HL Deb 12 December 1945 vol 138 cc602-21

2.40 p.m.

VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER rose to call attention to the working of the Rent Restrictions Acts; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, so great is the pressure on your Lordships' time that in no circumstances would. I have put down the Motion standing in my name had I not felt that this question of rent control, linked as it is with the far bigger issue of housing, is one of the most important matters with which we are confronted at home to-day. After having heard the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, I enjoy a measure of relief that I have not been slaughtered, but as the subject is a somewhat ponderous one it may be that some noble Lords will not share the same feeling of relief.

This is a complex matter. There is a mass of confusing legislation—some thirty Statutes, nine of which are still in force. My noble and learned friend Lord Maugham has on more than one occasion drawn your Lordships' attention to the position. Many are the hard things which His Majesty's Judges have said about it. There exists a legal maze through which I have no intention of attempting to act as guide, even if I were competent to do so. In an attempt to find some solution, as your Lordships are aware, in 1943 a Committee was appointed under the Chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Ridley, which reported in the early part of this year. I am sure that all of us would wish to pay an ungrudging tribute to that Committee for their labours. Whether or not we accept in their entirety the findings of the Committee, there is one thing at least which I venture to think is universally accepted, and that is that the present mass of, if not conflicting, confusing Statutes should be swept away and replaced by a single consolidating Act. That has been recommended again and again; every Committee which has sat since 1920 has made the same recommendation. In a vital matter of this kind which affects so many people, in the face of recommendations such as these, surely we are entitled to ask the Government either for immediate legislation or the promise of a Consolidating Act without delay.

What do we find? When the Minister is pressed in another place on this matter, what does he say? He says: "Oh, I cannot give priority to rent control in my legislative programme, it must take its time; but I will try and deal with outstanding difficulties." In other words, we are to have a few more Statutes added to the thirty which have already been passed and a few more twists and turns are to be added to this maze in which so many of us have wandered and in which so many of us will still have to wander. I do not wish to be provocative, but if this matter is not going to have priority, when ex-Service men—Government supporters many of them—come home from their fighting, and when they find they have got to battle in the courts to get possession of a house which they thought was theirs, I hope it may be some consolation to them to realize that the nationalization of the Bank of England, at any rate, has been achieved!

Since this matter is to be dealt with piecemeal, there are only two points with which I propose to trouble your Lordships. The first is the need for an increase in standard rents to cover the increased cost of repairs. Your Lordships are well aware that controlled houses fall into two classes. There are houses controlled by the Act of 1939, which fixes the rent as on the 1st September in that year, and there are those which are controlled by the Act of 1915, which fixes the rent as on the 3rd August, 1914. It is true that by the Act of 1920 —I shall not weary your Lordships further with these Statutes—increases amounting to 40 per cent. were granted in the case of those earlier controlled houses if the landlord himself effected the repairs.

When we come to the question of the cost of repairs, I do not feel that your Lordships would wish me to weary you with detailed figures; you are all too familiar with them. I have here elaborate statistics, carefully checked for those who would like to examine them. With your Lordships' permission, I would like to give one short simple illustration, which concerns the question of repairing a short length of guttering. On the figures which I have, I am advised that in 1935 that would have cost 18s. 1d; that in 1943 the cost would have been roughly double, and that in 1945 the cost would be £2 2s. 9. Other comparable repairs have risen in like degree. But that is not quite the end of the story. All too often a landlord is unable to carry out those repairs at the time they ought to be effected, with the result that further damage is caused. A leaky roof may serve as an example. If the slates or tiles are not replaced the ceiling underneath is damaged and in the end collapses, so that the final cost by far exceeds the first estimate. There is also the not uncommon position, where a landlord, unable to obtain the materials he wants, is forced to buy costly substitutes, thus increasing his expenses and giving no added advantage to the tenant.

