§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT HALDANE)
My Lords, I rise to move the Second Reading of this Bill. It is a short Bill, but I am afraid that, on the face of it, it will not be very intelligible. That is not the fault of those who have drafted it, but it is the inevitable outcome of the state of legislation on this subject. There is a Code, which consists of a long series of provisions, and this 510 is an amendment of a particular provision in that Code. I hope, however, to make the Bill intelligible to your Lordships. It has been my duty, as your Lordships' adviser on legal and constitutional matters, to wade through all the Acts of Parliament relating to the subject, and, what is rather worse, the numerous debates which have taken place on the subject, particularly in the other House.
Before I tell your Lordships what the substance of the Bill is I should like to say something of its genesis. Much of what is implied in the Bill is due to the legislation which was introduced into this House by my noble friend Lord Onslow, who was also Chairman of the Committee which devoted so much minute investigation to the whole subject. The bulk of what he accomplished we leave intact in this Bill. There is only one Act which we propose to amend. That amendment comes from another source. It is due to the exertions of a very able member of the other House, Mr. E. D. Simon, the Member for Withington. Mr. Simon has been Lord Mayor of the City of Manchester, and has given much attention to the question which this Bill raises, and to the housing question generally, with very fruitful results, because there was a series of Bills before the House of Commons, all of which involved the point with which the present Bill deals, but none of which found favour.
The floor of the House of Commons in this matter is like a battlefield. It is covered with the corpses of slain Bills. The Bill of my right hon. friend Mr. Wheatley perished, as your Lordships will remember. But it dealt with a wholly different matter; it dealt with the eviction of persons who had not paid their rent because they were unemployed. The view taken was that that was a burden which should fall upon the community rather than upon the landlord and, acting on that principle, the Bill was thrown out in another place. This Bill has nothing whatever to do with that. There was another Bill which perished, that of Mr. Gardner. It perished in Grand Committee. There are two other Bills dealing with the question which is before your Lordships, which may or may not come up. There is Mr. Wedgwood Benn's Bill and another in the name of Mr. Trevelyan Thomson.
511 That brings me at once to Mr. Simon's Bill. It was impossible to make progress with a matter which was urgent and which had hitherto been unfortunate because it was mixed up with questions of non-payment of rent and unemployment. Mr. Simon was fortunate enough to put before the other House a proposition so simple that it commended itself to that House. His Bill was unanimously agreed to on Second Heading by all Parties. It went upstairs to Committee, fathered now by the Government. It went through Grand Committee where it was thoroughly sifted but not materially altered. It came clown to the House of Commons where it was again sifted on Report but not materially altered. Then it was unanimously accepted by the House of Commons.
The last great Act upon this subject was the Act passed by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, which carried out the policy of restricting evictions by landlords. That was done only within carefully defined limits and I will tell your Lordships why. At the beginning of the war there was a moratorium, and under that moratorium people could not be called upon to pay their debts and could not be called upon to submit to being turned out by the owners of property of which they were tenants. In the very early days of the war a discretion was given to the Courts under one of the emergency provisions which were necessary at the time but have since come to an end. Then an Act was passed in 1915 which began to make greater inroads into the rights of landlords. That Act placed restrictions on landlords in cases where they would not cause hardship. The Act of 1920, which remained in force for three years, interfered very much with landlords. It was followed by efforts to get more houses built and it was hoped that those efforts would make the necessity of restrictions much less than had been the case. Those efforts culminated in the Act of 1923.
This is a Bill which does not amend the whole Act of 1923 but seeks to amend one part of it and that a minor part. I will tell your Lordships what the position of a landlord of a house, will be if this Bill passes. First of all, I would say that it would apply only to cases where the rent is not more than £105 per annum. Secondly, the Act will only modify the general law for the period of another year. It may be necessary to 512 extend it still further. That depends on whether the evil this Bill is introduced to remedy continues unabated. What would be the position of the landlord if this Bill were passed? He will have, in the first place, a number of the rights which he already possesses under Lord Onslow's Act. He may evict for non-payment of rent, or for breach of covenant, or for nuisance, or because the house is required for those who have served in the war or who are needed for agricultural services. All these things are provided for in the Act of 1923 and are not interfered with by this Bill.
