HL Deb 03 February 1944 vol 130 cc649-88

VISCOUNT MAUGHAM had given Notice that he would move to resolve, That in view of the great complexity of legislation in relation to rent restriction it is desirable that a Consolidation Act be passed pending a reconsideration of the whole matter. The noble and learned Viscount said: My Lords, I should like to say, at once, that before putting the Motion which stands in my name down on the Paper I communicated with my noble friend, Viscount Ridley, Chairman of the Committee investigating the problem of rent restriction, and obtained from him complete assent to the matter being ventilated in this House. I certainly should not have put the Motion down unless he had consented. I also wish to say that it did not seem to me very important to go into any particular detail about this matter in the form of the Motion, having regard to the fact that the Government cannot be expected to introduce any amendments before they have received a Report. Accordingly, when I saw the Amendment of my noble friend Viscount Buckmaster—[to leave out all words after "desirable" and insert "to pass an amending and consolidating Act without delay when the findings of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Rent Control are known"]—I thought that it was perhaps an improvement on my own Motion, and I am perfectly willing to accept it.

I was desired by a very important organization to call attention to the question of rent restriction and I do so the more gladly because it is a matter which is becoming more urgent day by day and which will become of the greatest possible importance when the war comes to an end. The legislation began in the year 1920.


It began in 1915.


Yes, but the material Acts with which we are chiefly concerned began with the Act of 1920. I am obliged to the noble and learned Viscount for his intervention. Since 1920—that is to say for twenty-four years—the Legislature has no doubt been endeavouring to carry out a comparatively simple aim—namely, to deal with the shortage of such houses as we are concerned with to-day, dwelling-houses according to the definition of the Acts, which includes something more than dwelling-houses, not exceeding in rateable value the sums which are mentioned in the various Acts, with which I shall deal in a moment, and incidentally, in order to control the rents of such houses, to restrict the eviction of tenants to cases of serious misbehaviour by those tenants. Including the Act of 1920 and the last Act of September 1, 1939, there have been altogether fourteen Acts, the last having been passed two days before the outbreak of war and in view of the war, which began on September 3. The present position is one of complete chaos. The Acts deal with control, decontrol, gradual decontrol and recontrol, and yet with all those aims in view and all those Acts, it is impossible for ordinary landowners, who are not necessarily rich and who may own only one house, or for most of the tenants to know where they stand in regard to this matter. I should mention at once that there is no possibility of contracting out of either the Act of 1920 or the subsequent Acts including that of 1939.

Let me remind your Lordships with what these Acts deal. Under the 1920 Act we are dealing with houses where the rateable value was £105 in London, £90 in Scotland and £75 elsewhere. The "standard rent,' as it is called, is the rent at which the house was let on August 3, 1914, when rents were exceedingly low, or, if not then-let, the rent at which it was last let before that date, or, if it was first let after that date, the rent at which it was first let. It must have been erected, however, before April 2, 1919, so that the newer houses were left untouched by this question of rent control. The 1939 Act, however, restricts the rent to the rent at which the house was let on September 1, 1939, or, if not then let, to the rent at which it was last let before that date, or, if first let after that date, to the rent at which it was first let. Neither Act provides any limitation on the words "the rent at which it was last let before that date," and it has been settled that that may be one or two hundred years ago. One of the learned Judges who mentioned the matter said it might have been first let five hundred years ago, and yet the rent at that time would be the standard rent for that dwelling-house. You cannot imagine anything more ridiculous than that, but it has been so for quite a number of years. The 1939 Act applies to houses whenever erected, unlike the Act of 1920, and I should mention that both the Acts—including the amending Acts, which I need not mention—give a status to the house itself. The landlord in each case includes any person deriving title from the original landlord, and a new tenant under a fresh tenancy from the landlord derives the benefits given to the previous tenant. I am speaking now, of course, of controlled houses.

In my judgment, speaking with a great deal of experience of Acts of Parliament, there is here a quagmire of legislation in which very little firm footing is to be found. It reminds me of some of those bogs in Ireland where you set out, perhaps, in the hope of shooting snipe,- and where you see here and there a lovely piece of green grass which looks firm, but if you put your foot on it, unless you are very fortunate, you plunge down perhaps below the level of your head. That is the sort of thing with which we have to deal in these Acts. There have been two hundred reported cases, of which quite a number have gone to the Court of Appeal, and they stopped there because they can go no further without the leave of the Court or of the House of Lords. In a very large number of the cases which go to the Courts the Judges have expressed their strongest disapproval of the form of the Acts and their view that these Acts are thoroughly ill-considered in many respects and lead to great injustice. One learned Judge congratulated Solomon on not having to deal with the Rent Restrictions Acts, because the problems which came before him were a mere trifle to those which County Court Judges have to solve every day. One of the Lords Justices has spoken of the manifest injustices which these Acts cause, due to the hasty and ill-considered language in which they are framed. I shall mention two instances of that in a few moments.

I want to point out—because I am not here to blame the Legislature for anything of that sort—the vast importance of the matter which we are now discussing from the point of view of the erection of houses after this war. We are told that 4,000,000 houses are needed. Between the two wars three quarters of the houses which were built were built by private enterprise, and that indeed is a fortunate thing for the State because we now know that the building of houses by local authorities, though it is absolutely essential in many cases, is a most uneconomic process for the State as a whole. With regard to the houses built by local authorities between the two wars, £270,000,000 was expended by the State in subsidies, £50,000,000 has been paid out of the rates, and the loans proper for these houses, in order to provide money for building them, have totalled £1,053,000,000. There will also be £4,000,000 a year payable in Exchequer subsidies till the year 1974. That is the cost of building by local authorities with the assistance of the State. If the 2,500,000 houses built by private enterprise without help from the rates or the taxes had all been built by local authorities the figure which it would have cost the State would have been absolutely astronomical.

Let me come to a word or two about the Act of 1939, which, as I have said, will apply to all the houses which will be built as soon as building commences in this country, unless the Acts are greatly modified or are swept away. That, like the Act of 1920, also refers to dwelling-houses, and the rateable values are to be not greater than £100 in London, £90 in Scotland, and £75 elsewhere. The result is that all these houses of which we are told that 4,000,000 are needed, must be built either by the local authorities—in which case they are not bound by rent restriction; they can put the rents up or down as the occasion may require—or by private enterprise. But the question I have to ask is, how are you to get private enterprise to build any of those 4,000,000 houses unless you reform the system on which you are going?

I am rather anxious to call your Lordships' attention to the cost of building at the present time. Things have been altered entirely since the period before the war. The cost of building is now twice as much as it was, and that of course has entirely altered the prospect to private enterprise undertaking building. Till recently there has been only conjecture as to what it would cost to build a rural house for agricultural labourers and others to live in. But on the 25th of last month the Ministry of Agriculture quite frankly made a statement as to the cost of the farm cottages which they had been building in various parts of the country during the yea- that had just passed up to the month of January. There were 105 farm cottages completed, of which 49 were occupied. The Ministry announced that work was in progress on 2,500 cottages. Figures were available for 54 of these out of the 105 that had been completed. They were figures of houses for farm workers, which had been built at an average cost of £994 each, which is very near the estimated figure that has been given before. We may call that £1,000 a house without much exaggeration. That includes £39 10s. for the land, and also the charges for road making and the architect's fee.

What was disquieting was to find that, although there is admittedly this enormous lack of housing all over the country, the local authorities were finding it exceedingly difficult 1o get tenants at the rents which they had fixed for these houses, which were 10s. a week, plus rates. Of course, rates are a very important thing in reckoning up the rent for a cottage for a. working man, and, although it was noted that the wage rates for farm labourers were double what they were before the war, yet great difficulty was experienced in getting tenants for those houses. What I want to point out is that a house built for £1,000 cannot possibly be let economically at 10s. per week. On the contrary, that is about half the economic' rent of the house, if not less than half. Then how do you expect the private builder, who built such a number of houses—2,500,000—during the period between the two wars, to buy a piece of land, to do all the work of development and so on, and to put up a rural dwelling-house? Having borrowed the money, as he must in order to finance his project, he must repay it before he gets any return. He cannot compete at present rates with the houses built by local authorities with State money and local money from rates, and all the advantages which the local autho- rities have got. It is true that all big builders say—and I have no reason to think that they do not say correctly—that they can build more cheaply than local authorities. Let us assume that a house which the authority can build for £1,000 can be built by them for about £750 and can be let for a similar rent; but still, making all those allowances, there is nothing in it for them. You may say costs ought to come down. Well, there it is. If the Government have a system by which they can reduce the cost of building to about a half, which was the cost before the war, you would solve a great many problems. The great difficulty everyone has to face there is that the cost of building is really the cost of labour, and you cannot put back the clock. You are not going to get working builders, especially after the war, when there will be a great shortage of labour, to accept a great reduction of their present rate of wages. I do not know how you are going to solve that problem. It seems to me a very serious one.