If the case for some increase in the standard rent of houses controlled by the Act of 1939 is, as I hope it is, a strong one, how much stronger must be the case for houses whose rents relate back to the 3rd August, 1914, or, if they were not let then, back to the last letting, whenever it may have been, and however low the figure. It is quite true that many landlords keep property of this type in excellent repair. There are many (if I may be allowed to say so, not least among them, members of your Lordships' House), who are glad to do this as part of the social service which they are happy to perform. One noble Lord told me that on the many hundreds of cottages which he owns he lost £3 a year on each.. I do not think you can for ever ask people to shoulder burdens of that kind.

However, be that as it may, what is the position of those who cannot afford to carry such a load? So many of these houses belong to people in humble walks of life, people who after years of patient service of one form or another have put their life savings into some form of property and who now, as they cannot afford the repairs, are forced to see their assets decaying day by day. The landlord is not the only loser; it is contrary to the interests of the whole community that any house should cease to be habitable because the necessary repairs cannot be effected. It might be argued that this position must be endured for a time, that a fixed term should be set to it. I cannot accept that, but even if it were so. where is the end, where is finality? The Ridley Committee have said that in their view rent tribunals should be appointed. Those tribunals, when appointed, are to spend three years in evening out rents. When that has been done another Committee is to be appointed to say what the cost of repairs should be at that future date; and then, and only then, is some percentage increase to be made: I should not be surprised if a landlord felt tempted to say: … Fortune and Hope adieu; Mock me no more, for I have done with you.

There is one other class of property where there is also, I think, strong ground for an increase. I refer to flats in blocks, which are let at a rent which includes services. Here again we are faced with steeply rising costs. If we take coal as an example, and think what coal and coke cost now and what they used to cost in 1939, we shall see that it is hardly fair to suggest that the landlord should continue to provide these services with no increase of rent. In addition, of course, in these cases he will be faced with the heavy extra cost of the wages of the employees who return to him. He may well be in a position where if he does not carry out these services he may be sued for nonperformance, or where if he does carry out his statutory obligations, and reengage his employees at their current wages, he may be faced with an expenditure which he cannot meet. Even the Ridley Committee, which has shown no bias in favour of landlords, agrees that here is an unanswerable case and urges that it should receive priority. That being so, I hope that my noble friend who is to reply will be able to give me some reassurance on this point.

Another point which wish to establish is the right of the owner to regain possession of his own house. I feel very strongly that where a man owns his own house he should be allowed to have it back. I am not asking any favour for the owner; I do not ask that a lease should be shortened to help him. All I ask is that if he has let his house for a term of years which has now expired, or on a tenancy which has ended, on proper notice, he should be allowed as a matter of right to have his house for his own use. As the law now stands he has to go to the court and satisfy the court that his application is reasonable, and that there would be greater hardship if it were refused than if it were granted. A position such as this is liable to give rise to most grave and gross abuse.

A common case, which I may say does not affect me in any way, is one where an owner living in a coastal area during the war does not like the outlook and gets out, taking his furniture with him. He says to some man: "I trust you. Will you look after this place and keep up the grounds and so on? If so, I will let it to you for the duration of the War at a trifling rent; I do not mind what you pay." The war ends, and the owner wants to come back; but he has to go to the court and establish greater hardship before he is allowed to do so. Very often he fails, not only because the new man may have taken up work in the place where he is living, but because this tenant does not scruple to use the reduced rent which he has been charged as a means of proving his case. He says, "Where can I get a house like this at such a rent? It would be hardship to turn me out."

I hope that your Lordships will allow me to make a short reference to a letter which I have received. I would never trouble your Lordships with an isolated case of hardship; I should feel it wrong to drive home a case on the ground that one person is suffering injury or damage.

