HL Deb 03 March 1942 vol 122 cc167-70

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a useful Bill which comes to this Chamber with the unanimous support of the House of Commons. As its title indicates it has to do with questions that may arise when land is requisitioned. As your Lordships are aware, there has necessarily been since the war began a great deal of requisitioning of buildings, either residences or business premises, and it is on the whole surprising and very satisfactory that this dislocation has, for the most part, taken place without complaint and indeed to the general satisfaction. But there have been instances in which those dispossessed felt that they had a grievance, largely because they thought the compensation did not meet their case. In view of that, the Chancellor of the Exchequer appointed last year a well-known Barrister, Mr. John Morris, K.C., to investigate personally those cases, to consider their causes and to make recommendations. Any of your Lordships who have looked at Mr. John Morris's Report—it is Command Paper No. 6313 of last year—will, I am sure, feel that the country owes a real debt of gratitude to him for a very good piece of work.

The matter has been dealt with in the most admirable and concise manner and the Government have already announced that they are prepared to follow his recommendations. Most of them can be met by administrative methods, but two of them require legislation. The first is this. If a tenant who is actually in possession of premises, whether a residence or business premises—in ordinary full occupation of them—and is turned out because the premises are requisitioned by the proper authority, he of course gets compensation and the compensation is on the basis of the then annual value of the premises. That I venture to think is perfectly fair and I do not think the taxpayer can be expected to pay more. None the less, there are individual cases where the tenant feels it a hardship because the lease under which he holds his premises may provide for a rent which is larger than the annual payments which he is going to receive from the authorities. It may be that the value of the premises has gone down. It may be that for one reason or another when the lease was negotiated, he was willing to pay, or felt he must pay, a larger figure than that which he is now receiving as compensation. Then what is his position? The position is that he has to find some other premises, whether for his family or for his business, and pay rent in respect of them. He may feel that he is not only being called upon to pay rent for the new premises but to some extent to bear the burden of the old.

Mr. Morris carefully considered what would be the proper thing to do in such a case and he recommends that the right thing, subject to a limitation which I will mention in a moment, is that in such a case the tenant ought to be entitled to disclaim his lease. When the war is over it is very likely that property will command a better rent, but in the meantime the right course would be to say that the tenant may disclaim his lease just as can be done in a case where there is serious war damage. Mr. Morris recommends, and the Government have adopted the recommendation, that that should only be permitted if the lease has not more than five years to run, because his view is that if there is a long lease it would be wrong so to redistribute the burden between landlord and tenant, when in all probability there would be a large value left in the lease in the hands of those who possess it long after the war is finished. That in brief describes the nature of the provisions in Clauses 1 to 6.

The later clauses of the Bill deal with the position that arises where, as in a great many cases, the lease held by the tenant provides that he should pay rent which not only covers the use and occupation of the premises but also the meeting by the landlord of the charge for rates, which may cover also insurance of the premises and may cover other conveniences and services which the landlord gives. A very common example is that of a flat where the landlord himself provides a lift, and it may be provides other things like hot water. In the case of such a property, it will remain the obligation of the tenant to pay for that even though he is dispossessed by requisition. For the form which the compensation which he receives takes is the form of the annual value of the premises on the assumption that the tenant himself has to bear the rates and other incidental charges. Therefore the two things are not quite on the same basis; they do not conform.

If I may go back to my illustration of the flat, if a Government Department requisitioned a block of flats—there have been such cases—the lift and the other services are no longer of the slightest value to the dispossessed tenant. He goes away and lives somewhere else. On the other hand he is still obliged to pay for them. Yet the Government Department, it may be presumed, would wish in most cases itself to make use of the lift and it may be of the other services. Therefore in Clause 7 of the Bill, as your Lordships will see, there is a provision that the rent payable by the tenant to his landlord may be adjusted by cutting out that portion of the rent which represents payment for services which the landlord is no longer going to render to the tenant. It also provides, of course, that the landlord shall be relieved of obligation to supply them to the tenant. There is the further provision which secures that if the requisitioning authority requires them they can get these services from the landlord at the rate at which they were being previously supplied.

Those are the provisions of this little Bill. They are the result of a great deal of careful consideration. I would like to conclude by reading a sentence from the Report of Mr. Morris, which I think very clearly reflects the general attitude of good citizens in this time of war in respect of the requisitioning of property. Mr. Morris says, on page 3 of his Report: The healthy reluctance of the British public to tolerate any Government encroachments upon private liberties is tempered in war-time by a willingness to co-operate to secure the necessities of national defence. I think that is perfectly true. It explains the whole basis of this Bill. I beg to move that it be read a second time.

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


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friends I wish to say that this Bill appears to fill a gap which needed to be filled and to rectify a situation in which certain anomalies appeared. More than that it is unnecessary for me to say anything, except that I wish to take the opportunity to express the sense of indebtedness which I feel we owe to Mr. John Morris for his public labours in this regard.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.