There are one or two things I want to add about the Rent Restrictions Acts which are worth considering, and some of which, perhaps, are not present to your Lordships' minds. I have said that the Acts are terribly unjust. With regard to that, I would like to point this out. It is important to bear in mind, as regards houses that are going to be built after the war, that there will be three distinct classes of dwelling-houses of the type we are thinking of which will be found side by side or in adjoining streets. The first class will be those which are controlled at rents far less than the current rents—namely, at about 4s. 6d. a week and sometimes even less. The tenants of these controlled houses have the great advantage of certainty of tenure. Their rent cannot be put up. If a tenant dies, his wife can go on as tenant, and if she dies the children can go on as tenants. For many years, therefore, that house would be rented at 4s. 6d. a week. That is the first class. The second class is the class of decontrolled houses, which are not very numerous because the houses that were decontrolled on September 1, 1939, come under the 1939 Act. To make my statement accurate, I must mention that these houses may be let at comparatively low rents, but they offer no certainty of tenure, being decontrolled, and the owner can raise the rent. To-day they are, in all probability, let at a fair rent. I come to the third class. These are the houses built by the local authorities with the assistance of subsidies and rates. These give no certainty of tenure because the local authorities can turn out their tenants as soon as their month, or whatever it is, is up and they can increase the rent when they like. They will start by being let, and they are now let, at wholly uneconomic rents. The want of certainty of tenure may mean that the tenants will not like them quite so much, but they are let at rents far lower than the present builder under private enterprise would have to fix.

It cannot be right to let these different classes of house side by side, or in close proximity, at such enormously different rents. You could have one house let at 4s. 6d., and another house beside it let at 16s. That is unjust and unfair and leads to great dissatisfaction. If the State comes to the conclusion that the proper thing is that occupants of houses of this kind ought to have half their rents paid by the State, and the Legislature chooses to agree, let us face it and let us get half the rents, in one way or another, paid straight away by the State in the case of houses of that kind—or out of the rates, I do not care what the machinery is at all. What I object to is that John Doe should be paying 4s. 6d. a week, and Richard Roe next door should have to pay two or three or four times as much. That has a very bad effect.

The noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, who knows a great deal about this subject from his great experience, is unable to be here to-day because, unfortunately, he is not well. He wanted to speak in this debate, but what he suggests and has asked me to put to the House is that one of the bad effects of the Rent Restrictions Acts is the way in which they immobilize labour. He adds: If we are going to catch up, you will agree with me that labour after the war will have to he more, not less, mobile than before. The present position is that the whole country is dotted with cases where the tenant has got in perhaps twenty years ago on terms which were even then favourable but which by now are an overwhelming inducement to him to stay where he is regardless of where his work may be. Such a man will not go away. The difference between his standard rent and the normal pre-war rent may be as much as 20s. a week, and the tenant naturally says that that takes a lot of earning. 'If I possibly can I shall stay here.' I believe that is absolutely a sound observation, and I do not believe the Government have any answer to it whatever. We cannot go on like this.

Let me mention another thing. Under the present régime, when the war began, a large number of people were sent away from London into fairly distant places. Your Lordships will all be aware of messages of a disagreeable character that came from Llandudno. Many of these people are coming back to live in houses in the suburbs and neighbourhood of London. The Acts provide that if the owner of a house wishes to return after having let his house—and all these houses have been snapped up by factory workers and others—some regard should be had to the fact that it is the landlord himself who wants to return. There the Act provides that the Court may make an order which enables the owner to get his own house if the Court is satisfied, having regard to all the circumstances, including the question whether other accommodation is available to the landlord or tenant, that greater hardship would be caused by. refusing the order or judgment than by granting it. Now your Lordships may be surprised to hear that in many County Courts, where this matter is heard day by day when the Court is sitting, half the time of the learned Judge is occupied in dealing with cases where owners want to come back to their own houses and where the tenant is saying: "Great hardship will be caused to me if you make the order as I am here working in a factory in the neighbourhood." The result, as I have been informed by someone well acquainted with the facts, is that in many cases of these people who want to get back into their own houses the landlord has to get a lodging in one house, his wife perhaps in another, and his one or two children in a third, and it is in the pure discretion of the Judge whether he will make an order or not. These men were sent away by the Government. They did not go willingly; they had to go. Now they have got to come back to perform the same State service. Yet they are suffering this intolerable burden and, as I think, injustice which, if the people in charge of this matter had been a little more far-seeing, might have been foreseen.

I will now give one other example of how the Act sometimes operates. This is the case of Davies versus Warwick, of which the noble Viscount on the Woolsack is very likely aware. It was reported in 1943, I King's Bench, at page 329. I have told your Lordships roughly how the standard rent of a house is to be determined. After the 1939 Act it was not so very easy by reading the Act to find that out, because you had to look first at the Increase of Rent Act, 1920, then you had to look at several Mortgage and Rent Restrictions Acts, then you had to look at Section 3 and Schedule 1 of the Rent and Mortgage Restrictions Act, 1939. Now in this case the house was let as long ago as 1916 at a rent of 3s. 9d. per week and it was properly raised, owing to circumstances I need not go into, to 4s. 3d. per week. The tenant left after being there a number of years and the owner went into possession. The owner was in possession in May, 1939, and he was still in possession when the Act of September 1, 1939, came into force. Therefore the owner was in possession of a house which had previously been let at 4s. 3d. per week.

As luck would have it a month after the Act came into force he unfortunately let the house to the plaintiff Davies at the then current rate, as I understand it, of 12s. 6d. per week. The plaintiff Davies paid that rent, 12s. (3d. per week, for ninety-seven weeks without complaint. As far as I know this was the current rent of such a house, but some clever person said: "Oh, hut this house was once rent restricted. Inasmuch as the standard rent in your case is the rent at which the house was last let before September 1, 1939, and as the landlord was in possession on that date, that original rent is the standard rent of the house." So the man went to the Courts. The learned County Court Judge took one view, the Court of Appeal took another. The final order was that the standard rent of the house was 4s. 3d. a week; consequently the landlord was to repay ninety-seven times the difference between 4s. 3d. and the 12s. 6d. at which he had let the house. There is nothing to show that this man was rich. Very likely he was not richer than his tenant, because tenants very often get very decent wages in these days and landlords very often, notwithstanding what people sometimes say, own one house or a couple of houses which represent the whole of their property in the world. That at any rate was the result of this case and this tenant got back payment of rent for ninety-seven weeks. He and his wife and children will be able, unless the law is altered, to go on paying 4s. 3d. a week for a house which is worth at least 12s. 6d. a week.

That is an example of the working of these Acts, and I am quite sure I am not going to hear any complacency with regard to that feature of the case from the noble Viscount who replies for the Government in this debate. The Lords Justices, in their judgment on that case, referred to the hasty and ill-considered language which had been used in the framing of the Act of 1939. They pointed out that the Judge was given no discretion even if tenants of identical houses were paying much more rent than the so-called standard rent, and no discretion if the first letting was at a low or nominal rent, or even if the first letting was at a low rent because the tenant had to pay for repairs. It does not matter. The law applies, like the law of the Medes and Persians. The first letting, fortunately, is one that does not go back 500 years, but it is one going back a good long time, the letting being one at a ridiculously low rent having regard to present circumstances, for next door there may be a tenant of a local authority house who is paying the full value for it. I do not think I want to take up any more time. I have given your Lordships a fair sketch of the position and of the great injustice which is being caused by these Acts. Now I want merely to say this. I hope that the Government will think fit not only to consolidate but to amend these Acts. I think they ought to consolidate them because they are unintelligible as they stand, unless you are willing to spend many hours at a time in going through fourteen different Acts and seeing whether you can understand them. An ordinary person cannot do it. If I may be allowed to speak of myself, I have spent a very long time trying to appreciate these Acts and I am far from convinced that I understand them now. It may be said that there is every reason why things have gone on in this way with regard to rent restriction legislation. Of course recently there has been a great deal to do and there is a war going on, tout before the present war there was plenty of time for the consideration of these matters.

