§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
My Lords, in presenting this Bill to your Lordships I propose to confine myself to the housing aspects of the Bill, and to leave the legal aspects to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, who will reply on the debate. The law regarding rent restrictions, I am afraid, is somewhat notorious for its complications, and I do not suppose that even 1071 an able lawyer would claim complete mastery of the eleven Acts of Parliament and 500 judicial decisions on which that law is based. In such matters I think it would be really very foolish of any layman to try and join issue, but I feel confident that if the main principles on which the Bill is based are acceptable to your Lordships, the great experience and knowledge which your Lordships possess will be of the greatest value to the Government in putting those principles into effect.
This Bill is primarily an essential part of the Government's housing policy. Only recently, during the debate on the Housing Bill, many eloquent speeches were made in this House to prove the hardships arising from the shortage of small low-rented houses, and I think that the measures which the Government put forward to remedy that shortage received support generally; but it is quite clear that whatever we may do to remedy that shortage will be very largely offset if, at the same time that we provide new houses to go into the pool of these low-rented houses, an equivalent number of houses are escaping the pool. Yet that is precisely what is happening to-day. The very shortage of small houses in itself creates a scarcity value, and accordingly when these small houses become decontrolled, as they do at present, in many cases rents are increased by a considerable percentage and they thus escape from the pool. For example, since 1923 700,000 cheap new houses have been built, but 850,000 have been decontrolled. Those figures relate to England and Wales.
To take another example, let us consider the mobility of labour. What everybody wants is not only cheap accommodation for these workers but cheap accommodation near their work. Yet we find gross overcrowding, exaggerated by the fact that tenants who may have no interest whatever in the vicinity are afraid to leave their controlled houses because the only alternative accommodation that will offer itself to them will be decontrolled, and therefore more expensive. These are two strong arguments in favour of an amendment of the present law; but of course there is another side to the picture. We must recognise that interference with the ordinary laws of supply and demand is very likely to lead to injustice and hardship and the slowing 1072 down of new building. In consequence the Government are compelled to follow the invidious course of balancing hardship against hardship and finally following the wisest and most expedient compromise. That is all that the Government can do, and of course we cannot expect to satisfy everybody all round.
This Bill, my Lords, largely follows the recommendations of a Committee set up by the late Labour Government, under the chairmanship of Lord Marley. That Committee reported in July, 1931. I should like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the Government, of paying a tribute to Lord Marley for the thoroughness and efficiency with which his Committee conducted their investigations. I am aware that any appearance of collaboration between the two Front Benches is likely to arouse suspicion among certain noble Lords behind me, but I hasten to add that these compliments, so far as I understand from the Press, are not likely to be reciprocated.
Considering the complexity of the problem with which we are faced, and the fact that the National Government only came into existence after the Report was made, I do not think that the delay of fifteen months between the presentation of the Report and the introduction of the Government's Bill in another place is really a very extravagant period. One of the first tasks that confronted that Committee was the classification of the houses under their survey into categories, and the most important factor in that classification was naturally the extent to which a shortage of any particular type of house was proved to exist. In the course of their researches it became evident that there was no lack of the more expensive houses and that the arrears of medium-rented houses were rapidly being met, but that there was an acute shortage of small low-rented houses. It was accordingly found convenient to classify these houses by rateable value into three groups, a high, a medium, and a low category, which they called "A," "B" and "C" groups. The precise limitations of value in each of these groups as suggested by the Committee were accepted by the Government, and are: Class "A" houses—In the Metropolitan 1073 Police District, £45 rateable value or over; in the rest of England and Wales, £35 or over; in Scotland, £45 or over. Class "B" houses (that is, the medium category)—In the Metropolitan Police District, under £45 but over £20; in the rest of England and Wales, under £35 but over £13; in Scotland, under £45 but over £26 5s. Class "C" houses—In the Metropolitan Police District, £20 or under; in the rest of England and Wales, £13 or under; in Scotland, £26 5s. or under. Any demarcation of that sort must necessarily in a sense, I suppose, be arbitrary; but at the same time the Committee went very carefully into the whole subject, and these lines of demarcation were in their opinion the best, and that conclusion was supported by the Government.
The Government also propose to follow exactly the treatment suggested by that Committee in respect of those groups. In Clause I of the Bill they propose to decontrol the "A" type of houses from September 29 next. The clause provides for a month's notice by the landlord, but your Lordships will notice that existing arrangements for long-period leases remain unaffected by the Bill. Subsection (6) of this clause protects the right of the tenant to compensation for good will if he is disturbed by this decontrolling provision. In regard to houses of the "B" type, it is proposed in Clause 2 that the existing process of gradual decontrol should be continued with quite minor amendments, but in respect of the very large class of "C" houses—that is to say, houses below the rateable values of £20 in London and £13 in the rest of England and Wales—it is proposed that there should be no decontrol whatever before 1938. This is ready the main change proposed by the Bill, and it is based on the contention which I have previously mentioned —namely, the desirability of keeping as large a number as possible of small houses for the pool.
Perhaps before proceeding further I ought to draw special attention to two points. The first is that there is no re-control of any premises that are at present decontrolled. The Committee and the Government both agree that recontrol would be most unfair to a particular class of owner, but as the line of distinction between the control and 1074 the decontrol will now be so important, it has been found necessary to lay on the owners of the decontrolled "C" properties an obligation to register them as such forthwith. The second point is concerned with the duration of the Act—namely, from now until June, 1938. It has been said, and no doubt it will be said again, that we cannot bind Parliament five years ahead, and we have also been asked whether we have any grounds for believing that five years hence the housing shortage will have been relieved. I think the answer to both questions is simply this: We do believe our housing policy will considerably affect the housing situation in five years time, anyhow to an extent sufficient to justify us in providing that Parliament be automatically called on to review the situation at that date. Of course they may do so before. It is sometimes said that Governments are inclined to shelve these difficult decisions, and it is only right that we should call on Parliament as far as we can to reconsider the question after that reasonable interval of five years.
Then there are two other details of this clause. The first is that public-houses will cease to be controlled, and the reason for specially selecting public-houses for decontrol was set forth very fully in the Report of my noble friend Lord Onslow in 1923. They have special protection afforded to them to some extent by the Licensing Laws. Then there is the question of sub-tenants. Many complications of these Acts have arisen through the sub-division of large houses into smaller premises by protected tenants, often without the knowledge of the landlord. I am afraid that the provisions of the Bill regarding the future control of these sub-tenancies remains rather complicated, but there are two guiding principles. The first is that all sitting sub-tenancies, except a very small class of "A" sub-tenancies, remain protected. They enjoy whatever protection they have at present. The second principle is that when the sitting sub-tenant vacates his premises then the degree of protection afforded to his successor varies with, and corresponds exactly to, the degree of protection enjoyed by the immediate landlord of those premises, whoever that may be. In these respects the Bill follows exactly the Report of my noble friend's Committee.