I assure your Lordships that I have had dozens of letters all on the same lines. They are open to your Lordships' inspection if you so desire. This letter is from a State-registered nurse. She was going to retire on her savings, and she bought a bungalow in which her mother lived. When her mother died this nurse went on with her work and let the bungalow. When she retired, she took lighter work in a factory near her home. She gave notice to the tenant, but now she cannot turn him out. Nurses are not people who are given to writing in terms of hysteria, but her words are these: "I am heartbroken. I feel suicidal. It costs me £3 a week to live in Barnet and travel every day. Do please do something for me; do help me to get back my home." I say nothing more; I feel that anything 1 could add would diminish and not increase the appeal of a letter such as this, which is only one of many.

Strong though that case may be, there is, I suggest, a stronger case still, and I do hope that my noble friend who is to reply, whose heart, I know, is not naturally hard, will be able to give me some reassurance. It is the case of the returning ex-Service man. I know that it can be argued with force and effect that his position is no different from that of the man who has stayed at home and very often served his country ably and well: indeed one may say that all the people of this country have played their part. I admit that, of course, but I suggest that the cases are not the same, they cannot be compared. The one man, having stayed at home, has been able to keep in touch with his affairs, and, what matters infinitely more, he has been in contact with his wife and children. The other mart has been away, perhaps, for three years, and comes back to a wife whom he has not seen for that time; the baby he knew is now a child, and neither can recognize the other. The world which he knew has altered; he faces re-adjustments which are difficult and not without danger. His home life may break up unless he can renew it in the setting in which it started. The house which he bought was let because on his Service pay he could not afford to keep it up, or could not maintain the payments to the building society through which he was acquiring it. When he comes back, what does he find? He is told that he has at once to start a struggle in the courts the issue of which is uncertain and the cost of which he can ill afford.

I feel that there is a case here which cannot be answered, and I hope that my noble friend will agree with me. These things give rise to hard feelings and to bitterness. It may be that they cannot all be avoided. But we are entitled to ask two things: that out of this legal chaos order may be restored, and that, if under a system of rent restriction we cannot achieve a state of absolute justice, at any rate we shall use every effort to attain it. I beg to move for Papers.

2.59 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to support the Motion I should like to say that for my part I do not think that this is in any sense, however remotely, a question of Party politics. I am so interested in this subject that I shall not in the smallest degree make any harsh suggestions against the present Government, or for that matter the last Government. My one idea in the observations which I am going to make is to try to persuade noble Lords opposite who listen to me, and in particular the noble Lord who is going to reply, of the great urgency of this matter. It is a case, as my noble friend Lord Buckmaster has said, of the very greatest complexity. There are some forty odd questions which the Committee who reported in February last have had to answer, and I will take this opportunity of saying that, in my judgment, this elaborate Report of the Committee, of which my noble friend Lord Ridley has been the Chairman, is an admirable piece of work. Without, perhaps, accepting every detail of it, I am satisfied that, as a whole, is is a very useful contribution towards the betterment of a state of things which throws no credit on any of us. I think that the vast majority of the recommendations should be accepted and passed into law as soon as possible.

I have said that the case is important, and I should like your Lordships to have some definite knowledge—some of you, perhaps, have been away on war service, and, therefore, do not know what has been going on; others may have faulty recollections like myself—of the questions with which the debate is dealing. The importance of the matter can be judged from this. There are 11,500,000 houses in this country which are now controlled under the Acts to which Lord Buckmaster has referred. There are also 1,500,000 houses built by the local authorities of the country, which are not within the Acts at all at present. Accordingly, we are concerned with 11,500,000 houses in a country which is very, very short of housing accommodation, and, though there are no exact figures available, I do not believe that I should be very far from the truth if I said that not fewer than 30;000,000 people, at least, in this country, are affected by this matter of rents and security of tenure.