I wish to conclude my observations by saying what I have long felt about legislation in your Lordships' House and, so far as I know anything about it, about legislation in another place. It is absolutely wrong to put before any legislative chamber an amending Bill where there are four or five and, still more, where there are a dozen previous Acts which have to be read before you can understand the amendment, and to put it before your Lordships without any accompanying Paper to tell you exactly what will be the result of the amendment. With nothing to show that, it may very well be that, in order to discover the inequity which is involved in the case with which I have just been dealing, your Lordships would have to spend two or three hours in examining the legislation. That really is not just to your Lordships, and matters are getting worse and worse every day. The complexity of legislation is such that I, who have spent years in the law, am constantly finding when I see the Order Paper and get a copy of an amending Bill that I am absolutely unable to find out what it is about. The Bill may be passed through this House and through another place without any comment at all. That is not the way in which legislation should be passed. One thing I feel very strongly ought to be done, and it is this.

When you have to amend an Act it ought not to be done by legislation referring you to Acts, and to the Schedules of previous Acts, which you cannot get without great difficulty. It ought not to be done in that way. There should be consolidation and when an amending Bill is put before your Lordships it should be possible readily to discover what it is you are asked to put into law. An amendment of that sort cannot be made perhaps during the war, but I am sure the system of legislation by reference is wrong and I am sure that the presumed power, the imagined power of the Houses of Parliament to understand legislation before it becomes law, is being scoffed at so to speak by this system of cleverly drawn amending referential Bills which none of us have a chance of understanding. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That in view of the great complexity of legislation in relation to rent restriction it is desirable to pass an amending and consolidating Act without delay when the findings of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Rent Control are known.—(Viscount Maugham.)

VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER, who had given Notice that he would move as an Amendment to the Motion as it stood on the Order Paper to leave out all the words after "desirable" and insert "to pass an amending and consolidating Act without delay when the findings of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Rent Control are known," said: My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble and learned friend for having accepted my Amendment, and I have much pleasure in supporting his Motion in the form in which it now stands. I feel that your Lordships have great confidence in the noble Viscount who is Chairman of the Committee which is now sitting. His knowledge and experience on this matter are considerable. We have also complete confidence in those serving with him on the Committee, and so it seemed to me wiser not to press at present for consolidation or other action but to wait for the findings of the Committee.

My noble and learned friend has covered the ground with such ability and so fully that he has saved me the necessity of saying part of what I intended to say. Your Lordships may remember that some months ago I ventured to bring this matter before the House on the basis that in some cases the law was inequitable to owners of controlled property. I put it as low as I could. Since that happened I have enjoyed a large volume of correspondence and also, perhaps, a surprising and fleeting popularity not always accorded to members of your Lordships' House. That correspondence has urged me to address your Lordships again. Not one single letter have I received from a tenant saying the law was harsh or that his position was an unfair or an unhappy one. That, I suggest, is very remarkable. When I put my original Motion down one member of your Lordships' House, for whom if I may say so I have the greatest regard, suggested that I should not proceed with it, and that this House was not the proper place in which to defend the rights of property. It is a very remarkable thing that when everybody could have written and said "Here is an unpleasant person defending the rights of property," not one single person did so. But many people, some of them small men, men in humble circumstances who had put their savings into house property, wrote to me and urged me to take up the matter again. That is a significant fact which I hope will not escape your Lordships' notice.

I do not propose to quote any of these letters, but if you will allow me I should like as briefly as I can to mention as an example a case rather on the lines of the case quoted by my noble and learned friend and perhaps a little more striking in its consequences. The case was brought to my notice by the County Court Judge who dealt with it. A policeman in 1939 had two years to serve before he retired. He had £800 saved. That was all he had. With these savings he bought a house with vacant possession He let it for a year certain and after that quarterly. He let it at £50 a year, a rent fair at the time, which the tenant was glad to pay. The moment the tenant was in he started to examine his position under the Rent Restrictions Acts. Indeed, for all I know, he may well have been advised before he made the agreement and may have known his position before-hand. Having taken advice what does he find? This house was not first let on 1st September, 1939. Therefore he can go back to the last rent of £13. The policeman, having retired, gave notice to determine the tenancy under Common Law. The tenant of course refused to go. The unhappy policeman then went to the County Court to ask for an order for possession. Under the First Schedule of the Act of 1933 he has to prove that his hardship is greater than that of the tenant. The County Court Judge who dealt with the matter tells me he would have liked to have decided in favour of the policeman, but what could he do? The policeman is a retired man. He can live in Scotland, or Cornwall or where he likes. The policeman is therefore left in a position not very satisfactory for someone who with care and providence has tried to find a home in his declining years. He has lost his savings and his house as well.

What I am going to say now is not the sequel to the story, but it is the conclusion which the story might have The tenant is quite free to go to the owner of the house and say: "Look here. I am in. My rent is £13. You cannot possibly get me cut. Therefore the house is worth nothing. Who wants a house let at £13?" In such a case the owner might decide, as other people whose investments have been unfortunate might decide, to cut his loss. He might sell the house to the tenant for, say, £200. But the tenant is perfectly free to get out. He may find someone who wants the house for his own use and sell it to him at the market price, which may be £1000 or more, every penny piece of which he can. retain and nothing goes to the original landlord. That shows the way in which this Act can fall with grievous hardship on owners of smaller property controlled by these Acts. These people are small owners in many cases, and often people of good will. I wish to emphasize that there is good will. It is wrong to think that the landlord is always a harsh man out to oppress his tenants. There exists in the country a real measure of good will between landlord and tenant, or it did exist until the position became what it is now. But even with the best intentions the landlord may not be financially able to repair his cottages. If he cannot do it, the result is, of course, that they fall into disrepair, and this at the very time that every habitable house that we have should be kept in a proper state to live in. The cost of repairs is such that the matter is often quite beyond the landlord's scope. And not only that but when he does do some repairs he may often have to use some inferior substitute material which means that the work, before very long, has to be done all over again.

That has covered two of the main causes of hardship under these Acts. I would like now, if I may, to show a way in which I think these Acts operate in a manner quite other than that which was intended. It is not only that they tend to allow these houses to fall into disrepair and become uninhabitable. Take the case of an owner of property controlled at an uneconomic rent which has been destroyed by enemy action. What inducement has he to rebuild? If the War Damage Commission accept liability in full he will have to wait many months before he receives payment. But his builder will expect to be paid by instalments as the work proceeds, so that the landlord will have to find many hundreds of pounds on which he will lose interest, and in the end he will find himself back in the same unsatisfactory position from which he started. There is, therefore, I say, no inducement for such a man to rebuild.

This gives me the opportunity to call attention, if your Lordships will allow me, to an error which, I think, crept in when this matter was last before you. My noble friend Viscount Mersey was dealing with the point that these Acts do tend to restrict building. He was speaking of agricultural cottages, and he said that even if you got a licence and you had the material you would not build these cottages to let at 3s. a week. My noble friend Lord Snell corrected him by saying that in the case of a new house it can be let for what you like, and that becomes the standard rent. That may be so, but it was not so in the case with which my noble friend Viscount Mersey was dealing. He was dealing with an agricultural cottage built by an employer for one of his own people. In such a case the only rent that can be received is that allowed by the Agricultural Wages Board, which is usually 3s. a week. A friend of mine in another place built one before the war at a cost of £750. He is not likely to repeat the experiment for so small a return. Now that is what is happening at the very time when we are told by the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, that 30,000 of these houses are wanted.