1075 Clause 3 amends the existing law under which the landlord is entitled to obtain possession of his own house. There have been many cases of hardship experienced by landlords in this connection in the past, and, again following the recommendations of the Committee, it is now proposed to extend the grounds on which the landlord can claim compensation. This Clause 3, for instance, extends the definition of alternative accommodation, and the First Schedule, which must be read in conjunction with this clause, extends the grounds of possession without proof of alternative accommodation. An important paragraph of that Schedule is paragraph (f), which provides that a man may claim possession of his house if his tenant has been overcrowding that house to an unhealthy degree. But both in regard to the Schedule and to the clause your Lordships will see that the Court is given an over-riding discretion in order to prevent undue hardship.
Clause 4 deals with a well-known abuse of the existing law. Cases have often been cited in this House in which a protected tenant has charged his sub-tenant immensely more than the landlord can obtain from him. Of course there was no intention on the part of Parliament to protect profiteering in that way. These extortionate rents have been paid either through ignorance on the part of the sub-tenant or through his unwillingness to act. In this clause we give the landlord a direct interest in the prevention of this particular form of abuse, and we also fix a very heavy penalty, which can, moreover, be enforced by the local authorities, for the deliberate overcharge of a sub-tenant after the rent has been apportioned by the Court. Clause 5 is a minor modification of the general principle of this Bill to meet the special needs of the agricultural industry. Clause 7 was inserted in another place to meet the contention that at present the landlord is not encouraged to improve his property under existing Acts. They will now be allowed to charge to the tenant a sum equivalent to 8 per cent. of the capital charges in respect of particular classes of improvements for which they have not been up to the present allowed to charge. Clause 9 merely gives to the mortgagors of "A" houses a breathing space to seek alternative methods of financing themselves in view 1076 of the projected decontrol of these mortgages.
Clause 10 arises from another recommendation of the Marley Committee. As I have already mentioned, a large number of cases have been proved to exist where tenants and sub-tenants allowed themselves to be exploited by their landlords through sheer ignorance, and I believe I am right in saying that to-day many young barristers give up some of their leisure in order to give advice to these poor tenants on questions of their rights. Some municipalities have set up already unofficial committees to do the same sort of work, and their work has been of great value. Nevertheless, it is felt that such committees ought not to be allowed to give legal advice to individuals, but, provided their activities are confined to such general matters as publishing the changes in rents through the raising of the local rates and that kind of thing, it is considered that these committees would be useful and should be given some statutory authority.
Clause 11 is an important clause, for it gives local authorities powers to prosecute. I think it is undeniable that in many places it was known that irregular practices were taking place, but it was nevertheless quite impossible to prevent them unless the tenant or the sub-tenant took action, and perhaps it is hardly surprising that the habit of litigation is not very common among that class of person, the tenant or sub-tenant of these small properties. By thus imposing responsibility on the local authority we hope that the law will be more strictly enforced. Clause 12 makes it the duty of a local authority to issue certificates if, in their opinion, houses are not in a reasonable state of repair. If they have already issued a certificate under the Housing Act they have to furnish a statement to the tenant. What the present law, I understand, says is that the tenant may withhold that part of his rent permitted for repairs if these repairs have not been carried out, but it is obvious that disputes may arise on that point, and it is now thought that, if the local authorities have seen fit to serve notice on the owner, that in itself is clear evidence that the repairs have not been carried out, and will indicate to the tenant that he may withhold his rent. Clause 14 gives the Minister power to make regulations, but only, I think, on 1077 matters which should be so clearly within his discretion that I do not suppose even the most jealous guardian of the rights of Parliament in this House will object. Clause 15 applies the Bill to Scotland. I chink that the main principles of this Bill can be very easily adapted to Scottish conditions, and it is not necessary at this stage for the representative of Scotland to intervene.
I think that is all I need say at this stage on the clauses of the Bill. Obviously it is impossible to do justice to all these clauses except at very inordinate length. We all wish—and I am sure the Department on whose behalf I am speaking, the Ministry of Health, would be the first to agree—to see the law simplified, consolidated, and rendered digestible. But we are confronted by a problem which is essentially a temporary abnormality exaggerated by the War and which is, in consequence, continually altering in character, and I understand that consolidation of temporary enactments is a very difficult matter. In this Bill we have endeavoured in the first place to meet the new housing situation, and in the second place to remedy certain grievances, sometimes favouring the landlord and sometimes favouring the tenant. Of course from the point of view of either of these parties, if you look at the matter in that way, it would be very easy to criticise the Bill, but I feel confident that no tribunal is more likely to take a comprehensive view of the whole problem than this House, which contains three Chairmen of important Rent Restrictions Act Committees and so many great legal authorities. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Gage.)
§ LORD MARLEY
My Lords, the noble Viscount who moved the Second Reading of this Bill, in what I may describe as a speech which was a miracle of concentration, was good enough to say a number of complimentary things about the Departmental Committee upon whose Report this Bill is founded. Let me say at once that I take these compliments applying to the Committee, because I cannot but feel a very deep sense of gratitude for the kindness of the members of that Committee over which I, with peat inexperience, presided. The kindness of the members of that Committee, 1078 assisted by their knowledge, their assiduity and their study, rendered possible an almost unanimous Report. That is why I take it that these remarks were definitely intended for the members of the Committee, and noble Lords behind the noble Viscount, who must have felt horrified at any compliments paid to a Socialist Chairman, need have no hesitation in diverting that gratitude to the members of that Committee, including as they did several Conservative and Liberal members who, equally with the Socialists, were responsible for the good work the Committee did. It is a curious thing that all Committees on rent restrictions have always drawn their Chairman from 3.our Lordships' House—the Hunter Committee, the Committee presided over by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, the Committee under the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and the Committee over which I presided.
This Bill, which is based on that last Committee's Report, by its very nature shows how complicated was the work done by the Committee. It is so complicated that I am quite aware that large numbers of members of your Lordships' House cannot have done more than glance at the summaries, contained in this Report, which were intended to relieve members of Parliament and the public from the necessity of studying the complicated details of the Report. The Committee, as the noble Viscount said, was appointed in October, 1930, and reported in July, 1931—that is nearly two years ago. I would like to remind the house that the evidence upon which the Committee based its Report is almost three years old to-day. The evidence which was in existence at the time the Committee sat naturally was somewhere about a year old at the time the Committee considered it, so that we are now considering a Bill based very largely on evidence between two and three years old. It is nearly three years since the Committee was appointed, and it is nearly two years since the Report was issued.