Here I would observe this: that since the Act which was passed at the outbreak of the war, the Act of 1939, the houses brought within control are not only the houses of what are sometimes called the working classes (with which term I associate myself as being a working man); I submit that the vast majority of the population, including what we sometimes call the middle classes, are concerned. As the figures now stand, to come within the scope of the Acts the rateable value of a house in the Metropolitan Police District of London must not exceed £100, and should not exceed £75 elsewhere. In Scotland the limit is £90 a year. Of course, that embraces not only houses for the working classes, but, equally, houses for the black-coated people, who do such great work in this country in keeping things going. I should add that since the passing of the Act of 1939 there have been practically no houses built owing to the war, so we need not bother about that.

We really have a vast question to answer. We are all putting our backs into the task of erecting houses now to meet the great lack of housing accommodation which exists in this country, and the problem is, are those houses to be under control or are they to be free? I have spoken of the 30,000,000 people who are concerned in this matter at the present time. But we are dealing also with alt those people who may be interested in the new housing, such as it is, when it is produced in time of peace. What are the Government going to do? We have heard from my noble friend that the idea is, perhaps, to attack some of these matters, and deal with them in a small interim Act, leaving the great and important questions to a later date. I cannot but think that that is a terrible conclusion to which to come, and I would strongly urge the Government to think again, and to see if they cannot find time, at any rate, to lay the foundation of the plan which the Report advocates. The rent tribunals cannot be set up at once, but something might be done with regard to arranging for the necessary machinery to be set up, appointing the requisite personnel and dealing with all the details generally. A beginning might also be made upon the by no means easy task of drafting an Act to carry these recommendations into force. All that will take time, and I hope to goodness that the Government are going to start to do it at once.

I have mentioned briefly what is proposed in the Report. I wish to say now that there are, in my view, three great matters which have got to be dealt with if the Report is to be taken into consideration. The first is, how are rents to be fixed in the future? Those who have listened to debates on this subject, or have read the reports of them, will know perfectly well that the disparity in rents of houses which are situated side by side, all over the country, is really almost beyond belief. You may have a house, with security of tenure, for which you are charged a rent—I am taking now the average of a large number of houses—of 6s. a week. There may be one next door held by a tenant who has got to pay £1 a week, although the houses are identical. That sort of thing, of course, is very bad for the mentality of the people who live in these houses. They cannot understand this great inequality. They are not able to study the nine Acts of Parliament which have puzzled learned Lords Justices in the Court of Appeal on many occasions. Those Acts would be absolute gibberish to them. They know nothing of the history of the development of this great inequality. Undoubtedly, it ought to be put an end to as soon as possible. The Report suggests—and I say that it suggests wisely—that there should be rent tribunals because there is no other way before us, in the present muddle that exists, than going right through all the houses and fixing the rents by means of these tribunals.

The next question is: Are new houses, built under housing schemes, which are in force, to be subject to rent control or not? Here the Report, after very careful consideration and weighing of all the facts, sets out the conclusion that in the new world which we have all been promised, and which we hope will materialize, there will not be any reason for rent control, and for new houses control would cause more difficulties than it would allay. They have decided that there should not be control of those houses. That is a vital point and it ought to be decided, if it were feasible, to-morrow because as we all know the Government have given up the notion of all the houses being built by the local authorities. The great question for a speculative builder is this: Will the house be subject to the Rent Restrictions Acts? Some of the best of them have said, and said quite openly, that they will not build a single house if it is to be subject to the rent restriction troubles inherent in those Acts. If, as I am sure is the case, the Government desire to get all the assistance they can from private building throughout the country, which is often very effective and cheaper than building by the local authorities, they will do very wisely by announcing as soon as possible that the new houses, built, if you like, with all the restrictions which the Housing Acts require, are not to be subject to rent restriction.

The third point would be this, in regard to the houses built by local authorities. Are these to be controlled or not? Well, by a majority the Committee have thought not and I think that that is a view which can well be accepted so far as I am concerned. It would create a still greater difficulty in the matter of building if the people concerned with building were told that houses built by the local authorities in the next five years were not to be controlled, but if the houses were built by an eminent firm of contractors, building owners, those houses must be subject to control. Accordingly, that third question had much better be settled at once.