The Act of 1923 did something more. By Section 4 it enabled the landlord of a house, who became the owner before. 1922, to turn out a tenant if he wanted the house for himself or for his son or daughter over 18 years of age. By a subsequent provision of Section 4 it was provided that the landlord who did not become the owner before 1922 and who wanted the property for himself, for his own residence, or for the residence of a son or daughter, could claim possession in certain circumstances if there was no hardship. In other words, the landlord was let quite loose in these cases if he bought the house before 1922.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am obliged to the noble Earl; I am speaking from memory. Then a remarkable thing took place. It was thought that the best way of getting houses then was through private, enterprise. When builders construct houses they do not build them as philanthropists. They build them in the vast majority of cases to make a profit, and if they build them for profit their purpose is to get the highest price they can by selling to the highest bidder. That proved to be so to an extraordinary degree. Immediately after the passing of the Act of 1923 the number of eviction orders went up to an almost inconceivable extent. In the course of the ensuing eight months they were 50 per cent, above the total for the previous year. They rose to the astonishing figure of nearly 20,000. Part of those evictions were due to nonpayment of rent, and no one will complain of evictions on that score, but 15,000 were due to other causes. They were due 513 to landlords being determined to get possession either for themselves or for members of their own families.
I do not think you can combine freedom in private building with complete control. The safest course is to let the new houses be built by a public authority, and that is what the new Bill will propose to do. When you have built a sufficiency of houses you will not then need control. The effort to build houses without control, free from restriction, which the Act of 1023 gave, was followed by this number of 15,000 evictions in the ensuing eight months. I have taken eight months because that is the figure for the period during which investigations were made. As the head of the judiciary in this country it is within my power to get the statistics, and I called for them from County Court Judges. They are now given in the form of a Return which shows beyond question (hat the effect of decontrol under paragraphs (iv) and (v), subsection (1) of the substituted Section 5 of the 1923 Act was as I have stated. It gave rise to a great many orders for possession. Owing to the provisions of those paragraphs (iv) and (v), and to the absence of houses built by public authorities, the figure of evictions went up to 15,000. In addition to that, many people, through fear of eviction, went out without any orders actually being obtained against them, and if the number of these people were known the figure of 15,000 would be considerably augmented.
The result is that the effect of decontrol, brought about by the Act of 1923, was very greatly to increase the number of evictions. This was not in substance controverted in the other House. Questions were raised about the number of orders actually enforced by the officers of the Courts, but there was no doubt in the minds of the members of the House of Commons that we were in the presence of a great social evil, an evil which must be mitigated if tranquillity is to be restored to the country. Never has it been demonstrated more clearly than to-day that if industrial unrest is to be minimised and tranquillity brought about, adequate provision must be made for housing the workers and their families. Human nature is human nature, and if a man feels that he can get a larger profit by letting a house to another tenant, or by occupying it himself and letting a 514 portion of it, he is very apt to evict the person who is there as tenant already, and to evict him without considering the hardship that will be experienced by that tenant. That is the reason for this Bill, and that is the reason why the other House passed it unanimously.
Now I come to what this Bill does. It proceeds to deal with paragraphs (iv) and (v) of subsection (1) of the substituted Section 5 which was placed in that Act instead of the Section 5 in the principal Act, so far as they enable the landlord, either for his own purposes or for the purpose of putting in a son or daughter, to turn out the existing tenant without any regard to the questions of alternative accommodation or hardship. So far as that is concerned, this is a single-clause Bill. I do not think your Lordships will be troubled with the second clause, because it is mere machinery to give effect to the Bill. The Bill provides thatWhere the dwelling-house is reasonably required by the landlord (not being a landlord who has become owner by purchase of the dwelling-house after the fifth day of May, nineteen hundred and twenty-four for occupation as a residence for himself and the court is satisfied, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, including any alternative accommodation available for the landlord or the tenant "—both are taken into account— "that greater hardship would be caused by refusing to grant an order or judgment for possession than by granting it,"
then the landlord may be given possession. If the landlord does not bring himself within that provision—if he cannot show that he reasonably requires the residence, and the circumstances are such that greater hardship would be caused to the tenant, than would be caused to the landlord, having regard to all the circumstances of the ease, including any alternative accommodation available—then the landlord will not be given an order for possession. That is the restriction in this Bill, and that is the, restriction which the House of Commons accepted as one which would reasonably meet the urgent necessities of the present situation.