The reasons I am not able to support this Bill, though it is so largely based en the Report of the Committee over which I presided, are, in the first place, that the Government have departed in a vital particular from the recommendations of that Committee—a vital par- 1079 ticular, as I propose to point out in a moment or so very briefly—and secondly, that the Government have definitely failed to take into account the statistical changes in the various aspects upon which the Committee based their Report that have occurred during the past two years since the Report was issued and which are vital in considering the recommendations of the Committee and the conditions contained in the Bill. I would remind your Lordships that these two years have been unprecedented in the economic changes that have taken place in such things as the cost of living, wage cuts, unemployment, price level. There have never been years so difficult and so changeable. I think that the Government ought quite definitely to have taken into account these changes in drawing up the terms included in the Bill now before your Lordships' House.
The Committee, of course, made mistakes. We failed as a Committee to foresee these vital economic changes. Perhaps we ought not to be blamed for that. It is very difficult to foresee what is going to happen, and we did fail to foresee the tremendous changes that have since occurred in the cost of living and in unemployment, and the terrible depression which has hit so hardly the working classes in this country. One other omission from the Committee's Report has been brought to the notice of the Government again and again and could have been remedied in this Bill. I refer to the ease of large houses which will be immediately decontrolled under the terms of this Bill, and which are let out to a large number of sub-tenants but not in separately assessed holdings, so that the subtenants are not getting the advantage of permanent control which they would have got had their holdings been separately assessed. That is a fault to which attention has been called, particularly in the London area, and I think it might well have been remedied by a special clause providing that in such houses the tenants should be treated as though they were separately assessed.
I am opposing this Bill, first of all, because there is included a provision for the complete decontrol of all houses in five years from the present date—a clause which is definitely against the recommendation of the Committee. Secondly, I think the Government should have 1080 taken into account the changes in the economic condition of the working classes, and should have reduced the permitted increase of rent, the 40 per cent., which had been retained in this Bill. Thirdly, I do not consider the question of repairs has been adequately dealt with—I think there should have been a greater enforcement of repairs. The fourth point is the one I have just made, that large houses are being decontrolled with no protection to the sitting non-assessed tenants.
What are the arguments against the complete decontrol of all houses in five years? If your Lordships will be good enough to turn to the Bill you will find that the intention of the Government is so definite that there can be no mistake about it. They say that this measure "shall continue in force until the twenty-fourth day of June, nineteen hundred and thirty-eight, and no longer." There is no doubt about the meaning of the Government, and I do not understand what the noble Viscount meant when he said that this would be a case which Parliament could have to reconsider when the time came. If Parliament does not reconsider this matter the Bill automatically ends in five years and all houses become decontrolled. Therefore, it requires definite action on the part of the Government in five years—a new Bill or an amendment of an existing Act—in order that control shall continue. That is, it seems to me, the opposite of what the noble Viscount said about it being a good thing that the House should have to reconsider the question during the course of the next few years. There is no question of reconsideration. All houses will be decontrolled in five years.
The Report was most specific about this. On page 25 of the Report, the Committee state:We recommend that the new Act should place no time limit on the control of that class of house. The question will doubtless require further consideration at a later date in the light of conditions then obtaining …the question of continuing control of any particular class of house must be regarded as dependent on whether the shortage of houses in that class is at an end or likely to end within a reasonable period …While it is not desirable to retain control longer than is necessary, we cannot accept the suggestion that, regardless of the shortage, a date must he fixed for final decontrol.1081 In other words, the Government have gone directly against the recommendations of the Committee in that regard.
There is no sign of these houses being built. The Government themselves produced a very valuable document-Statistics of Houses, Command Paper 4208. When that is examined, and one calculates the number of houses which are being built, I would point out to the noble Viscount that if in fact the shortage—the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, I think stated that there was a shortage of something like 2,500,000 houses—is at the rate contained in the statistics presented by the Government, it will take no less than forty-seven years to meet the shortage. Forty-seven years! And the Government decontrol in five years. Even if the slum shortage is only 1,000,000 it will take at this rate fifteen years to build sufficient houses to overcome the shortage. The only Act the Government have put into force in this connection is the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, and all housing authorities who are really experts have agreed that that will mean fewer municipal houses and therefore fewer low-rented houses. Let me quote in this connection a passage from.The Timesof March 7. Dealing with this finishing-the-subsidy Act—the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act—The Timessaid:There is therefore no definite guarantee that the Bill will produce in the first instance houses sufficiently cheap, in sufficient quantities, and at a sufficiently regular rate to meet the needs of the present housing problem.That act is going to make things worse and not better. Local authorities throughout the country have condemned the Act as making more difficult the provision of the very houses which are necessary in order that there may not be a rent ramp when final decontrol comes five years hence. The National Town Planning Council have pointed out that the Act would actually prevent the building of houses, and many conferences of local authorities have confirmed that point of view.
The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, actually moved an Amendment to that Act when it was a Bill going through your Lordships' House, and he pointed out that unless the cost of production of these houses was cheapened the houses would not be produced. He moved an Amendment that bath-rooms should not 1082 be included in the houses in order to cheapen the cost—I think I am within the recollection of the noble Marquess—so that the houses might really be produced under that Act.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
It was not only that. The noble Lord, in conformity with a good deal of chaff that went about at that time, refers to bathrooms. It was not only bath-rooms, it was in respect of density, too.
§ LORD MARLEY
I do not desire to misrepresent the noble Marquess, but my point was that he did point out that under the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act the cost would be so great that houses would not be produced to be let at the low rents that are necessary if these houses are to contribute anything to the problem with which we are dealing. Then we come to another group of houses and that is the slum house. The Government have copied from another great country what they call a five-year plan for slums—an interesting copy of planning in this other country, although not on exactly the same lines. It was a plan which Sir Ernest Simon, a member of the Committee and a very well-known Manchester housing authority, characterised as preposterous nonsense. The Government's five-year plan is preposterous nonsense.