I do not intend to go through the Report and its forty-five questions and the answers that have been given after the most elaborate and careful examination by the noble Chairman and his assistants. My noble friend Lord Buckmaster has dealt with the question of the increased cost of repairs and on that I will only say that if rent restriction is to continue to control houses for another ten years and if you do not take some steps to make repairs possible by the landlord, whoever he may be, you will be creating by the end of that time a number of slums which you ought to avoid by keeping the houses in good condition. For six years people have not been able to repair their houses, houses of the sort with which I am dealing, and if you think that they will stand it for another ten years you are an optimist, but if they do, after sixteen years in a particular district, what do you think the position will be? What class of people will be living in those houses? I suggest that they will be slums, so that the point which Lord Buckmaster makes is unanswerable.

There is one other point I want to deal with and I am afraid I have dealt with it before. Lord Buckmaster mentioned it; it is the case of owners requiring possession of their own houses for their own occupation. You all heard what he said and the valid arguments he adduced in favour of the view that they ought to be treated exceedingly well and that they should have some priority. The matter is dealt with in the Report and the Committee recommended that in a certain number of cases, which I will mention in a minute, owners who require for their own occupation houses which they themselves occupied on the 1st September, 1939 … should be enabled to recover possession as of right on application to the court hut that the court should have power to suspend the operation of the order for a period not exceeding three months if the circumstances appear to the court to make it just to do so. The reason why I take up time over this is that I, like my noble friend, have received dozens of letters, some of them of a heart-rending character, from people who let their houses at the beginning of the war—and who let them very often at very low rents indeed because they thought it would be a temporary letting —and are now unable to get their property back again or to find other suitable accommodation. The position is really worse, as I think, than my noble friend put it.

There are two classes of men who have an overwhelming case for getting their houses back, with perhaps some little delay such as that mentioned or suggested by the Committee. One class is the class of soldiers who had joined up and gone abroad and fought or who stopped here and were ready to fight. They are people who have been taken away from their homes and often put to live in barracks, in tents or out in the desert in Africa. In many cases they suffered inconceivable hardship. But that is not the point. The point is that they have been taken away, and to people of that kind it seems to rue extraordinary that the tenant who has been put in temporarily at very often a low rent—but again that is not the point—can say, "Oh, according to the Act of Parliament, strongly as I promised to let you come back, the law contends that I, and my wife if I die, and my children if we both die, will be entitled to go on retaining possession of this property, and you can go and sleep in the gutter." That is what the law says at the moment, excepting my last sentence which came out unawares. It is absolutely a monstrous thing that that should be allowed to exist another month in this country. People write to me again and again and tell me of this hardship. Some of them say that they have put all their money into a house. They had let it perhaps in order to get some small sum to help to support a dependent of theirs. But there it: is—security of tenure for the man who is breaking his word (and the law allows him to do so) about leaving the premises.

There is another class with an almost equal claim on the help of the Legislature. That is the large class of civil servants and others in that position engaged in the service of the Government in Whitehall, or in hundreds of buildings all over the country, where they were aiding in the administration of the great war effort. They have been taken to Colwyn Bay and Llandudno and other places all over England. They had to go. I do not know what would have happened to them if they had said: "We will not go. We prefer to live in Croydon where we have a lovely house." They had no means of support. It is absurd to suppose that their removal from there to lodgings in some far distant part of England, where it was thought they would be safe from bombing, was voluntary. Both those classes, in substance, have got this argument to which there is no answer. They went because the Government either called upon them compulsorily, or called upon them to go because it was their duty. To treat those men in the way in which they are now treated seems to me to be hopelessly unfair. I have talked to County Court Judges on this matter and they tell me that, under the law as it stands, they are called upon to see if houses can be secured for the existing tenant. I will quote the exact words, that" houses can be given to the owner on proof that some other accommodation is available for the tenant."That might have been a good clause to put in originally, in 1939, but I am sure your Lordships all know, as I know, that that is as good as saying never, because where is the substitute accommodation to be found?