I hope I have made the substance of the Bill clear. It is a one-clause Bill. It could not have been drafted so as to set out the whole situation without re-enacting or reproducing all the other clauses of the noble Earl's Bill. It con fines itself to dealing with the change 515 which that Bill made, leaves the landlord tree in all ordinary cases, but says that when he requires the premises for himself he must satisfy the Court that he is not inflicting greater hardship than should be inflicted upon the tenant whom he is seeking to turn out, and that there is alternative accommodation available. There have been eases of people turned out into the street and having to shelter where they could; cases of great hardship. The volume of testimony from all quarters which came into the other House in the speeches made by members of that House was overwhelming. This is a Bill which is strongly supported by some Conservative members of the other House. It is supported by Liberals and by the Labour Government. The Bill does not cover the whole field, but it is a measure upon which all Parties in a co-operative spirit are agreed in order to meet an urgent and pressing social evil. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ VISCOUNT CAVE
My Lords, I do not think it is necessary for me to go through the somewhat complicated history given by the Lord Chancellor as to the attempts at legislation by the Government which have not hitherto borne fruit. This is the, first Bill which has come to this House, and it is a Bill not produced by the Government but by a private member of the other House. The Government have taken it up and we have to deal with it as it is. I want to advert at once to a point which appears to me to be of interest. I understood the Lord Chancellor to say that after the Act of 1923 there had been an enormous increase of evictions. As I understood him he said there had been 15,000 evictions.
§ VISCOUNT CAVE
That is quite a different thing. All of us know that when the rent of a house is unpaid, as unfortunately it often is, the landlord has to go to the county court and obtain an order for eviction as the only method of getting his rent. But in far the greater number of eases the Judge, while he may make the order if he thinks it reasonable, suspends its operation with a view of allowing the tenant to remedy his default before actual eviction occurs, 516 and in far the greater number of the 15,000 cases in which orders for eviction were made no eviction at all ensued, obviously because the tenant, although late in the day, paid his rent and retained possession of the house. I am not saying this on my own authority. A Return has been made as a White Paper and it shows that the orders made were something like 15,000, but the total number of warrants executed—that is, evictions—amounted in all to 2,431 throughout the whole, of England. Most of us know, I know perfectly well, that in many cases the orders have to be made. There are many cases in which a man has saved enough to buy a house in which he hopes to spend the latter part of his days, but when the time comes and ho wants occupation he cannot get it because some other tenant is there. In those cases the Judge has a right to consider whether possession is reasonably required. It is only if he thinks it is reasonably required that he makes an order at all, and no noble Lord will be ready to say that there are not in the whole of England at least 2,000 cases where eviction is reasonably asked for and reasonably granted. It is only those cases with which your Lordships have to deal.
Let us look at this Bill for a moment. I think it needs a little careful consideration. I understand the meaning of the Bill. I have gone through the process which the Lord Chancellor has gone through, and I know something about the existing law and the effect of this Bill upon it. Take first the man who wants to get possession of his own house for his own occupation. That is the simplest case. As the law stands to-day that person, if he bought before June, 1922, cannot get possession without showing that there is alternative accommodation available for the tenant. If he bought after June, 1922, he has to show something more. He has to satisfy the County Court Judge that there would be greater hardship in keeping him out than to the tenant in turning the tenant out. As to that case, the effect of the Bill is that in every case where the owner bought before May, 1924, he has to prove that element of greater hardship. That is to say, it extends to people who bought before June, 1922, the law which now applies to people who bought after June, 1922. He must satisfy the Judge that he wants the 517 house for himself, that he bought before May, 1924, and that there would be greater hardship in refusing an order than in granting it.
There may be good reasons for altering the law in that respect, although I doubt whether any strong case has been made for it. I doubt, also, whether one ought to object to all these cases being within the discretion of the County Court Judge. Most of us in a matter of that kind, where the question is whether the landlord or his tenant has the stronger case for possession, would be willing to leave it to the decision of the County Court Judge, or any impartial tribunal, and therefore I am not disposed to quarrel with the proposal that in all these cases where a man bought before May, 1924, the discretion of the County Court Judge should come in.