One of the Government's most reliable supporters, Sir William Ray, has given voice to the opinion that half the people who live in slums prefer to dwell in slums. That is very interesting because at the same time we have the Prime Minister pointing out that these slums are a disgrace to the country, other authorities of the highest possible importance saying the same thing, and the two Archbishops issuing a widespread appeal, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Irwin, that this terrible condition of housing shall really be dealt with at an early date. The Archbishops' appeal, may I remind your Lordships, omitted to deal with houses belonging to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, although the most rev. Primate himself pointed out in a report that:If the Church is to have any kind of effective moral witness it must at least keep its own hands clean.I think if the Church would deal with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' houses it would help the noble Viscount in making his Bill more effective, or less harm- 1083 ful. But there is no sign of that, although I hope we may hear something about it from the most rev. Primate. Sir Raymond Unwin, another prominent authority, said he was totally unsatisfied that there was any possibility of private houses being produced by this measure.
There is one further point, and that is that while the size of families is going down the number of families is going up. Consequently we need more and more houses, if, as is desirable, every family is to have a separate house. So, I say, the problem is getting worse, not better, and, despite all the promises that have been made and all the ideals which we have in mind, there is no sign that this housing shortage will be met in five years time. If anything it will be worse, and the sufferings of these unfortunate people whose rents will be raised will be largely increased by this action of the Government.
Another point I want to deal with is this: Why have not the Government reconsidered the 40 per cent. Increase? The Committee were very hesitant in deciding not to recommend any alteration in the 40 per cent. increase. The position is that to-clay workers are far less able to pay rent than in 1931. Unemployment is far worse, wage cuts are greater, and the amount of money coming into the budgets of these poor families is far less than it was two years ago. There is a very interesting statistical survey which will be found in the library of your Lordships' House—the statistical abstract published by the Bank of England every month. If noble Lords who are interested in these statistics will turn to the April issue they will find an analysis of the cost of living. That analysis shows that, while the cost of every other item in the cost of living figures is going down and down, the one item which is going up is the item of rent. Clothing is going down, fuel and light are going down, food is going down but rent is showing a steady increase month by month and year by year. Surely that would be a justification for the Government bringing rent into line with other items and removing that 40 per cent. allowed increase, which, of course, is the cause for the rise in the rent share of the cost of living figures.
The fact that the position is getting far worse is illustrated by the rise in out- 1084 relief. There has been a 12 per cent. increase in the numbers drawing out-relief in the last year. From August, 1931, to April, 1933, according to an answer given in the House of Commons a fortnight ago, the numbers of persons drawing out-relief have gone up from 900,000 to 1,330,000. How can these people pay this rent except at the cost of lack of food—insufficient food for those living in the houses? The medical officer of health for Deptford has pointed that out. He has said that families in receipt of public assistance cannot supply themselves with the minimum diet laid down by the Ministry of Health after paying their rent. It is a fact, and nobody would wish this to continue, that malnutrition—that is, starvation—is increasing among the children of the poorest families. The Chief Medical Officer of the Board of Education, in the last Report he issued, shows that the starvation of children in the poorest families has increased every year for the last five years. It was 9 per 1,000 in 1927, 9½ in 1929 and 11.2 in 1931.
§ LORD MARLEY
True, the Socialists were in office, but that is no reason why the good Conservative Government should not have altered the evil legislation of the Socialists and have improved the nutrition of the children instead of, as is happening, making those conditions worse. But I am glad to welcome the noble Lord as a supporter of the contention that the Government have made a mistake in not lowering the rents of these poor people.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
I do not say so. I thought the Bill was not a very good one, but the speech of the noble Lord makes me think it is.
§ LORD MARLEY
I am sorry, but if the noble Lord is desirous that starvation should continue I have nothing more to say. It is very interesting that a recent report of one of the chief medical officers of health has proved the connection between high rents and starvation. I refer to the report of the medical officer of health for Stockton, an extremely interesting report which, I think, should be known to your Lordships. The Stockton Council established a slum-clearance scheme, built some very fine new houses and moved a large number of families 1085 out of slums into these new houses. What happened? The death rate of these families moved out of the slums into the new houses went up 50 per cent. The Council were horrified. They examined the question very carefully, and the medical officer of health reported that the only explanation was that previously in the slums the rent had been 4s. a week whereas the rent of the new houses was 8s. 10d. a week., leaving is. 10d. less to be spent on food for the occupants of the houses. As I have said the death rate of these people went up by 50 per cent. in two years. It. was not a right thing to maintain that 40 per cent. The Committee was very doubtful about what they ought to do. On page 32 of their Report they use these words:We do not consider that we could properly recommend any alteration in the tota1 increase unless on examination any of the figures which make up the total should appear to be too high or too low, having regard to any change in the factors which were taken into account in their calculation.Now, the factors have changed. When we started unemployment was 1,200,000 and to-day it is 2,845,000. Then there are wage cuts. The real wages calculated at 100 in 1924 were 99 in 1929 and to-day are 95. The insured in employment, who. numbered 10,250,000 when we started, are to-day only just over 9,250,000, which means that those who are in employment and getting decent wages are fewer by nearly 1,000,000 than when the Committee took evidence. I think there is a reasonable case for the lowering of this permitted increase by something like 50 per cent. at least, in order that the food available for the families inhabiting these houses may be reasonably sufficient for a, decent standard of life. It is most regrettable that the Government did not take this opportunity to deal with the matter.
We oppose this Bill because of the five-year limit, with no certainty that there will be houses provided in five years. The indications rather axe that there will not be sufficient houses to meet the shortage and that conditions will be worse. We oppose the Bill because there is no reduction of the permitted increase, though the conditions are so changed that the Government might have reduced it to 20 per cent. and left a little more money for 1086 these people to buy food. We also feel that, there is an inadequate dealing with the question of repairs by landlords and there is the omission of the question of the large houses. The Government were aware of all these changed conditions since the Report was written. They have departed from the recommendations of the Report in the vital and material particular of decontrol without providing houses. These are the reasons why we are bound to oppose the Bill now before your Lordships' House.
THE LORD BISHOP OF WINCHESTER
My Lords, I should like to join in thanking the noble Viscount who moved the Second Reading for the extremely clear and able speech with which he introduced this most complicated Bill. I think he made many difficult matters in it very much clearer. I would also like to congratulate the noble Lord who has just sat down on the quite admirable Report to which reference has been made and to which reference was made again and again in another place. Not only is the Report admirable in itself, but the noble Lord through his skill succeeded in obtaining practically a unanimous Report—there was only one dissentient—and it is through careful study of the Report on which this Bill is based that I find myself bound to support the Bill now before your Lordships' House. I must say that it was with great surprise that I listened to the speech of the noble Lord and discovered that he was going to vote against a Bill based so largely upon his own Report.