One other aspect of the matter with which I should like to deal is that of possession, which is covered by Sections 3 and 4 of the Act of 1933. The landlord can regain possession if the tenant defaults. But, in such a case, only too often when the landlord seeks an order the tenant pays something off the arrears or promises to do so, and the order is suspended. I have no wish to be harsh or hard towards people who have fallen into difficulties. To do so would be contrary to my nature and to my training. But, at the same time, one has to remember that all these landlords are not prosperous people, that the excuses for not paying the rent which are put forward may not always be genuine, and that there may be many other potential tenants, honest people, urgently needing these houses who cannot get possession. The landlord is also entitled to regain possession in case of overcrowding or sub-letting the whole of the property without his consent. In the former case, all too often owing to the shortage of houses the provisions of the Housing Acts are ignored. In the case of sub-letting it is only too easy for a tenant to retain technical possession of one room. That takes him outside the provisions of the Act and in such a case he can sublet. He can still more easily avoid the Act by taking in lodgers, which is a profitable thing to do, and the consequent wear and tear and damage have to be made good by the landlord who, of course, receives no penny piece of reward in regard to the lodgers. Such licence, in fact, is allowed to the tenant, so much is he able to do that certain well-known words spring to my mind. They are from the lines of Virgil in which he describes the boat race. If I might be allowed to attempt a very lame translation, I would say: "To them all things are possible because they seem so." That appears to me to be only too often the position of the tenant.

There is just one last aspect of this question of possession on which I should like to touch. It is an important matter. It has been brought to my notice and I have been asked to call your Lordships' attention to it. Consider the case of those living in a vulnerable area—on the coast, for example—before the war, before the passing of the 1939 Act. In many instances such people left the coast and let their houses at a very low rent. They now find that that abnormally low rent has become the standard rent. They further find that if they wish to regain possession of their own property they cannot do so unless they prove greater hardship. In the assessment of hardship, when the balance is held as between landlord and tenant, the tenant is entitled to say: "Because I have got accommodation at a low rent I cannot get alternative accommodation at a similar cost." That means that the landlord has, by conceding such a low rent, defeated his own attempt to get back into his own house. That, surely cannot be just.

I wonder if your Lordships have considered this question in relation to men in the Services. Many of these men have young wives, they have asked those wives to live with their mothers or with their mothers-in-law, and they have let their own homes. Their little homes have been let, and after some years of service overseas these men are anxious to come back and to restart their home life in their own homes. Can they get possession of their houses? As the law stands, they have to prove greater hardship. If they have one child and the tenant has three, or if for any other reason the County Court cannot give possession, they fail to get pos- session of their own houses. Now that has caused a very large measure of dissatisfaction amongst those of our men in the Services who are aware of the position. The matter has been raised in another place, but with the law as it stands no satisfactory answer can be given.

I fear that I have detained your Lordships at some length, certainly for a longer time than is customary with me. I would, however, say one other thing. I do not wish your Lordships to feel that in speaking as I have done I do not accept the principle of rent control. I do accept it; I consider it essential in times of national crisis. Nor would I have it thought that I am seeking to advance the interests of one class of the community against those of another. I am not. I am only hoping to see justice done in so far as that may be possible. I feel that we may leave this matter with safety to the Committee now dealing with it in the hope that, when their findings are known, His Majesty's Government will, without delay, introduce a measure which, while effecting this purpose, may yet be somewhat fairer in its provisions.


My Lords, there was a final observation made by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, to which I wish to subscribe—namely, that the complexity of our legislation is now such that every effort should be made to make that legislation intelligible to the ordinary citizen whose conduct and action are to be guided and affected by it. I believe that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack could render no greater public service in the high office which he holds than by devoting his conspicuous talents and high intelligence to the task of seeing whether it is not possible to simplify legislation as it comes before Parliament and, by consolidation, to simplify it when it has already come before Parliament, and when a number of Acts relate to very much the same subject-matter. I believe that that would be a very real public service of conspicuous value, and the more so when the legislation affects the lives and conduct of the great masses of the people.

It is, as the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, pointed out, almost impossible for the citizen, whether he be landlord or tenant, to ascertain what his rights are under the legislation relating to rent restriction. There are no fewer than nine principal Acts of Parliament relating to this subject passed since 1920, apart from some seven or eight other Acts of Parliament to which reference has to be made in particular circumstances in order that rights may be ascertained. These again are supplemented by a round dozen of Statutory Rules and Orders applicable to the same subject-matter. In the book which I have before me, this legislative matter is brought together under one cover. The Statutes themselves occupy thirty-eight pages of close print, and the Statutory Rules and Orders a further fifteen, so that there are fifty-three pages of closely-printed and highly-complicated matter which the citizen has to consider before he can ascertain his rights. It would be fruitless to suggest that it is sufficient that he should look at any one of these Statutes—or at any of the Statutory Rules and Orders, but I shall confine myself to the Statutes—because the later Statutes amend in various particulars the earlier Statutes. They not merely supplement them but amend them, and it is necessary, in order that rights may be ascertained, for the whole of the legislation to be considered by those who have to ascertain their position.

It is an impossible task, and I was delighted when I saw that the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, supported by the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, had put down a Motion calling for consolidation. I should like to see the principle of consolidation carried a great deal further. It is not rent restriction alone which is ripe for consolidation. I know that the noble and learned Lord Chancellor has seen to it that even in this last Session of Parliament there has been consolidation in important branches of the law, and I am hopeful that he may think that it would be a good thing to clear the ground for the post-war period by extending his activities so far as consolidation is concerned, and so far as the task does. not overwhelm the draftsmen, who in these days, I know, are already hard pressed.

Having made that appeal to the Lord Chancellor, an appeal which I hope may gain some response, I turn to the Motion and the Amendment before your Lordships' House in their particular terms. I have already said that my noble friends support the principle of consolidation, and indeed they urge it upon the Government. For myself, I should have thought that it would perhaps be better to consolidate before amending, because it is far easier for the draftsmen to amend and for the Legislature to understand the amendments when new legislation comes before them if there is first a consolidating Statute bringing the whole of the existing law under one cover. I should have thought that that would be better, since consolidation is normally the basis upon which amendment is founded. However, the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, has accepted the Amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, and I shall certainly not quarrel with him on that.

I thought that the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, gave some indication that he was giving consideration to this matter over a field wider than that of rent restriction alone. I thought that he was, if he will forgive me for saying so, showing a tendency in his speech to raise the whole question of housing policy and of the relative advantages and disadvantages of municipal and private enterprise. I thought that he was inclined rather to undermine the whole purpose of the Rent Restrictions Acts, and I was glad to hear the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, state that for his part he supported the principle of these Statutes.


My Lords, I should like to say that I quite agree with Lord Buckmaster that there must be rent restriction.


I am very glad to have elicited that statement from the noble and learned Viscount. We must understand how these Rent Restrictions Acts came into being at all. They had their origin not in any question of profound principle or long-sighted policy, but rather as an immediate means of meeting an emergency when it arose in the middle of the last war, when there was so great a shortage of houses and a definite indication that certain persons were inclined to take advantage of their economic position to squeeze out the small man from his home or to squeeze an undue rent from the small man's pocket. Parliament intervened with a view to stabilizing the position, and the code of legislation comprised in the Acts of 1920 to 1939 follows upon that legislation initiated for a temporary purpose and to meet an immediate need in the middle of the last war. It is noteworthy that legislation now on the Statute Book in this matter is of a temporary nature. The term of the various Statutes is limited. The latest, the Act of 1939, operates, speaking in general terms, up to the end of the present emergency.


Six months after.


I beg pardon, six months after the end of the present emergency; but my purpose was to point out that the legislation was of a temporary nature. I think it would be worth while for the Committee of the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, to consider whether legislation should continue in the future on a temporary basis for a period of years at a time, or whether it should become a permanent part of our legislation. It is a matter upon which at this moment I express no definite opinion: I throw it out as a suggestion worth the consideration of the noble Viscount's Committee. It is of course the fact, as the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, has pointed out, that in the course of time these Statutes have in some particulars affected some landlords adversely, but the purpose of the legislation was to protect the tenant. It may very well be that, when one has regard to the fact that the pre-war standard has to be ascertained by reference to a date so far past, the time has come when one should reconsider the basis upon which the standard rent is to be ascertained. I will say no more on that point, except that we shall keep an open mind upon that aspect of the matter.