But the Bill does not stop there. It says that if you buy after May 5, 1924, there shall not be that discretion, and that in all those cases, unless you can find for your tenant some other accommodation, you cannot have possession of your property even for your own use. I think I am right in thus stating the effect of the Bill. Why is that to be so? Mark that the point arises only if you have satisfied the Judge that you reasonably require possession of your own property. But even if you satisfy him of that, you are not allowed to show him, under the provision with which I am now dealing, that it would be a great hardship to keep you out of possession of your property. I do not see why the discretion of the Court should not operate, as much in cases where a man buys after May. 1924, as in cases where he buys before that date. If the exception is made which is involved in certain words in brackets in the first clause of the Bill, it will in a short time apply to many thousands of cases, and it will hereafter be impossible for any man either to buy a house for his own occupation or, having bought a house as an investment, to change, his mind and ask leave to occupy it himself. I am very much disposed to think that in all cases it would be fairer to leave to the Judge the right of saying whether the greater hardship is involved in refusing or in granting an order, and I hope that the matter will receive further consideration in this House.
518 There is a second particular in which the Bill proposes to alter the law. As things stand to-day, if you have a house and want to put your son or your daughter into it, you can do so, subject to the rule concerning "greater hardship" in the case of those who bought after a certain date. The Bill cuts out the son and daughter, and, if it passes, you will no longer be able to get possession of your own house, even if you prove that you reasonably require it for your own son or daughter, and even if you prove that greater hardship is involved in refusing the order than in granting it. I should like to know why that change in the law is proposed, and why a son or daughter is no longer to be the object of any kind of consideration. So much for Clause 1. I think I have said enough to show that the clause wants carefully looking into, and I hope that we shall have, some time in which to consider its details.
I will say only a word or two on the second clause of the Bill, which the noble and learned Viscount describes as mere machinery. I want to point out that the clause says that where an order has already been made before the passing of the Act, and, in the opinion of the Judge, would not have been made had the Act been law, then the Court shall rescind or vary the order. I have great doubts about that word "shall." I am disposed to think that the Judge ought to have a discretion. Take the case, of which we know many instances, where orders have been made and execution has been postponed for some purpose or other, perhaps in order to allow the tenant to find room elsewhere. These are suspended orders, but they are orders made, and therefore they are subject to this obligatory rescission. I do not think that is right. I think that in cases where the Judge has made an order and suspended it for some express purpose, he ought not to be told that, if this Bill passes, he must rescind that order, whether he thinks it just to do so or not, and I should like the Government to consider whether it would not be right, in Clause 2, to leave out the word "shall" on the second page and to substitute the word "may."
There is only one other point which I want to raise, and it concerns orders which have been carried out. As the Bill stands, if an order has been carried out 519 and the owner has possession, he must in certain cases be turned out and possession must be given over again to the tenant. I am not at all sure that this is right. I feel great doubt about it. I think it may be very hard upon a man who has got possession, perhaps after a struggle, under an order of the Court, and who then, because Parliament has altered the Jaw and put in new conditions, may be turned out of the house again. I think that this subsection also wants consideration, and I hope it will receive some attention in this House. Your Lordships will infer from what I have said that I do not propose to object to this Bill being read a second time, but I hope that we shall have a little time in which, to consider what Amendments ought to be made in its different clauses.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, those of your Lordships who have followed the course of this Bill since it was first introduced into Parliament will probably not be surprised if I venture to rise in order to supplement the somewhat inadequate account of its tendencies which has been given by the noble and learned Viscount upon the Woolsack. I do not quite know what he considers to be his relationship to this Bill. If he will allow me to say so, it seems to me that he has taken advantage of his high position as Lord Chancellor to seize the position of legal guardian to the Bill, without the consent of any of the relations of the infant concerned. We must, of course, consider this a great compliment to the Bill, as it shows that at last His Majesty's Government have found some method by which they can put themselves before the people of this country as having introduced some measure of social reform.