THE LORD BISHOP OF WINCHESTER
Well, that the noble Lord is in opposition to a Bill so largely based on his admirable Report. As I listened to his arguments I found myself very largely in agreement with a number of his statements. If this had been a general debate on the evil of the slums I should have endorsed, I think, almost everything he has said. In fact, some of the arguments he has used against the Bill, especially the reference to the report of the medical officer of health of Stockton-on-Tees, I was going to use in support of the Bill.
1087 But before I give my arguments for supporting the Bill I should like to answer what was, I think, a direct challenge to me in connection with the property of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. From time to time attacks are brought against the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for owning slum property. I have always asked for specific cases and when they have been given I have enquired into them in person. So far I have not found any cases of slum property under the complete control of the Commissioners. It is true that there is slum property from which they draw ground rents, and which has been let on very long leases. They have no control over that property whatever. If they refused to draw the rents it would merely mean that the slum landlord would profit. And against that I can assure the House that as soon as property which has been slum property comes under the control of the Commissioners, they use every effort in their power to turn that property into decent property. If necessary they destroy it—if it is in their power to do so—and rebuild working-class houses, or they repair it, and most of their property is under that admirable system of management known as the Octavia Hill system, which they introduced. I can assure the House and the noble Lord that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners do everything in their power to see that their property is run on model lines.
Now may I turn quite briefly to the reasons which lead me to support this Bill? My first reason is that it preserves under control for five years the pool of working-class houses which are largely occupied by those who have very small wages. It reserves a pool of some 4,000,000. Year by year these houses are being gradually reduced in number through decontrol, and as they are reduced through decontrol there are fewer houses to which the poorly-paid members of the working classes can turn. I agree with everything which the noble Lord has said about the evils of high rents. I agree with everything that he has said, that when rents are high the family has to suffer in the matter of food; but it is because we want to reduce that evil that I support this Bill. Year by year these 4,000,000 houses are being reduced in number. When they are reduced in number rents go up. The evidence before the 1088 Committee shows that the rents of decontrolled houses are 30 or 40 per cent. higher than those of controlled houses. A few years ago I had inquiries made as to the houses in poor streets. The houses were of the same kind. Some were controlled and some decontrolled. For the decontrolled the rents charged were 40, 50 or 60 per cent. higher than the rents charged for houses under control. This Bill stops that sort of thing for the next five years. I agree that five years is probably too short a period. I see no prospect myself of sufficient houses being built by the end of five years, but at any rate during those five years you are stopping houses going out of control, and I agree that that is a very real thing.
A second reason which leads me to support this Bill is that it will bring to an end, or at all events put a check upon, a most cruel form of profiteering—the profiteering of the sub-tenant. Some of the very worst cases of profiteering have been cases when the tenant of a small house has let his rooms at an extortionate rent. The sub-tenant has never been able to use the remedy he has had, and this Bill will do much to bring to an end one of the worst forms of profiteering that I have ever come across. I agree with two or three other matters which the noble Lord mentioned think it is a great defect in the Bill that no provision has been made for keeping under control the rooms of tenants when tenants go out from a house and the house itself is above the value of those which are under the control provisions. I think that that will mean, in London especially, a considerable reduction in the number of houses which are available at a small rent.
I would only interrupt for one moment, in order to say that we do not accept the contention of the noble Lord that that is the case.
THE LORD BISHOP OF WINCHESTER
I am very glad to hear that, and no doubt we shall have the facts when the Government come to reply. I know that the London County Council are anxious about the matter, and the Bill is so difficult to understand in some ways that I have probably misread it. That leads me to my second question. I notice that the marginal title of Clause 10 reads: "Powers of local authorities for 1089 the purposes of g wing information and advice," but in the clause itself all mention of advice is omitted. The Bill is an extremely complicated and intricate one. Probably it was inevitable, in view of the complexity of the subject, but the Bill concerns masses of very poor people, many of them uneducated. They will not understand these clauses any more than I can understand the clause to which I have been referring. Committees will be in existence for giving information, but these people will want advice also. When the very poor go to a poor man's lawyer the first thing they ask is what is the law. When they are told, they do riot understand, and so go on to the second question: "What am I to do?" The people who will go to these Committees will be people who will want advice. These are points for Committee, probably, but I am ready to support the Bill as a whole because I believe it removes restrictions which are no longer necessary, and at the same time safeguards some of the poorest of the tenants.
My Lords, I think the Government have made a great mistake in bringing in this Bill. It would have been far better if we were allowed to remain under the existing Rent Restrictions Acts for another five years, and then, at the end of five years, to decontrol all houses. I do not think that this Bill will be a popular one. Houses over £45 in London and £35 in the provinces are to be decontrolled. Many of the people who live in those houses are by no means well off. Many of them belong to what are commonly called the black-coated fraternity. Many of them lately may have had a reduction in their salaries, and they are feeling acutely the Income Tax, because the personal allowance, both to married and to unmarried people, has been lowered. But Class "C" houses, those not exceeding £20 in London and £13 elsewhere, are not to be allowed to be decontrolled, and when possession has been obtained they are to remain controlled. I believe that they will remain controlled for ever; for no Government is likely five years hence to incur the odium and the unpopularity of decontrolling them. But if all classes of houses were put on the same footing and were all decontrolled together five years hence, it would be quite easy then to 1090 decontrol the Class "C" houses. The Bill says five years hence "and no longer." Of course that is mere eyewash. Rent Restrictions Acts in the past have been prolonged under the Expiring Laws Continuance Act, and the Minister himself in another place suggested that very likely this Bill may be continued again under the Expiring Laws Continuance Act; so that we shall have perpetuated that great difficulty in the future, which we have had in the past, of having controlled and decontrolled houses close together, making it so difficult to carry out so marry housing schemes.
The Government have tried in a small way to meet the point of the agricultural community by introducing Clause 5. Clause 5, to my mind, will not do at all. It only refers to houses let at or below 2s. 6d. a week, and they will not be decontrolled until possession has been obtained after the passage of the Bill. That is the first step. Then the owner of the house or cottage must go to the County Court to get it confirmed. By that time he probably will have lost the employee whom he wanted to put in the cottage. When agriculture revives—and I sincerely hope it is going to do so, and I thank the Government for all they are doing for agriculture—a great many more houses and cottages will be required on agricultural estates. Many of those houses at the present time are inhabited by artisans and better-paid workmen, who got into them when agriculture was depressed and was not looked after by so many successive Governments. When the Committee stage comes I shall move an Amendment to Clause 5, because I look upon that clause as the crux of the question.