On one occasion I sat, as inconspicuously as possible, in a County Court while applications for premises by owners were being disposed of. In many County Courts, half their business is connected with matters of that sort, including some other questions of rent restriction and eviction for non-payment of rent. I was mainly concerned with the question of owners wanting to get back into their own houses. In case after case the sitting tenant could not get suitable accommodation. Who would expect that lie could? There is not a suburb in London—with one excepion, Wimbledon—where, I believe, there is a house which can be taken for accommodation of this kind. They are all full up. Many houses have several families in them, and, where there are sheds in the garden, very often these are occupied temporarily by people who have come to the district for some reasonable purpose, and who have got to be there for a time. The notion that a tenant who has got a house at, we will say, 6s. a week is likely to find a house at 12s. a week anywhere in the neighbourhood is to expect the impossible. I do not know what the words "suitable accommodation" mean. Do they mean suitable to the tenant or that the tenant can hope to get a house at one-third of the commercial rent? It cannot be done, and there it is.

I do not want to let myself go any further on this topic, but, speaking with a long experience of justice in the Courts and a very long experience of cases of hardships, I cannot remember a single case in connexion with civil affairs which is more unjust than the treatment which is meted out to these people when they seek to recover possession of their own houses, which they left only at the direction of the Government. The thing is unarguable, and I very strongly urge upon the Government to take the very earliest oppor- tunity of setting this particular hardship right. I agree it is very unfortunate, if not terrible, for a County Court judge to have to order a tenant out, because he knows the tenant is going to have very unsuitable accommodation when he goes. But my point is that you must look at the man who has, perhaps, bought the house, who has lived in it and who has been told to go away, and who has only allowed the other man in at the request, in effect, of the Government. If you are going to balance those two propositions with any idea of justice, you will come to the conclusion that, subject to a little delay in trying to help the tenant to find other accommodation, you must decide in favour of the owner.

I have taken up as much time to-day as I justifiably can, but I end; as I began, by saying to members of the Government that there is scarcely a case to be mentioned which is more important to vast numbers of people than this question of renting houses. It is of vital importance, and I urge them with all the force at my command to take that into consideration before putting off the matter to a distant date.

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, no one can complain at the tone of the debate, and especially of the representations made by such a brilliant luminary of the law as the noble and learned Viscount, who has just spoken. Therefore, there is no need for me to say anything on that aspect of the case. I start by saying right away that this is a case which I know has the sympathy of the whole of your Lordships' House and, equally, the Government arc in full sympathy with it, as I am myself; but the question turns on the fact that the Government have, more or less, to weigh up and determine the priority of demands made upon them to meet the multifarious problems and difficulties that confront them with regard to getting back to something like stability in our social system. I agree that the matter seems to be one that calls for great urgency, but I respectfully say that it is not so simple as the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, seems to suggest.

The noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster's first point was that the Acts needed consolidating. As he says, there are no fewer than nine Acts either wholly or partly operative at the present time. With that, the Government find themselves in wholehearted agreement, as, indeed, did the Coalition Government. But if an amending Act is to be brought in—a consolidating Act—the present Government, as did the Coalition Government, feel that that could not be done without certain amendments. That fact in itself would entail a considerable amount of labour, to which, having regard to the present pressure of work with which they have to deal and to the fact that they will have to make a choice as to which are the lesser evils of the problems which confront them, the Government feel, just now, they cannot give the necessary time. It can be said that, if a consolidating Bill of the nature I have just mentioned is to be brought before the House, it would certainly, in some measure, be somewhat complicated and controversial and, therefore, would take even a longer time than if it were a straight issue, as seems to be suggested by simply transferring recommendations from the-Ridley Report into a Bill and then passing it.