Amongst the various matters concerned in the history of the Bill the noble and learned Viscount omitted to give the fuller account which I think would have been desirable of the Bill for which His Majesty's Government was responsible in the first place. That Bill would have allowed the unemployed to live rent free at the expense of the landlord, and it included, in addition, the exact provisions of this Bill which is now before your Lordships' House. But so determined were His Majesty's Government to do their best to keep in that first clause that, rather than withdraw it, they preferred 520 to lose the whole of the Bill, and did not see their way to prosecute the original measure, although it would have included the particular clauses which are now before your Lordships' House.
But that is not all. When this Bill was being considered by the Prime Minister, he announced after due consideration that in his opinion it was altogether unsatisfactory. The Bill was then sent to the Standing Committee of another place, where it was very largely altered against the wishes of those who were originally responsible for it. When it returned for the Report stage in another place it was restored to the original condition in which it, first left the floor of the House. We have here, therefore, the original condition of the Bill, as it was introduced by the member responsible, in spite of the fact that His Majesty's Government have done their best to alter it. It is very flattering for the original friends of the' Bill to think that His Majesty's Government have now seen their way to adopt it, but it seems to me that it does enable us to say that His Majesty's Government seem to have been somewhat bankrupt of ideas, as they have no other means of dealing with the matter.
This Bill does not, in fact, by itself and standing as it does, in any sense represent the real policy of His Majesty's Government. I have already ventured to quote the opinion of the Prime Minister concerning it. We have further evidence from the Labour Magazine. That magazine, for May, said of this Bill—This measure was drastically amended by Standing Committee C on April 15, from which it emerged bearing little of the original Liberal draft but the title. An article will appear in a future issue of the magazine describing the Bill in its final form.The final form is the form in which it was originally introduced. The Amendments are of an exceedingly small kind, which I have no doubt the noble and learned Viscount will be able to describe to your Lordships when he replies on the debate.
Those of you who have followed the question know, as the noble and learned Viscount, I think, has half intimated to the House, that this is part of a general scheme which has been presented in various Bills to Parliament, for dealing with the general difficulty in regard to housing. Four Bills have been introduced dealing with evictions, one with 521 the reduction of, rates, one with the unemployed, and another one with control. I hope that other measures introduced by friends of mine will be as fortunate in finding guardians in this House as this Bill dealing with evictions. I hope that this Bill may do something with regard to the education of the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for India. He told us, on the last occasion when this House discussed social reform, that he did not find that my noble friends were so much interested in social reform as the noble Lords who sit on my left, and he based this assertion upon an experience of his own youth, forty years ago, when he had an interview with Lord Randolph Churchill, who took some interest in a measure dealing with the Borough of Paddington. I hope that the noble Lord will now realise that there are other people beside himself who are interested in social reform, and that he will learn, from what has already happened, that other people are able to do more in this direction than the Government of which he is a member.
The noble and learned Viscount referred to evictions, and he quoted from a Return which has been made, but I do not think it is unfair to say that in this matter you cannot only go by the number of actual evictions. A number of people are frightened that there will be orders made against them. They shrink from the cost. In the case of small tenancies the cost may run from £20 to £25, and perhaps even £30, and that is a cost which no man living in one of these houses will willingly run the risk of incurring. Therefore, in addition to the number of evictions quoted, there are a great many cases in which people have been too much frightened lest an order should be made against them, to resist an application that they should leave their houses. Therefore the number of people disturbed is very much larger than the number of cases represented in the White Paper. I confess that I rejoice in the happy prospect which this Bill has of passing this House, and I hope that it will pass without any amendment. Although I cannot, considering the way in which the Bill has been introduced to the House, expect that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will accept with pleasure any offer of support from these Benches, I can assure him that it will be 522 at his beck and call if he desires to have it.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, the noble Earl who has just sat down has given a very interesting account of what took place on the passage of the Bill in another place, and the noble Viscount said that the Second Heading was passed unanimously. My information is that on a particular evening, the Government having introduced a Bill to say that the landlords could not recover rent, and having refused to withdraw the clause which enacted that, the House of Commons was in such a state of confusion at eleven o'clock—not knowing whether the Government were going to withdraw the clause or not—that when by pure accident, a certain Liberal Member happened to have a Bill down and the Order of the Hay for that Bill was read by the Clerks, the Bill slipped through without anybody knowing what had happened. That is the information—and I think it is correct—given to me by members of the other House.