Now I come to Clause 10, which says that the local authorities may appoint committees to advise on the rights and duties under the Rent Restrictions Acts and charge the cost on the general rates. That seems to me a great waste of money. The Government are continually telling local authorities to curtail their expenditure and reduce the rates. Yet they put in this Bill a clause which is practically suggesting to the local authorities that they should spend more money. How can these committees tell anybody what the law is? How do they know what is the law of the Rent 1091 Restrictions Acts? Why, there has been more litigation over the Rent Restrictions Acts than over any other Acts that I can remember, unless, possibly, it be the Income Tax Acts. And yet the local authorities are supposed to be in a position to tell people what the law is!
My noble friend Lord Gage referred to Clause 12, but I did not quite gather the full meaning of Clause 12. I should like a little information about it. I am not clear what Clause 12 has to do with the Rent Restrictions Acts. It looks more like an amendment to the Housing Act of 1930. The wording gives no guide, neither does the OFFICIAL REPORT of Debates in the Commons, in which so little information was given when the Government accepted the clause. The clause was not in the original Bill; it was inserted later. I think I heard Lord Gage say that the Lord Chancellor was going to reply. I will ask him to be kind enough to tell me what effect has a certificate on rent restriction, and whether it will be retrospective. I now come to Clause 14 (3). If a landlord uses a rent book which does not conform to what the Minister wants, he can be fined £10. This new rent book is a ludicrous waste of money. It will be printed, I presume, at the public expense, and thousands and thousands of the new rent books will be required. I hope your Lordships realise that you will all have to scrap existing rent books and adopt a new one which will be satisfactory to the Minister. There again the Government evidently do not mean to practise economy.
I should like to ask a question about the First Schedule, paragraph (f). It deals with the question of overcrowding. As far as I can read this provision, it is intended to enable a landlord to get possession of a house which is overcrowded. But is a landlord likely to ask for possession of an overcrowded house, because, if he turns the tenants out, where are they to go? He will not have alternative accommodation ready for them. He can only turn them out into the streets. The overcrowding will probably be due to the tenant, not to the landlord, and at the present time local authorities have ample authority for dealing with all overcrowding. It would look as if under this paragraph the Government want to remove the odium 1092 of turning people out from the shoulders of the local authority to the shoulders of the landlord. I want to know what good the Government think that provision will really do. I can only say, in conclusion, that I very much regret that the Government have not deferred dealing with this question for five years and then decontrolled all classes of houses.
§ VISCOUNT NOVAR
My Lords, this Bill is the result of the findings of a Committee appointed by the Socialist Government, with the noble Lord opposite as a leading Socialist as its Chairman. The result of ate findings of that Committee is presented in this Bill with little amendment, as it seems to me, although it has driven the noble Lord opposite into opposition. The issue raised by the Bill between private and collective enterprise is most acute. Huge sums have been wasted under the Addison and other schemes, while the Rent Restrictions Acts have knocked private enterprise on the head, and private enterprise, to my mind, would have supplied the shortage of houses after the War at half the cost and in quicker time than has been done under these various Acts. There was one sphere in which the intervention of Government and of the local authorities was desirable—namely, in dealing with the slums to which reference has been made. Yet these Acts have been in operation for a dozen years with all this cost and misuse of money while the slums, which should have been dealt with first, have been left to themselves, and it is only recently that attention has been recalled to them by a very high source.
The Socialist theory is that housing is a matter for collective responsibility, and I do not wonder at the noble Lord being in opposition to the Bill; but that is a theory which, to my mind, has been entirely upset by experience. Anything more incompetent and costly than collective control by Government Departments and local authorities, with their hordes of officials, it is difficult indeed to conceive. The control of even a moderately well-managed estate is at any rate better than that. Therefore the sooner collective control is abolished the better. This Bill simply prolongs its evils, especially in Scotland, for while in London houses are partially decontrolled above £20 a 1093 year rent and above £13 in the rest of England, in Scotland the limit is as high as £26 5s. Why the return to economic sanity should thus be delayed in my unfortunate country I do not understand, and I think this point will be well worth considering in Committee.
Even local authorities in England are strongly opposed to Clauses 2 and 10 of the Bill, especially the registration clause to which my noble friend has just called attention. The Rural District Councils Association oppose Clauses 2 and 10 for the reason that at the present time the officers of rural district councils have More work than they can do, the fact being that modern legislation affecting rural district councils has thrown more and more work on them, and the number of forms required in connection with such legislation by the Ministry of Health has become quite alarming. In fact, it seems to be an age of statistics and, as your Lordships know, statistics occasion a great deal of trouble. As it is with local authorities, so is it with the staff of an ordinary estate office which, instead of being left free to attend to its own business, is condemned to the task of enlightening or opposing Government and local officials who interfere in matters they do not understand and which the estate office does. The fact is that the only hope I see in the present situation seems to come from the recent proposals of the building societies for dealing with finance, which would render a great deal of Government and local interference unnecessary. That seems to me the only source from which relief can come—that, and the elimination of collective control as fast as possible.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT SANKEY)
My Lords, any one of your Lordships who has listened to this debate, or any one of your Lordships who has been called upon to decide cases under the Rent Restrictions Act, will know that it is a matter of extreme difficulty to state the position clearly or to understand the number of embarrassing questions which arise. There are, in fact, several such Acts, and I believe that since they were first passed the Courts have given five hundred decisions upon them. In many of these decisions the Judges of First Instance have disagreed, and when the matter has come before the Court of Appeal they have 1094 been decided by a majority of Judges. I hope the reason for this is riot that the Judges or your Lordships have not been able to comprehend the various sections of the Acts. This legislation is artificial legislation, and when you have artificial legislation it becomes a matter of extreme difficulty in a short Act of Parliament to make provisions which have to apply to something like 7,000,000 houses and as many as 30,000,000 or 35,000,000 of our fellow countrymen who are living in these houses under all sorts of different agreements and all sorts of different tenancies. Now, my Lords, when you do have artificial legislation of this character, the most important thing to do is from time to time to survey the situation, and to pass such amending legislation as is necessary, because it may be found that the old Acts are not clear. It may be found that the old Acts no longer apply to the changing circumstances and changing conditions of the time. Therefore, in artificial legislation of this character the one requisite is that the legislation should from time to time be brought up to date to meet the changed circumstances.