I am afraid it will not be quite so simple as that, because already we may gather from the tone of some of the speeches that there may be some difference as between landlord and tenant, as between owner and occupier, which would have to be debated on the floor of both Houses of Parliament. Therefore, all I can say on that point, the only comfort I can hold out to both the noble Lords, is that the matter is fully taken by the Government. They fully sympathize with the expressions which have been advanced in support of those points, but they cannot see their way clear to formulate any legislative proposals on those heads just now. They do not expect that they will be able to take effect earlier than, say, some time in 1947. Whether or not the expressions of the two noble Lords in the House this afternoon will have some effect in accelerating that, I am unable to say. Of course it will also depend upon the rate of progress made in other matters.

The next point that the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, raised was with regard to a suggested increase in standard rents. That point, as we know, is mentioned in the Report—I think in paragraphs 78 to 81—and for the reasons there given the Committee declined to recommend a general increase in rents in order to meet the cost of repairs. Also the conclusion is bound up with the suggestion for setting up the tribunals. Just the same position obtains in regard to this as to the other questions: it cannot be done without legislation and it is difficult, indeed, it is impracticable, at the present time to table the legislation to pass through Parliament. Again, however, as I said before, I can assure the noble Lord that no time will be lost as soon as it is at all possible to do so.

The other point the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, raised was with regard to those flats and houses where certain services are rendered, and he suggested there ought to be some allowance because of those services and particularly having regard to the increased costs. But that operates in the other way also; some services are not so costly because of the scarcity of fuel and the difficulty of finding the necessary labour. However, I am not going to press that point, and I accept the expression which the noble Viscount presented to us. There are flats which involve a charge for porterage, cleaning, lifts, hot: water and so forth, but that again is a matter on which legislation will be needed: The Committee did suggest that a high priority should be given by the tribunals, as and when they are set up, to these claims. Again I have to tell the noble Viscount that this involves legislation, and already he has himself drawn attention to the labyrinth of Acts which are in existence. He would not, I feel sure, like them to be added to piecemeal by a number of small Acts which would have to be dealt with on some later occasion.

Both noble Lords raised a question with regard to the admitted hardships of people who have given up their houses for reasons connected with the war, and then found it extremely difficult to get them back. In this connexion I think it is fair to point out that the two Labour members of that Committee did not agree that there should be any differentiation of treatment in regard to persons who had been taken from their homes in that way and other people who had stayed at home and been bombed out or, for a variety of reasons, found themselves in great difficulties. While there is no attempt to deny that there are hard cases, particularly those of members of the Forces or munition workers who were directed by the Government, on which Viscount Maugham so eloquently expressed his views, I think there is a saying about hard cases and bad law. Perhaps we have to give that point special attention just now and have to measure it more or less with the difficulties with which the Government are faced as a whole. Lord Ridley's Committee specifically recommended that this question of greater hardship, where it arises, should be left to the ordinary courts, and, so far as one can get any information on that matter, on the whole the courts have dealt with it to the public satisfaction. That remedy is there and people can endeavour to obtain redress in that respect.

Here, again, when it is possible for the Government to introduce a Bill to give effect to the recommendations of Lord Ridley's Committee, this point will call for special consideration. On that, of course, I can give no specific pledge on the part of the Government that they will accept the recommendation in the Report, especially as they will be faced with the fact that the two labour Members of Parliament, who are now members of the Government, recommended that there shall be no special privileges in this connexion. I can give an assurance, however, that these points will be given very special attention, having regard to the fact that none can deny the hardship that falls upon such people. The great responsibility, however, is more or less to determine the balance and assess where hardship presses most heavily.

With regard to the rest, many of the points raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Maugham, rather consisted of quoting the Ridley Report and asking more or less hypothetical questions as to what would be done in regard to this, that and the other. I am bound to say that nobody would be quicker than the noble Viscount himself to point out that hypothetical questions arc difficult to answer, either in Courts of Law or in the Houses of Parliament.


Will the noble Lord tell me to what hypothetical questions he is referring?