There is no doubt that a great deal of hardship has been involved in one way and another. The noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, stated, to my surprise I must confess, that he had had no communications except from landlords. My experience has been a little different. I was for a long period until relatively recently in a position where my responsibilities involved my considering a vast number of cases brought to me by members of the Forces—all three Forces. Quite an appreciable proportion of the time and energy and skill of the organization for which I was responsible was concerned with the protection of the rights and interests of the members of the Forces under the Rent Restrictions Acts. Let it not be thought that I am for a moment suggesting that landlords have no justification for complaint, and experience no difficulties. I only mean that I myself, in the capacity to which I referred, have merely met with the difficulties experienced by tenants. I think that many of the difficulties that have arisen have been due to no ill will or bad faith; they have been due to ignorance—ignorance arising out of the complexities of legislation which is so difficult to understand. I have every reason to believe from my own experience that notice to quit, for instance, is quite often given and accepted through ignorance of rights and obligations. Ignorance is often the reason for overcharge on the part of a landlord, and ignorance is equally the reason for failure to challenge the overcharge on the part of a tenant.

I wonder whether your Lordships fully appreciate the genuine difficulty there is, for instance, in ascertaining standard rent, especially the standard rent for the pre-1919 houses, where you have to apply a formula which needs reference to historical data often of a far distant period, forgotten and unrecorded. My noble friends feel that it is essential that facilities for ascertaining the standard rent should be greatly extended, and that it should be a statutory duty on local authorities to keep a register, open to landlords and to tenants, showing houses and their standard rents. That is thrown out as a suggestion to Lord Ridley's Committee. I see opposite me the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe. He has had great and wide experience with the Citizens' Advice Bureaux, which have rendered an invaluable service to the private citizen. In discharging my responsibilities to the organization to which I have referred I have found that the Citizens' Advice Bureaux throughout the country have experienced just the kind of difficulty with regard to these Statutes of which I have been speaking.

With regard to the 1939 controlled houses I would throw out the suggestion that it may be worth while to consider the creation of something in the nature of fair rent courts, where there should be a procedure, not of too rigid or legalistic a character, but, to use a phrase which I believe has become applicable in some instances nowadays, a procedure with an atmosphere of regulated informality, where the little man, whether landlord or tenant, could have his rights as regards rent adjusted. The fair rent courts might have the responsibility of deciding on the rents of houses which do not come under the 1920 legislation and, in prescribing the rent, should have regard to the rents prevailing in the neighbourhood. Then there is the question of the enforcement of obligations for repair and the like. These are matters that might well be brought within the purview of something in the nature of a fair rent court. There again I throw out the suggestion of a fair rent court for the consideration of Viscount Ridley's Committee.

Another matter to which that Committee will doubtless direct its attention is that of sub-letting. There is also the matter that has become, I shall not say a crying scandal, but has given rise to great anxiety, and that is the rents at which furnished houses and furnished rooms are let. There again I throw out tentatively the suggestion for the consideration of the Committee, that the rent of furnished houses and furnished rooms should be what the controlled rent would be if they were unfurnished, together with a reasonable and fair percentage for the furniture comprised in the furnished letting. We must get away from the idea that one can, so to speak, contract out of the Acts by putting a few sticks of furniture into an unfurnished room and letting it on the footing that it is furnished. I have attempted to indicate a few of the matters that my noble friends think well worth consideration by Viscount Ridley's Committee. My noble friends look forward with interest to the report of that Committee, and will study its conclusions with the greatest care with a view to ensuring that, subject always to maintaining the principle of the Rent Restrictions Acts, legislation is put on the Statute Book which is as simple as may be to understand and as fair as may be as between landlord and tenant.


My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships who have listened to the debate will be grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, and the noble Viscount, Lord Maugham, for their speeches. The greatest credit is due to Lord Buckmaster for having brought this question before the House, and I am sure he will be thanked, not only by the members of the House when legislation is brought in, but by a great many members of the public who are concerned with this matter. The noble Viscount, Lord Maugham, gave us a magnificent review of the situation which I am not going to attempt to follow, but which shows the complexity of these Acts. It shows how extremely difficult these Acts are. I was very much interested, as all who listened must have been, in the suggestion he made that legislation by reference should as far as possible be abolished. It cannot be done away with altogether. I am sure that my old friend who used to sit here beside me—Viscount Bertie of Thame—would have rejoiced to hear Lord Maugham's speech. He was always so keen on that point and always bringing it to the attention—I am afraid without much effect—of those responsible for drawing up our Acts of Parliament.

Let us consider for one moment the two great factors in this debate. On the one hand, there is no doubt a genuine and natural grievance on the part of landlords who possess property that they are not getting a fair deal. We have heard of these instances, and I am perfectly sure that no one who has heard the cases can fail to sympathize with them. On the other hand, as the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, rightly said, there is the case of the tenants, the case of the Service men, and their grievances, which are equally great. The Minister of Health asked the local authorities of this country, in a circular very recently, to go into the question of the Rent Restrictions Acts. Most local authorities have set up committees to inquire into these cases, and what do they find? In very few cases can anything be done. The case of the furnished apartments was admirably put by the noble Lord, Lord Nathan. It is a perfect scandal the way that goes on. A man gets out of the Act, and charges what rent he likes. He snaps his fingers. The local authority is appealed to and they can give no redress whatever. Then there is that other great question of the standard rent. Local authorities have put up posters and published notices asking people with grievances to apply to them. The local authorities—especially the one of which I have the honour to be a member—have investigated the matter and they find that, under certain conditions, they are absolutely powerless because of the complexity of the Acts and also owing to the fact that all sorts of very difficult questions arise which they cannot settle. It has reduced the whole thing to a farce. Many of these tenants have a grievance, and they suffer in silence; they go on bearing these hardships. The same thing applies to the owners of property, especially the small owners, many of whom, like the retired policeman who has been mentioned in this debate, have invested their hard-earned savings in the purchase of small properties.

I am very glad that the Amendment put down by my noble friend Lord Buckmaster has been accepted by my noble friend Lord Maugham. I hope we shall get something done by this Committee. I hope that the Government will consider sympathetically the question of legislation as soon as possible. I see in front of me my noble friend Lord Snell. I had to press him very hard before he could make up his mind about this Committee. No doubt it was a difficult matter in these busy times to get so admirable a Committee together. At all events, I wish more power to the Committee's elbow so that they may produce something tangible on which legislation can be founded. Though this is a small House compared with what we are accustomed to, this is a very important subject, and I hope the Government will realize that a very great number of people are affected by these rent restrictions. It is impossible, as has been stated by all the noble Lords who have spoken, to do away with the Rent Restrictions Acts. I heartily agree. As your Lordships know, some form of control had to be promulgated in the middle of the last war, and there is no doubt there is a necessity for it, but I sincerely hope that speedy measures will be taken to bring about a new state of affairs.

I am not going into the question of rent courts; that is a matter for the legal authorities. It is something that is rather new in this country, and it may be that many members of the legal profession will consider it is going to bring more grist to their mill. Everybody who has spoken, except myself, has been a member of these learned Commissions. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will give us his able advice on the subject of whether this is going to be a good thing for the layman or not. At all events I think a great deal is required to be done, and should be done quickly. I hope his Committee will set to work and bring up a report for Parliament to scrutinize .at as early a date as possible. I also hope the views expressed by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, will receive the very earnest attention of the Government. We are all very grateful to Lord Maugham and to Lord Buckmaster for their excellent speeches on this very difficult subject.


My Lords, as another humble layman I often think that the Rent Restrictions Acts must be amongst the most popular pieces of legislation which have ever been put on the Statute Book. Tenants always outnumber landlords and, in a system of democracy like that which is the pride of our country, it is clear that the electorate will always favour any legislation which looks like producing what Mr. Gladstone called "the greatest happiness of the greatest number." Such legislation when it has once been passed has small chance of being reversed. My surprise is that we do not have a new Rent Restriction Act every year, putting under control all the houses of whatever rentals that have been built up to that time and regardless of the insignificant minority to whom the houses may nominally belong. If we do not do so it can only be due to a dim realization of the fact that there is another man, a man whose case is too little considered, a man who perhaps is not yet on the register, but whose interests ought not to be entirely neglected on that account. I mean the homeless man, the man who wants a house and who has not yet got one.