Whether that is so or not, I would like to point out to your Lordships that this Bill is retrospective. During the years I have had the honour of sitting in another place I have always opposed retrospective legislation of all sorts. In the other place it was said that this Bill is only retrospective to April 15. It is nothing of the sort. It is retrospective possibly to last December and certainly to last January, and for this reason. I do not know what the County Court Judges do, but I know what the magistrates do, when cases come before them on applications for eviction. The notice lies upon the table for three or four, and, in some cases, six months. The result would be that it an order for eviction had been granted in January, and was not to be executed for four months, it would not have been executed on April 15. Consequently the person against whom the order had been granted would be able to go to the magistrates, or County Court Judge, and say: "This order granted last January has not been executed, and therefore I ask you to cancel the order. "Why should that he done? Surely if there is to be an alteration in the law it should only take effect from the time the Bill making the alteration becomes law. That, so far as I can remember, has always been the practice. I do not say it is so, but I 523 cannot remember any case where retrospective legislation has been allowed.
There is another point, and that is that a landlord who has become owner by purchase of a dwelling house after May 5, 1924, may not obtain possession. Now my information is that there was by no means unanimity upon those words. In the Committee stage they were left out, or if it was proposed to put them in the Conservatives and supporters of the Government combined against the Liberals and rejected those words. On the Report stage, however, the Government ate their own words, and, having voted against these particular words in Committee, voted for them on Report. Consequently they were put in. Now, if your Lordships desire, as I am sure the noble and learned Viscount does, that there should be an increase of houses, why put in words of this sort? Who will ever build or buy a house if he knows that he is liable to have legislation passed which says that if you buy a house after a certain date you are not to be able to obtain possession for yourself? If there is anything which will stop private enterprise and discourage people from building houses, it is these particular words in Clause 1.
I understand that the two noble Marquesses whom I have the honour of following in this House do not intend to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill, but I hope that in Committee we shall say that we will not have retrospective legislation. However good a Bill may be, it should not be made retrospective. Once you begin that, you do not know where you are going to end, and there is no earthly reason why a man who buys a house in April, 1924, should be treated differently from a man who buys a house in May, 1924. Personally, I have had some experience in granting orders under the Act of 1923, and I do not believe that any hardships have occurred. But whether that is so or not, I will not go into the question of whether it is advisable to pass the Bill subject to these alterations.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, as I was Chairman of the Committee which went into this matter, I should like to say one word upon the subject of alternative accommodation. We went into it, and took evidence for several days evidence of a very conflicting kind—and we made 524 certain recommendations which were in the main embodied in the Act of last year. I do not think that we really were very successful. Although it is true that we modified the law in respect of alternative accommodation I do not know that we really did very much good. The definition of alternative accommodation in the Act of 1920 was accommodation "reasonably equivalent as regards rent and suitability in all respects." That was found to be so vague that it was practically impossible to put it into force, and the Act of last year altered it to 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."
But really I think that in practice it has been admitted that this question of alternative accommodation makes it impossible for a landlord to get possession at all in a very large number of cases. If a tenant wants to obstruct he simply makes objections—he cannot do this, and he will not accept that and something else occurs. The result is that the alternative house or lodging is snapped up, and the landlord who wants to get possession is unable to provide any alternative accommodation at all. It does not matter, I am afraid, how you define "alternative accommodation," because it is in the power of the tenant to obstruct and raise difficulties, and so to make it practically impossible for the owner to get hold of his house. I think it has been said that the building of houses will be encouraged by this provision, which makes it necessary for a landlord who wishes to enter into a house bought after May 5 last to provide alternative accommodation for the tenant. But if there are two people who are anxious to occupy a, house, and one of those, persons, either landlord or tenant, is adjudged by the County Court to suffer greater hardship than the other in not being allowed to occupy that house, why should he, if ho is a landlord—and because he is a landlord—be debarred from occupying the house when it is a greater hardship for him than for the tenant not to do so, merely because ho bought the [...] after May 5? And why should he be compelled to provide alternative accommodation, which it is practically impossible for him to do?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, the noble Earl who has just sat down has very truly pointed out the complication and difficulty of this kind of legislation and the uncertainty as to whether you have hit the mark in the Bills which you project. He and I have become experienced in those things. But I cannot conceal from myself that in the discussion which has taken place there has been a good deal of ignoring of what the real case for this Bill is. If it was a question of how to get people to build houses, and of that only, I should be prepared to concede to my noble friend Lord Banbury of Southam that there was a great deal to be said for his plan, which is to leave landlords alone and let them do what they like with their property, and get as much as they can out of it; then they will build, if it is a good business proposition.