I have been asked by several noble Lords to try to explain one or two points. I can best do so, if your Lordships will be good enough to allow me, by stating the position as it was immediately before the original Act and then endeavour to state what the position will be under the new provisions. Your Lordships will remember that the Rent Restrictions Act of 1920, which is the principal Act, defines the houses to which the Act applies. In the 1923 Act—and by that time there had been a change in circumstances, and the Government of the day came to the conclusion, rightly as your Lordships will probably say, that the time had arrived when the change of circumstances demanded a change of legislation—the great alteration was that a, system of decontrol was introduced which provided for the decontrol of all houses occupied by their owners in July, 1923; houses in respect of which the landlord and the tenant had entered into certain agreements under Section 2 (2) of that Act; and houses falling into the actual possession of the landlord after July, 1923 (except as the result of ejection following the non-payment of rent).
1095 The time arrived when the Government of the day—the Labour Government—thought that another change in legislation was necessary to meet the changed circumstances, and it was for that purpose that a Committee was appointed under the noble Lord, Lord Marley, which produced the Report, to which, I suppose, with one or two exceptions, everybody in this House would desire to pay a tribute. I certainly think it was a most admirable Report on a most difficult and most complicated subject, and the noble Lord's persuasiveness was able to bring about unanimity, except in one case. There is only one respect, if the noble Lord will allow me to say so, in which I rather complain of his attitude to-day. We have, as a matter of fact, adopted and endeavoured to enshrine in this legislation probably 80 per cent., of his recommendations, and now, like Oliver, he asks for more. I cannot help thinking that the way in which he asks for more rather savours of the recollections we have, not of Oliver Twist but of Oliver Cromwell, if he will permit me to say so. But the noble Lord is to be very much felicitated upon the fate of his recommendations. Those of us who have had the fortune, or misfortune, to preside over Royal Commissions or Committees have probably been abused for the next six months and then forgotten, while our Reports have been put into a pigeon hole. Instead of the noble Lord's Report being put into a pigeon hole it has been put into the Bill which is now before your Lordships.
At the date of their Report the Committee estimated that there were about 7,500,000 houses in England and Wales, of which about 1,250,000 had been decontrolled by the operation of these decontrolling provisions. They recommended that the 6,250,000 pre-War houses still under control should be dealt with in three categories—Category "A," Category "B," and Category "C." I only propose to deal with Category "A" although, if your Lordships 's would like me to state the effect of Categories "B" and "C" I would be very glad to do so. Under the present law it does not matter whether the house or any part of it is in the "A," "B" or "C" Class. This is the position in all cases: The sub-tenant is protected as long as he 1096 remains in occupation. If the sub-tenant goes and the tenant obtains possession of the sub-tenant's part, the part nevertheless remains controlled, but if the tenant goes and the sub-tenant remains the sub-tenant becomes the direct tenant of the landlord and is protected while he remains. The part vacated by the tenant is decontrolled, as and when the landlord comes into possession of the sub-tenant's part that part is decontrolled. I think it is right to say that in the present case, at any rate—and that is a most important point—the sitting sub-tenant is always protected.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I agree. I will deal now with the houses in Class "A". Where a house is let as a whole as a Class "A" house, and is sub-let, part Class "B" or part Class "C", subject to notice, the tenant ceases to be protected as from 29th September, 1933, and the sub-tenant then becomes the direct tenant of the landlord, and is protected while he remains so. When the landlord comes into possession of the sub-tenant's sub-let part, that part is decontrolled, and also if the tenant stops on as tenant of the whole house under a new agreement with the landlord; then, should the tenant come into possession of the sub-tenant's sub-let part, that part is decontrolled. That, I think, is the effect of it.
Permit me to refer to the noble Lord's Report, because that is the point to which he takes exception. He rather regards this as a notable omission from the Report and thinks the Government ought to correct it, but the Report definitely and specifically made a recommendation which is contained in paragraph 107 and which has been exactly followed in the Bill. In that paragraph the Committee say:(a) That where a dwelling house. considered as a whole, is in Class 'A', but contains one or more subsidiary dwelling houses in Class 'B' or Class 'C', decontrol of such a subsidiary house or houses shall follow when either the tenant of the whole house or the landlord of the whole house obtains vacant possession of the subsidiary house or houses.I will not trouble your Lordships with paragraph (b) of the recommendation because we are agreed upon that.
1097 I rather take exception to one point of the noble Lord's speech. What he said in effect was this: "Ah, well, in my Report I made certain recommendations, and if I had to make a report again to-day perhaps, having regard to the changed circumstances, I might report differently." Of course, any stick is good enough to beat a Government with, but what were the Government, to do? The Government got the noble: Lord's Report, and have put 80 per cent. of it into this Bill. Were the Government to say: "Well, circumstances have changed, and we will ask the noble Lord to preside over another Committee, and make another Report, and after two years, when we have had another Committee and had another Report from that Committee, we will put new things into the Bill because the noble Lord thinks that ought to be done"? I would emphasise that the great point is that the Government have done something. I do not wish to use a slang expression in your Lordships' House, but I will say the Government have "got a move on," and instead of waiting for another admirable Report from the noble Lord, Lord Marley, they have taken advantage of what he has already done, and, to the extent of 80 per cent., have followed his wise guidance.
There is another matter to touch upon. Although the noble Lord said many things in the course of his argument with which every member of your Lordships' House agrees, is there a single member of your Lordships' House who approves of bad housing conditions, who approves of excessive rents, and who would say that the wretched tenants should have to pay them without having enough properly to live upon? I am sure there is not. I will put it like this if I may. Supposing any one of your Lordships had a magic wand, and by waving it you could produce proper houses for our fellow-subjects at proper rents, is there a single one in your Lordships' House who would not do so? I am sure there is not. The trouble about this matter is that you cannot do everything at once. You cannot, much as we should like to do so, build at once innumerable houses at proper rents. Although you can, from time to time, alter or change your policy to meet changed circumstances, you cannot get over what is one of the most pressing difficulties—I might use stronger words 1098 than that and say one of the most disgraceful difficulties. The Bill fixes a period of five years during which control is to continue to apply to both Class "B" and "C" houses, and, as regards Class "C" houses, the process of decontrol by possession will be suspended. I desire to emphasise the point made by the right rev. Prelate the Lord Bishop of Winchester, that, this at any rate does provide for a pool of "C" houses for the period mentioned in the Bill, and that before that period ends new legislation may be found necessary to meet changed circumstances. This legislation is a milestone. It is not a goal. The noble Lord, Lord Dynevor, said he would like to wait for five years and then decontrol the lot. Well, my Lords, I have no more desire to be a prophet as to what is to happen after five years than I desire to be a prophet of what is going to happen to-morrow afternoon.