The trouble about the Rent Restrictions Acts is that they act as an absolute deterrent to the building owner from investing his capital in working-class property. The building owner builds a cottage and until that cottage is let it is his absolute property, but once that cottage is let it practically passes into the possession of the tenant. Notice to quit can be ignored, and if the County Court Judge is appealed to he will talk, as he is obliged to talk, about alternative accommodation. Nothing short of an earthquake will shift that tenant so long as he goes on paying his rent. But perhaps it will be said:

"Why should we concern ourselves with the building owner? Why not have all houses built by public authority?" Well, my Lords, there are, I suppose, two reasons. In the first place it has been found in practice that public authorities cannot move fast enough. But there is another reason. If a house is built by a public authority that public authority has the invidious task of selecting the tenant, of choosing the fortunate man who shall be entitled to live in an excellent house of which a portion of the rent is paid by his fellow-countrymen. He must not be too poor a man, otherwise he may not be able to afford even the moderate rent that has been fixed; he must not be too rich a man, else people will ask what excuse he has for housing himself at the public expense. He must not have too large a family. The Psalmist has told us: As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them. Nevertheless, he cannot have a council house lest by overcrowding it he turn the place into a slum.

These are some of the difficulties which have surrounded the London County Council on which I have had the honour to serve for the last twenty-two years. A steel-framed house costing £400—or rather I should say a pair of steel-framed houses costing £800 have recently been brought to the notice of the council. These may, or may not, be successful. Sudh a £400 house if let at 10s. a week would bring in 6½ per cent. to the building owner who is, of course, responsible for repairs, but I should doubt if even that will tempt private enterprise unless restrictions on dealing in house property are removed by Parliament. Even if new houses were not controlled there is the psychological aspect of the matter to be considered. Once bitten twice shy. What Parliament has done once Parliament may do again. Working-class dwellings are widely regarded as doubtful collateral. Several Committees have sat on this question of rent restriction. There is the Onslow Committee, the Marley Committee, the Ridley Committee, and now I believe there is another Ridley Committee sitting at this time. These Committees have all of them shown a tendency to recommend decontrol by easy stages. The Government of the day have agreed that decontrol should be progressive but the Government of the day have always been reluctant to make a start. It is pleaded in their defence that supply has not yet overtaken demand in the case of working-class houses. I should doubt if supply ever will overtake demand so long as we feel ourselves compelled to treat the building owner in this unfriendly manner.

The Motion and the Amendment on the Paper, I must admit, caused me some confusion, but now that I see that the two noble Lords, Viscount Maugham and Viscount Buckmaster; are in agreement and that they both want consolidation, I find it quite easy to agree with both of them. I offer them my respectful support because 1 believe that the homeless man is uppermost in their minds, as it certainly is in my own.


My Lords, I am very glad that the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, has agreed to the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Buckmaster. Although I most fully agree that the Rent Restrictions Acts need to be consolidated, I feel that it would be a pity if, once they were tackled, they were not also amended at the same time. 1 will not venture to follow Lord Maugham into the technical legal points that he has so ably explained, but as one of those unfortunate laymen who have to comply with these Acts, I would like to confirm the statement that they are quite incomprehensible to anyone not versed in the niceties of the law. Indeed, it is often hard to get a definite opinion upon them from those who are in the legal profession

But it is the way the Acts work out in practice to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention. I propose to confine myself to rural cottages. If I may say so, my noble friend Lord Buckmaster has covered the ground so very thoroughly in his most eloquent speech that I do not propose to discuss any other angle of the subject. In the first place I must make it clear that I fully realize that control of rents could not be done away with without causing rents to rise to a fantastic height, which cannot be allowed. I think, however, that it needs pointing out that rents are perhaps the only commodity that has not risen since the beginning of the war, whereas the expense to the owners who try to maintain their property has risen fully in pro- portion to the general increase in costs. I am sure that it must be the opinion of all your Lordships that the sooner the supply of houses becomes sufficient to allow the laws of supply and demand to operate equitably the better, but in this interregnum let us be sure that existing legislation does make it possible for landowners to build new cottages and to modernize their existing cottages. Certainly that is not the position at present, particularly in rural areas.

Indeed it is no exaggeration to say that the average country landowner, large or small, who seeks to keep his tenants even reasonably comfortable, would be much better off if he were to give away for nothing all cottages that he does not need for his own employees. That in most cases his sense of responsibility does not allow him to do, nor indeed to sell them for what they would fetch, is in my opinion very fortunate for both the economy and the amenities of the countryside. Certainly the owning of cottage property by responsible people is, on the average, a dead loss. The average maintenance expenditure on rural cottages—I am speaking now primarily of old cottages which from an amenity point of view it would be a great pity to allow to disappear from the countryside—is certainly not less than £8 per annum. I think it is probably more, but I want to be on the safe side. And that makes no allowance for improvements which are so badly needed in most cases. On the other hand the net rent, after deducting Income Tax and rates, if they are let at a rent inclusive of rates as they often are, is probably not more than £5 per annum on the average. If my two figures are correct, there is therefore a net loss of £3 per annum on every cottage. I think I have shown that existing legislation does not encourage any landowner even to maintain the standard of his cottages, let alone to improve them, but it would not be fair if I omitted to mention the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, which, before buildings costs rose to their present height, were a substantial help to those wishing to improve their cottages.

So far I have been speaking of cottages not required for employees, but the case in regard to agricultural labourers' cottages is little better but for another reason not connected with the Rent Restrictions Acts. The rent of a cottage occupied by an agricultural worker and owned or rented by his employer is normally deducted from his wages, and where this is so the amount of rent chargeable to the worker is limited, not 'by the Rent Restrictions Acts but by the agricultural wages authority, to a rent usually of 3s. per week inclusive of rates, although in some of the more enlightened counties this figure of 3s. can be increased to even as much as 6s. per week according to the number of rooms and the modern conveniences available. The difference between the normal rent of 3s. and what otherwise would be the rent of the cottage can therefore only be regarded as a subsidy on the wages of agricultural workers.

Thus to those who say that the value of the minimum agricultural wage is only 65s., I reply that there is a substantial hidden perquisite in the fictitiously low rent the agricultural worker pays for his cottage. And to those who complain that building agricultural cottages is not economic, I reply that the rent they fail to get as a return on their investment must be regarded as an addition to the wages they pay. In this case it is not the Rent Restrictions Acts but the Agricultural Wages Board that they must blame. Your Lordships may think this differentiation a mere quibble, but the point I want to make is that, if these matters are to be finally straightened out, it is not only the Rent Restrictions Acts which require amendment, but the amount which can be deducted from the wage of an agricultural worker in respect of the cottage ho occupies. No one welcomes the greatly increased wages of agricultural workers more than I do, but I do feel most strongly that it is equally important to provide all rural workers with thoroughly modernized cottages and I hope some encouragement will be given to all those who have the welfare of the countryside at heart to do so.


My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, when he began his speech said he did not think the wording of the Motion was of very great importance when he put it down. I must say that I and those with whom I am associated were rather worried about the limiting of the question to consolidation. We have learnt by experience that when a Bill is introduced for consolidation it is impossible to move any Amendment. Therefore we welcome the Amendment standing in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, and I am delighted to know that the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, accepts it. Consolidation is essential, but amendment is a matter of vital urgency. I am not going in detail into the matter, because it is being investigated by Viscount Ridley's Committee, and I am glad to say that the interests with which I am associated are giving evidence before that Committee.

There is, however, one point which I want to urge as being most important. The values and the costs and the general conditions on which the Rent Restrictions Acts were based and on which subsequent amending Acts—I think there are fourteen Acts—were based, have no relation at all to the values and costs and general conditions in existence at his moment. As a result of that we have got a very large number of injustices and anomalies at the present time which do make the question of amendment a really urgent matter. Before I sit down I would like to endorse the contention put forward by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, that a real clean-up—these are not his words, they are mine—a complete clean-up of the existing muddle of the Rent Restrictions Acts and of the position generally would assist enormously in encouraging private enterprise to play its essential part in providing the necessary houses after the war. I would just like to say once again—I have said it very frequently in the past—that without private enterprise playing that part which it can play after the war, you will not get the houses that are so vitally necessary.


