriction upon the rights of landlord and tenant to freedom again, and that is done in this Bill in two phases. We are presented with a condition under which rents are restricted and in which there is a certain limited fixity of tenure, and we want to restore complete freedom of contract. In the first phase- that is to say, till the middle of 1925—the presumption is that the restriction continues, but certain mitigations in that restriction are introduced. For the second phase the presumption is the other way. The presumption is one of freedom, and upon that freedom certain limitations are imposed in the Bill so as to prevent the recovered rights of the landlord being enforced unfairly and inequitably, having regard to the continued shortness of houses which we still anticipate. The broad principle of the Bill is, in two steps, to get back freedom of contract as between the parties. I understand from the noble and learned Lord's speech that he is not very sanguine that the period allowed is sufficiently long, but he does not contest the broad principle. He admits, at any rate by his silence—for he made no criticism on that head—that the Government, in proceeding to recover for the parties freedom of contract in these two phases, are proceeding upon right lines, and that, I am glad to think, will be the general view of your Lordships.
He made certain criticisms in regard to which I shall not attempt to follow him at this late hour in detail, but I may permit myself to make a few observations upon two points that he raised, which were really allied points, in order to show the spirit in which the first Part of the Bill is conceived. He criticised, for example, the provision under which vacant houses should be decontrolled, He said: "Why-is that so?" The reason is this. The party whose interests we are anxious to safeguard is the sitting tenant, the man 1138 who has a house, whom we do not want to see turned into the street because of the advantage, the artificial advantage, which the landlord has at this moment owing to the want of housing accommodation. We, therefore, protect the sitting tenant. He is protected under the existing Act, and we continue his protection, but we see no reason why that protection and that control should adhere to the house. It should adhere to the tenant, and not to the house, and if the house possesses no tenant then, from our point of view, there is no reason why it should be any longer controlled.
I think that the noble and learned Lord will see that the same argument applies in the case of sub-letting. We are not dealing with the man who sub-lets contrary to the terms of his contract. The noble Lord said: "Here is a man who has a right to sub-let, and if he sub-lets his house why should it become decontrolled?" The point is this. There again we have extended certain protection to the man, but if he sub-lets the whole of the house it is clear that he does not require protection any more. If he wanted a house to cover his head he would not sub-let it. The fact that he sub-lets it proves that he does not require it; and the house should be decontrolled. It is the man who is actually in the house and who might be turned out into the road because of the superior power of the landlord that we desire to protect. And in finding the very difficult road back to freedom and decontrol we begin by releasing all those houses which are vacant or which, having been sub-let arc-proved to be not necessary for the accommodation of the existing tenant. I apologise for going into so much detail on what are really Committee points, but I selected them because I thought they would illustrate to your Lordships, and to the noble and learned Lord, the spirit in which the first Part of the Bill is conceived.
When we turn to the second Part of the Bill where, as I have pointed out, the normal condition is to be restored, with limitations to prevent it being abused, we rely on the power we give to the County Court Judge. That is a very exceptional proceeding, but it is embodied to some extent in the existing Rent Restriction Acts, and it has worked exceedingly well. I was partly responsible for those provisions when they were originally introduced, 1139 and I do not regret them. I believe the Rent Restriction Acts would have broken down absolutely but for the dispensing power of the County Court Judge which was inserted. The success of the provision has encouraged us to extend it a little further to deal with the question of the undue raising of rent in the period which must elapse between decontrol in two years' time and final and complete restoration of freedom in 1140 1930. That is the spirit of the Bill, the general principle of the two Parts of the measure, and I do not think your Lordships will be opposed to it. As to the details they must, of course, be discussed when we come to Committee stage.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ House adjourned at a quarter before eight o'clock.