In dealing with some of the other matters let me leave the order in which the noble Lord spoke and come to the order of the Bill, and then it till be possible to make my meaning clear. First of all with regard to the right of possession. It must be remembered that the right of possession is subject to the Court's general over-riding discretion as to the reasonableness of granting an order for possession. It may be granted either in the absence of proof of alternative accommodation on any of the specific grounds set out in the Schedule, or where the Court is satisfied that suitable alternative accommodation is available, in any case where the landlord claims it regardless of the grounds or reasons for desiring possession. Some comment was made by one of your Lordships as to the modifications introduced especially with regard to the overcrowding of a house by lodgers or sub-tenants to an extent injurious to health, which is now made one of the new grounds for claiming possession. My answer to the noble Lord is that that again is subject to the discretion of the Court, and in legislation like this the only thing you can do is to appoint somebody who in these difficult cases can decide. You cannot possibly conceive all the circumstances which arise in individual cases. It is no use endeavouring to legislate for every case. You must, as far as possible, leave it to somebody you can trust to decide.
1099 With regard to agricultural cottages, on the subject of which the noble Lord, Lord Dynevor, announced his intention to move an Amendment, the position I think is that the Bill does not, in terms, refer to agricultural cottages, but relates to cottages let at a rent not exceeding 2s. 6d. a week, which would cover little if anything but agricultural cottages. The effect, while maintaining restriction of rents, is to enable an owner of such a cottage, after he next comes into possession, to re-let it without conferring on the new tenant security of tenure. The present sitting tenant will not be affected. Ordinarily security of tenure is necessary to make rent restriction effective, but it is considered that this would not be so in the case of low-rented cottages. With regard to the noble Viscount who made certain remarks as to collective responsibility for housing, I do not propose to offer any observations. That is a fundamental difference of opinion. If you have that opinion this Bill naturally will not commend itself to you. I am not in any way criticising the noble Viscount. He is perfectly entitled to his opinion. The reason I do not reply is that, if you are going to argue the difference between collective responsibility and individual responsibility, this is not the time or the occasion when I can usefully add anything to your Lordships' stock of information.
With regard to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Marley, as to the permitted increase of rent, the position is that there may be an increase of 40 per cent., which is made up of 25 per cent. of the pre-War net rent for increased cost of repairs, 10 per cent. of the pre-War net rent for increased mortgage interest, and 5 per cent. of the pre-War net rent for increased yield on the owner's capital. Any reduction in the permitted increase would be open to the general objections to retrospective legislation. That is one of the great difficulties in this Bill. May I put it as clearly as I can? Assume that you have a list to be dealt with by stages. As time goes on you must vary your enactment to meet changed circumstances. But while you are doing that it is most imperative that you should not do something which I think in Great Britain at any rate we all strongly dislike—that is, retrospective legislation. It is suggested, for example, that houses which, under the 1923 Act, 1100 were decontrolled should be subject to control again.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
No, I am sure the noble Lord is far too sensible to suggest that. But see what would happen, because it is only an example of retrospective legislation. If the house had remained in the possession of the same man all the time I should not be here to defend him at all, but suppose that the house had been sold to another person upon the faith of decontrol. You must be careful that justice for a number of people does not inflict injustice upon people who have acted upon existing legislation. Many controlled houses have been bought and sold on the basis of the continuance of rents at least at the present level, often, perhaps, in the hope of reasonably early decontrol. Houses may have passed through several hands and the present owners may have paid a full price for their purchase. They would be most unfairly penalised by a reduction in the present permitted level of rents, and those who had sold—I do not like to describe them by any opprobrious epithet—would escape any such penalties. If you were to say that they were liable to a decreased rent you would prevent the free sale of houses and the passing of property from one hand to another.
There are only one or two other points to which I wish to refer. The first is with regard to advisory committees. It is perfectly true, as the right rev. Prelate said, that many of the difficulties of both landlords and tenants under the Rent Restrictions Acts arise from ignorance of their respective rights and duties. Reference has already been made to the difficulties which Judges and Counsel have in deciding these cases. Landlords and tenants, who are not skilled lawyers, must have greater difficulty still. If I may indulge in a personal reminisence, I always felt, when listening to these cases, that I would far rather argue on one side or the other than decide. It is thought that useful service, Which would be of public benefit, could be rendered to both sides by advisory committees. Perhaps one ought not to say it, but I am getting rather tired of the word economy.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I expected that from the noble Lord. Economy is the noble Lord's ceterum censeo, as Delendaa est Carthago was Cato's. The noble Lord always teaches us that the first thing is economy, but there are times, I am sure, when the noble Lord himself is not economical. It was felt that there was some danger in putting local authorities in a position to offer legal advice in individual cases on fine points of law which might prove erroneous. I do not know whether the right rev. Prelate is a member of a local authority—probably not—but I very much wonder what would happen if a member of a local authority gave bad advice and was sued for negligence do not think many men would like to be on a local authority and give legal advice. This clause, therefore, restricts their powers to the publication of information and the supply of particulars as to alternative accommodation. I would remind your Lordships that there are quite a number of admirable committees all over the country, and in nearly every large town solicitors give advice for nothing and counsel argue cases in court without fees.
In regard to the certificate of disrepair the clause is a difficult one to construe. It was added in another place and it makes it the duty of the local authority to issue to a tenant a certificate of disrepair where they are satisfied of the facts. They cannot refuse such a certificate where they have, as housing authority, served a notice under Section 17 of the Housing Act, 1930, on the owners. The possession by a statutory tenant of such a certificate will, by virtue of Section 5 of the Act of 1923, enable him to withhold the 4o per cert. permitted increase of rent pending the execution of necessary repairs. I am not quite sure that I followed the argument of the noble Lord who said that this is the sort of provision you want in the Housing Act and not in a, Rent Restriction Act. If it is the sort you want and is not in the Housing Act, it is as well we should put it in here.
Let me say one final word with regard to Clause 14, which provides for regulations to be made by the Minister and 1102 laid before Parliament in regard to certain forms and notices. The general object is to secure that tenants and subtenants are made aware, by insertion of prescribed information in rent books, of their rights and duties. That is referred to in paragraph 71 of the Report of the Committee. I quite see that may have an effect on some rent books, but, if it is thought to be an improvement in the public interest, there is not a member of your Lordships' House who would not fall in with the suggestion. I have referred to all the questions which have been raised and I ask your Lordships to give your decision that this Bill be now read a second time.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.