My Lords, I had not intended to participate in this debate, particularly as I think that the ground has been very amply covered by those who have already addressed the House, but the fact that the noble Lord opposite, Lord Nathan, referred to the Citizens' Advice Bureaux in this connexion has induced me to say a few words. As Chairman of the Regional Advisory Committee for the Southwestern Counties of the National Council of Social Service, which, after all, brought the Citizens' Advice Bureaux into existence and supervises their conduct, I can tell your Lordships that on no subject amongst the many that are brought to the notice of the Bureaux are the inquiries greater in number or of greater gravity than those relating to these very difficult questions that arise out of the provisions of the Rent Restrictions Acts. I should like, in passing, to say that I do venture most earnestly to hope, in view of the fact that a very large number of Statutes are passed in our British Parliament—many of them legislation by reference and of great verbal complexity—affecting, very intimately, the comfort of, and meeting, or purporting to meet, the necessities of, the poorest classes in this country, that the Citizens' Advice Bureaux, which have been doing such admirable work in this connexion during the last two or three years, will be perpetuated after the war as permanent institutions, and that the voluntary element will be maintained. My noble friend Lord Nathan used the words "regulated informality." It is this element of informality which is of such enormous value when you are dealing with the great number of people not very well educated, certainly not learned in the law, who come to the Citizens' Advice Bureaux asking all sorts of questions affecting their rights—their rights in this democratic country under Statutes passed by the Imperial Parliament which are well nigh unintelligible to them and are only rendered intelligible when they can consult some legal authority. The Citizens' Advice Bureaux have been extraordinarily fortunate in having had the assistance of a considerable number of public-spirited professional lawyers who have been good enough to give their services free, in order to help to elucidate some of this complicated legislation.

For my own part, I most earnestly hope that legislation by reference will be curtailed, if not discontinued altogether, in this country. It may add to the emoluments of lawyers, but it certainly does not add to the simple execution of the Acts of Parliament in which it is to be found in such profusion to-day. Often in days gone by when attending annual meetings of the British Association, upon the Council of which I have served for many years, I protested against the use of scientific jargon in the addresses which were given in the various sections. I think that we have equal cause for protest against legal jargon and the ingenious complexities that are framed by the very shrewd legal staffs of the various Government Departments.

In conclusion, I only wish to say that in my own neighbourhood there has been brought to my notice two quite serious cases of injustice, one to the working population and another to a landlord, arising out of the Rent Restrictions Acts. The first relates to a man who was employed as an estate mason, and who had some trifling accident—a fall off a ladder, I believe. As an estate worker he was given an excellent house. The result of his accident was that shortly after his employment he became incapable of carrying out the work for which he was engaged. He continued to occupy one of the estate cottages which was very badly wanted in connexion with employment on the nearest farm, and, as he became convalescent, he obtained very highly paid employment in one of the war-time Government factories in the district. How that man is to be got out of the cottage goodness only knows. The cottage, as I say, is very badly wanted for an employee on a farm on the estate. The other case is a somewhat curious one. A lady, the widow of an affluent farmer—incidentally I may say that at the sale which took place after his death it was ascertained that this lady had become entitled to assets worth many thousands of pounds—by virtue of the fact that she was born in the neighbourhood in which I live, made a most pathetic appeal for accommodation to the owner of a certain villa, which became vacant, as having been formerly acquainted with the neighbourhood. Now that villa had, for a matter of something like fifteen years, as a matter of charity and philanthropy, been allowed to be the home of the widow of an old and respected estate employee, and it had been let to that person at £16 a year. When this lady, the widow of the farmer, came along, she consented very readily to pay £30 a year for the villa, which I may say is considerably less than the economic value of similar houses in the neighbourhood—and it is a semi-industrial neighbourhood. When, however, she was asked to sign an agreement to carry out her own undertaking she said: "No, I have consulted a local solicitor, and he says that under the Rent Restrictions Acts I need not pay more than £16, which is what the former occupant of this villa paid." The owner replied:" Very well; if you are going to claim your rights in that way, I am going to publish in the local Press the absolute lack of honesty which you have displayed in this transaction." She then signed the agreement. I mention that as an example of the baleful results which occur from the existence of this extraordinary, unfortunate, and ill-timed legislation.


My Lords, I think that the debate is reaching its conclusion, and I must say a few words on behalf of the Government before it comes to an end. It has become obvious in the course of this important and interesting discussion that what has moved most of your Lordships is the strong feeling that the law on the subject of rent restriction needs amendment, and various instances have been given which are felt to support that view. If, indeed, my noble and learned friend Lord Maugham had persisted in the language of his Motion, and had called for a Consolidation Act to be passed pending a reconsideration of the matter, I should have resisted that proposal altogether, very much for the reasons just mentioned by Lord Chesham.

In the first place, as we have asked my noble friend Lord Ridley and a very well-qualified Committee urgently to examine this very subject and report what should be done, it would, to my mind, be a very odd moment to choose to consolidate; because, although I agree with much of the speech of Lord Nathan, 1 am afraid I do not agree that the rule is to consolidate first and amend afterwards. The rule is exactly the other way about. There are many instances in which an Act of Parliament is passed, admittedly with many cross-references in it, in order to tidy up and make exactly right the law on a subject, and then, immediately afterwards, there is carried a Consolidation Act, already prepared, which will include all these final Amendments. To give an instance, that was done in the case of the Government of India Act, 1935, when a series of Amendments of a very complex and elaborate character was first carried, and that was immediately followed by a Consolidation Act which picked up the whole business and put it in a single Act of Parliament.

In fact I do not think that the Statutes now on the Statute Book about rent restriction lend themselves very easily to the process of consolidation. Consolidation is the right process where you have a consistent body of law which you wish to express in a single document, and it has been done in many cases, but these different Acts about rent restriction are of rather a different character, and no doubt that is the reason why they have been found in some respects crabbed and difficult to follow. Legislation on rent restriction is primarily needed to meet special conditions and difficulties caused by or arising out of war, and, of course, those conditions tend to vary from time to time. That is the real history of this legislation.

It is better—though very briefly, at this late hour—to begin at the beginning. The first Act was passed quite early in the last war. It was an Act of 1915, and it was carried because it was found, as some of your Lordships who were then with me in the House of Commons will remember, that under the conditions of war, with no building going on, with a shortage of houses and with a good deal of transfer of population, it was absolutely necessary to do something to secure that the smaller tenants should not improperly suffer. The original Act was in fact limited to houses in London with a rateable value of £35 a year, in Scotland of £30 a year, and elsewhere of £26. That was the Act which prevailed during the last war. Then, as the war was coming to an end, there was appointed a Committee, the Hunter Committee, presided over by Lord Hunter, a Scottish Judge, to examine the operation of this system and to recommend what should be done. In consequence of the Report of that Committee it was decided that the abnormal conditions created by the war were by no means over, and as a matter of fact the Act of 1919 doubled the limit of rateable value which formed the ceiling for the application of these restrictions.

There was yet another Committee, which has not been mentioned in this House to-day, presided over by 'no less a person than the Marquess of Salisbury, the Salisbury Committee of 1919. Governments have always thought, "We shall come to the end of this, and we want impartial advice as to how we can get to the end of it and when." The result of the Report of the Salisbury Committee was further legislation, which again raised the ceiling, to the figures quoted by my noble and learned friend Lord Maugham, of £105 in the case of London and so on. Even so, the hope and belief was that this was a temporary situation which would cure itself, and therefore the Salisbury Committee recommended that the Act should continue for three years and then there should be an endeavour to get free from these restrictions. It was in those circumstances that the Act of 1920 was passed. The result was that in 1923, three years later, although something was done in the direction of reversing the process, it was by no means brought to an end. The Act of 1923 freed houses as they came back into the possession of the landlords. The tendency was going the other way as the difficulties lessened. In 1933 there was another Act, which reduced still further the rateable value to which this restricted law applied, and then came the Acts of 1938 and 1939.

I make these observations not to repeat what was so well put by my noble and learned friend Lord Maugham, but to point out that really the history of these Acts is a history of changes made to suit changing conditions. When those conditions, owing to war, were particularly severe, the provisions of the Acts were more exacting, but efforts were made afterwards to 'reduce their severity, to lower the limits of rateable value to which they applied, and to give further rights to the landlord as the opportunity of getting back to an economic balance presented itself. That is the true history of these Acts. Anyone who is familiar in practice with the business of consolidation will say that not very much can be done by consolidating Acts of that character. It is true that you would put them into one Act of Parliament, but to consolidate them would merely be to write down over again those provisions which differ according to different dates and circumstances. As the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, knows very well—I apologize to him for mentioning the obvious—"consolidation" has a perfectly definite meaning. A Consolidation Act is, in its nature, an Act which does not amend the law at all, and that is the reason why, in our practice, as soon as we have carried a Consolidation Bill on Second Reading we do not deal with it in Committee of this House but send it to a Joint Committee of both Houses.