But, unfortunately, that is not the question before us. We cannot rely upon that method of getting houses, because what we require is to provide accommodation for people who are in urgent need of it, and who are in very large numbers. And if you are to get that you must have control. There are too few houses to go round, and unless you control the way in which the owners of those houses make use of them, and prevent them turning people out when there are circumstances of hardship, and when no other accommodation can be got, then you will not solve the social problem. If you institute control you spoil the business of house building, and the only result is that the building of these houses must be provided for by public authorities. That is why the Government have adopted the policy which they have in the Bill which Mr. Wheatley is shortly going to put before Parliament. The real reason for this Bill is a very great and terrible social evil which is upon us at the present time. Houses have not been built, houses have fallen into disrepair, there is a tremendous demand for them, not as luxuries but as necessities of life, and, unless the State steps in and controls, as it has been doing in different forms since the war, then you have a population full of misery and discontent, and, I am afraid, not friendly to either of the two Parties in the State other than the one to which I belong.
Various criticisms have been made upon this Bill. One was made by Lord Banbury of Southam, who said that it was 526 very extraordinary that provisions of this kind should be made retrospective. But it was done by a Conservative Government. I know that my noble friend is a great purist, and is not satisfied even with a Conservative Government. But I find in Lord Onslow's Bill a provision in Section 4 (3) which is almost precisely the same as the so-called retrospective provision which we have here, excepting that the word was "may" and not "shall." I concede that there is that difference. Still, the county court was enabled, in cases where there had been a purchase before the Act came into operation, to set aside a judgment.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Well, I am not quite sure about that. The subsection says:Where any order or judgment has been made or given before the passage of this Act but not executed, and, in the opinion of the court, the order or judgment would not have been made or given if this Act had been in force at the time when such order or judgment was made or given, the court may, on application by the tenant, rescind or vary such order or judgment in such manner as the Court may think fit for the purpose of giving effect to this Act,Is there much difference, for the purposes of the particular question which is engaging us, between a judgment given and the execution following on it? If the order has been made the legal rights have been given. Parliament, as long ago as 1923, enacted that what has been loosely called retrospective legislation should apply, and the rights given by the order might be modified if the Judge thought fit.
Then the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, quite truly pointed out that the figure of 15,000 orders was one which related only to orders, not to the executions. In the majority of cases people do not wait for executions, they go out on the orders; and I pointed out that they go very often before any order has been made at all, in terror of being haled before the Courts and mulcted in costs. So that it is impossible to say that the extent of the evil with which we are trying to deal is limited by those 15,000 cases. The number has obviously been very large indeed, from the volume of testimony which came before us. It amounted to a social evil of great magnitude, and what 527 your Lordships are dealing with just now is not the ordinary law, but a question so difficult, and in which the existing law is so harsh, that it is essential that something should be done if there is to be tranquillity in the State.
On the question of "shall" or "may," your Lordships will hear more of that on subsequent stages of the Bill. But by the insertion of the word "shall" it was intended that, in cases where what had been done would not have been done had this Bill been in force, the County Court Judge should be able to vary or rescind it. The state of the law when such order was made was that if the landlord wanted the premises for himself or for his son or daughter he could get them, provided the tenant was not treated harshly and there was alternative accommodation. That is the effect of the provision of the section we are seeking to amend. On the question of discretion, County Court Judges have said: "If these matters were left to our discretion we could administer justice very well; but they are not so left." It is necessary, therefore, to give them a clear indication of the principle on which they should proceed.
Then I was a little surprised that, my noble friend Lord Beauchamp should have thought that there was any non-recognition of the part which the Liberal Party played in this matter in the House of Commons. But he will admit, I think, that I tried to be as nice as I could.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
May I ask the noble and learned Viscount when he proposes that the Bill should be considered in Committee?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I should like to consult the convenience of the House and of the noble Marquess. Would Thursday week be a convenient date?