I certainly will. For instance, the noble Viscount asked, will houses built by local authorities be controlled, and will certain tribunals be set up? and so on. Well, I cannot answer that.


Those questions are not hypothetical at all. With all respect, I use the word "hypothetical" in a different sense from the noble Lord. If I ask him if he is going home to dinner to-night, that is not a hypothetical question. The matter is raised in the Report and the Committee have given a view on a subject which is bound to arise, and to arise at once. I asked him, have the Government not had time since they were in office to consider that vast topic of continuing the control after the war of new houses?


My Lords, if we disagree as to the interpretation of hypothetical, let me answer in this way. The Report is still under consideration and it is absolutely impossible for me, or anyone else just now, to give any answer; no decision has yet been taken. There is one point I would like to bring to the attention of the House; it is somewhat related to the point in connexion with services which was raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster. It concerns the difficulty which arises in connexion with the extortionate rents charged for furnished lettings. Perhaps I may give some indication that something is being done, even although a final decision on the Report as a whole has not been taken. Since 1943 furnished lettings have been controlled in Scotland, but hitherto they have not been controlled in England and Wales, except to a certain limited extent by provisions in the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1920, the effect of which is, shortly stated, to make it a punishable offence to charge an extortionate rent upon a furnished letting and to make too high a rent irrecoverable, although not extortionate. The Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Bill received a Second Reading in the House of Commons on November 14 and we hope it will shortly become an Act.

The question has been raised of the nine different Acts which are operative and the difficulty which the ordinary layman encounters in trying to understand them. Paragraph 33 of the Report recommends that there should be prepared a guide to the provisions of the Acts, expressed in as simple language as possible. After due reflection, although recognizing there are arguments both for and against, the Government have decided to issue such a publication. The work is in hand and the publication will be issued as soon as the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Bill becomes law, so that it may be incorporated. That publication will soon be available and will be at any rate of some guidance to harassed persons on this particular subject.

There can be no question as to the hardships of the case which has been presented by noble Lords and the great social difficulties which arise therefrom. The Government defer to none in their sympathy and understanding of the problem. I leave it to the good sense and judgment of noble Lords to realize the position with which the Government are faced, having regard to the various problems with which they are confronted. I have their assurance that as soon as it is practicable they will proceed to give legislative effect to those portions of the Ridley Committee Report which can be brought into operation and made effective at the earliest possible moment. It must not be thought that the hardships which have been mentioned here can be remedied at the present time without imposing equal hardship on other sections of the community. That fact must be borne in mind. I am sorry I can afford no greater consolation and give no greater encouragement to noble Lords, but they will feel that they have discharged their obligations in ventilating a real grievance, of which I am sure the Government will take note, and in that way they may have done something towards accelerating the process of future legislation to deal with these very complicated problems.

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, I must thank the noble Lord for his reply, though I am saddened by it. I had hoped that cases which were unanswerable had been put before your Lordships. I was reinforced in that by the great authority of my noble friend Lord Maugham, whose opinion obviously carries a weight far beyond my own. The only answer I get is that a number of fresh offences are being made penal and that another pamphlet is to be printed. That does not take us very far. As to fresh legislation, we are told that this matter will not be considered until 1947. I simply do not understand how the Government can so stubbornly close their ears to all that has been said, to the unanswerable cases which have been put forward.

The noble Lord has mentioned the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Bill. It is no doubt right that furnished lettings should be controlled, but the occasion of this Bill would have been an opportunity to insert a clause to the effect that flats which were let at a rent which included services should be made the subject of an increase in rent to cover the increased cost of those services. That is not only reasonable but unanimously recommended by the Ridley Committee. The Government will not do even that; they say they have not got time to deal with it or consider it. I cannot say I am satisfied. In withdrawing the Motion, which I beg leave to do, I must say that I may have to bring this matter, with your Lordship's permission, before your Lordships again at a later date.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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