I am not surprised, therefore, that my noble and learned friend, always anxious to get to the real point and expound it, accepted the Amendment of Lord Buckmaster; and if I may, in a few sentences, protect the position of the Government, as I ought to do, I propose to accept it too. I think that the question which should be put to the House is: To move to resolve, That in view of the great complexity of legislation in relation to-rent restriction it is desirable to pass an amending and consolidating Act without delay when the findings of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Rent Control are known. Speaking for the Government I am perfectly ready to accept that, it being understood—this is of course obvious enough—that I am not pledging myself or the Government to accept the recommendations of a Committee which has not yet reported. I do not know what it will recommend. It may be it will recommend some system of rent courts, which was mentioned by one of your Lordships just now; it may be that it will propose to abolish this system altogether, it may propose to continue it with alterations—we none of us have the least idea. I naturally do not wish on this occasion myself to offer any opinion on any of these subjects. I only say that we, like the rest of the House, are anxiously awaiting the Report of this Committee, which is now taking evidence. We shall certainly without delay pay the closest attention to what the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, and his colleagues say, and we shall hope, as this Resolution in its amended form suggests, to be able to introduce legislation without undue delay to deal with this subject in a comprehensive fashion.

I think that is all I need say on this particular aspect of rent restrictions, but another topic—as so often happens—and a very interesting one, has been raised, and several of the noble Lords who have taken part in the debate have dwelt upon it. My noble and learned friend began it. He started the chase of that always stout old fox the obscurity of Acts of Parliament, and the undesirability of obscurity, and the great advantage of having them in nice plain English. I sympathize entirely with his view, and both he and I in times past have done our very best to secure that object. But I always feel when Parliament discusses this subject with so much fervour that in a sense are we not denouncing ourselves? Vous I'avez voulu, Georges Dandin! I will not commit the vulgar error of supposing that in that exclamation Molière wrote "tu." After all, Acts of Parliament are passed by Parliament; indeed if we descend to particulars, the Ministers who may be supposed to have a special responsibility for the form of Acts of Parliament are Lord Chancellors and Law Officers; and when I heard about the Act of 1939 as being one which was denounced as hasty and ill-conceived I felt quite anxious for the reputation of the person who held my office at the time when that Act was drawn and when the previous Act was passed.

The truth is that if you have legislation dealing with a complicated subject, it is likely to take a rather complicated form. There are some people who cannot look up a cross-country journey in Bradshaw, but there are means of tracing it through in the book and it is the journey that is complicated. But although I wish to make Acts of Parliament as plain as possible, I think myself that some of this criticism of draftsmen and of lawyers is just a shade overdone. My noble friend Lord Bledisloe, if he will forgive me referring to it—he told us in his speech that he came here never intending to make a speech at all, so he was speaking quite impromptu—referred to this subject. But is it really quite necessary to talk about legislation by reference as commendable in some eyes because it "adds to the emoluments of lawyers"? It is even suggested that Acts of Parliament are drawn, influenced by the "ingenious complexities of lawyers, framed by shrewd staffs in the Departments." Well, the Departments cannot speak for themselves, so I propose to say a few words in their defence.


What I wanted to say is that at least the Minister who is the head of that Department and who submits those Bills in Parliament may be taken to have endorsed the language of the Bill that he submits to the House, and I would only add further that what I was indicating was that the complexities in Acts of Parliament necessitate the employment of lawyers, whereas simpler language would probably enable the poorer layman to interpret the Acts without the necessity of paying a legal fee.


At any rate my noble friend—and he is in every sense my noble friend—will appreciate that it really is not the fact that Acts of Parliament presented to a modern House of Lords or House of Commons are ingeniously devised so as to add to the emoluments of lawyers or in order to gratify the ideas of shrewd legal staffs. Those who have been in office and who have taken part in recent legislation will know—I am sure it was so when the noble Viscount was in office—that the object of Ministers is to get the thing stated plainly. I am very willing at any time to accept a concrete criticism of obscurity, but I really think it is a mistake to treat the whole thing as a piece of wilful, elaborate confusion, sometimes described as a muddle, and sometimes described as quite incomprehensible.

There are some other considerations worthy of attention, and this is an important subject in which I take the greatest interest. It is to be remembered that up to the present Parliament has insisted on passing legislation on the principle of verbal inspiration. Every single word that is written down in any clause must pass the scrutiny of Parliament, not as a matter of substance but as a matter of detailed language, and anybody may move in page 6, line 10, after so and so to leave out "and" and to insert "but" without the slightest regard as to whether the change is going to make the matter more obscure. That is one thing that makes this drafting very difficult. Strong admiration is expressed in some quarters for the method obtaining in Canada whereby the Revised Statutes of Canada come up from time to time, but the question is how that is done. At suitable intervals the Parliament of Canada passes a law which authorizes the Governor-General to appoint a Commission of distinguished persons—I am much afraid there are some lawyers among them—who are told to take the Statute Book and, without altering it, to put the whole existing Statute Book in compendious form as the revised Statutes bearing the particular years' date, and they do so in many volumes—I have one in my hand. But how are the contents of that volume made law? They are not made law by passing every one of these sections through the Parliament of Canada. They are made law because the Parliament of Canada itself has legislated, and the Governor-General when he is satisfied that the whole collection represents the existing law, after a suitable interval declares it to be law. Of course, it is all done under the authority of the Parliament of Canada, but that is a very different thing from passing every single section of the Revision through Parliament.

The real question on the subject of the form of Parliamentary legislation is very much more whether our methods of legislation in these respects are suitable to modern conditions than the question as to whether or not some ingenious person behind closed doors has expressed the particular idea with needless complexity. I am prepared to admit, for example, that if one had a system like that of the continental Rapporteurs, so that a small Committee of both Houses at the end of the process of passing an Act of Parliament put in front of it an exposition explaining what Parliament really meant, it is conceivable that that might be of great assistance if it were lawful; but as long as you have to do these things in this very minute way you can see at once how difficult it is to satisfy the natural desire of everybody to get an Act of Parliament so clearly expressed that one need not look up any other Act of Parliament at all.

Therefore, without forming any final view, and repeating that I am myself immensely interested in the effort to get the Statute Book in the most intelligible and simple form, I think the matter has got to be looked at from a rather wider point of view than that of imagining that a number of Statutes have been needlessly complicated by putting in quite unnecessary references to something else. I am quite sure that the Government draftsmen, to whom we are all most deeply indebted, and who work as hard as any set of people in this country, are not engaged in trying to make the Statute Book more cryptic and difficult to understand, but do honestly try to state the thing in proper, clear, accurate terms. That it should be in legal terms means that, if the law has to be applied, it has to be applied as Parliament intended. These are the considerations that appeal to me, and your Lordships will excuse me if I make these observations with all possible good feeling. It would be a pity if, on each occasion, we are led to think it is a mere unnecessary complication in the drafting of Statutes that explains all our troubles.

That is all I wish to say. I am very happy to accept the proposal made by the noble and learned Viscount, which was supported by his interesting speech, and I am glad that he and my noble friend Lord Buckmaster have joined forces. We are most happy to accept the Motion, and the Government will look forward, like the rest of the House, to the Report of the Committee presided over by Lord Ridley in the hope that it will lead to prompt and united action.


My Lords, the Motion having been accepted in the amended form, it does not seem necessary for me to make any observations on what the Lord Chancellor said, except one. It should not be left as if there were no answer to his observation that if there is an obscurity in an Act of Parliament we ourselves are very largely to blame. The whole point of my observation is this. This House does not get a fair chance of considering the meaning of half the Bills that are brought before it. I am so absolutely convinced that that is so that I cannot accept what my noble friend on the Woolsack has said with regard to the matter, and I have a very strong feeling that an amendment will be necessary before very long.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned.