§ 2.38 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER rose to call attention to the law relating to rent restrictions, to the injustice of refusing any relief to private landlords, while houses belonging to local authorities and statutory corporations are excluded from the operation of these Acts, and to the urgent need for a revision and consolidation of the existing Acts; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, it is nearly six years since I moved a Motion on these lines in your Lordships' House. It is to me a most unhappy thought that in all that time no real attempt has been made to relieve the great injustice which the Rent Restrictions Acts in their present form impose. I do not propose to deal with this matter except in broad outline, leaving noble Lords who have been good enough to give me their support to fill the gaps. I think it right to say at once that I have the privilege to be the President of a Federation representing small property owners throughout this country, and also of being President of an Association representing the larger property owners in London. My personal stake in this matter, however, is a very small one.
§ This question of rent restriction is closely related to the question of housing, and cannot be divorced from it. It is a question which I have always felt should 857 be dealt with by means of an all-Party approach, although I fear that this is now impossible. This is clear if one examines two propositions which are the essential tenets of the Socialist faith and which touch the very roots of this matter. The first is that if a tenant has paid rent for a number of years he has paid for the house. I am not suggesting that the Socialist creed is that he has acquired the house; but they say he has paid for it and that the landlord has little or no right in regard to it.
§ When I was at school (that time goes back, I am afraid, further than in the case of many of your Lordships) we were taught Euclid, in the course of which I learned the process known as reductio ad absurdum—an expression which was applied very often to my own exercises. I think that that is a process which might appropriately be applied to the proposition I have mentioned—the proposition that, by paying rent for a number of years, a tenant has paid for the property. It is not unreasonable to suggest, on that hypothesis, that a man who owes money to his bank has, after paying interest for a number of years, if not discharged the loan at any rate escaped the duty of repaying it; and the bank would not be able to make any upward variation in the interest charge. If the bank had lent at 3 per cent. and borrowed at 4 per cent. they would be in the unhappy position where they themselves would have to hear the loss. I do not think I need detain your Lordships further with a proposition such as that.
§ The second proposition is a little more specious, but perhaps more startling even than the first. It is this—and it is worthy of some examination: that for eight years landlords have spent nothing on repairs, and that therefore large reserves have accumulated out of which the deferred repairs can now be executed—even if repairs now cost twice or three times as much. This seems a very convenient doctrine. If we accept it, the landlord would but have to postpone indefinitely all repairs to be able to watch the growing reserves this process would create. Of course, such a suggestion is utterly unsound. Repairs can never be deferred, except at loss and risk. I doubt whether any property could be left for eight years, without anything being done to it, without its suffering damage because of the delay. In the case 4 older property it is 858 not a question merely of damage, but one almost of disaster. And when, in the end, it is realised that these deferred repairs must be done, the result is that much additional work must be done, too; and the cost is multiplied again and yet again. I suggest that the second proposition is no more worthy of consideration than the first.
§ The truth is that under rent restriction as now imposed, one section of the community is called upon to subsidise another. This is not the moment for me to discuss whether subsidies are right or wrong; but surely, if they are to be given they should be met through the broad basis of taxation spread over the whole community, and not by compelling one section of the community—not necessarily more prosperous—to support another. The extent of these subsidies can readily be seen if one looks at the nearest row of council houses. Many of your Lordships know far more about this type of property than I do. These houses, of course, are built with the aid of subsidies provided both out of the Exchequer and out of local rates. In the days before the war, when it was not easy to let a house, the landlord was in fact subsidising his own competitors. I am most anxious, as I am sure the noble and learned Viscount who is to reply will appreciate, not to make any point which I do not feel able fully to support. I accept that it is not an easy thing to assess rent between a council house and a rent-controlled property. I admit that in many cases the council houses are of a different and superior type, but none the less a comparison can be made. It is perfectly clear to anyone that the rent of the council house fixed in 1945, 1946 or 1947, with prices as they then were will be substantially higher than rent charged for the relative accommodation pegged to figures existing twenty, thirty or even forty years ago.
§ To see this picture in its true colours one must throw a little limelight upon it, but unfortunately not all the local authorities are anxious to receive this added illumination. But, when the limelight is turned upon them and we examine the matter on the basis of the increase in the cost of repairs which they are compelled to meet, we find a rather startling result. I am anxious not to weary your Lordships with statistics or with Statutes, but I should like to give a few short figures, 859 which I have extracted from the Press but which I have not specially selected in any way for this purpose, showing the increases in rent which local authorities have been compelled to make. We find that at Luton the increases range up to 8s. a week; at Weston-super-Mare they range up to 4s. 3d. a week; at Lewisham, 25 per cent.; at Wimbledon, 35 per cent.; at Lambeth the rent is fixed at one-fifth of the family incomes. At Hemel Hempstead, they have not merely increased the rents by 3s. 6d. a week but, in addition, have imposed a "lodger" tax of 2s. a week. Incidentally, a "lodger" includes the married sons and daughters. It seems to me that those who argue that large reserves can be created by not executing repairs are in this matter on the horns of a dilemma from which there can be no escape. For either these local authorities, with every known advantage—a subsidy from the rates, a subsidy from the Exchequer, with new buildings which do not require much maintenance, with rents fixed in regard to current conditions — should have accumulated large reserves, out of which repairs should be possible with no increase; or they are the grossest bunglers for not having done so and should not have any housing problems entrusted to them.
§ But, of course, the truth is that the local authorities are not to blame. The cost of repairs has risen to such an extent that they are compelled to make these increases. To say that repairs have risen three times is to give a not unreasonable figure. I believe I can substantiate this point, again without inflicting upon your Lordships details or statistics. I can do it quite easily by referring to the Report of the Girdwood Committee, established by the Minister of Health himself, in which it is stated that the cost of building had risen from 9s. per square foot in 1938 to 24s. in 1947. I am well aware that three times nine is rather more than twenty-four, but that is not the end of the story. Since 1947, when the Report was published, there has been a further increase in building wages. There has been a further rise in the cost of raw materials. Even so we have other factors to consider. I think your Lordships will agree with me that relatively it is always more costly to do repairs than to build.860
§ Again, repairs have to be executed as and how it is possible to do them. They are often matters of urgency. The labour may not be highly skilled, the materials may be defective. A guttering of to light a gauge is perhaps employed. Before long, paint flakes off, ceilings crack, gutters leak, and (as many of your Lordships in your own homes, I venture to suggest, have had experience) the whole work has, at great cost, to be done all over again. It is plain that, with repairs so much inflated, the cost of the condition of the rent restricted owner is a most grievous one. As your Lordships know, some of these unhappy people—I hope your Lordships will not take exception to the expression, because I know that many are owners of this type of property—are in the unfortunate position that much of the property is controlled on rents fixed on August 3, 1914, or even earlier.
§ I am most anxious not to detain your Lordships, but I feel I must give one or two examples of what I have in mind. I am in this fortunate, or unfortunate, position, that I have received, quite unsolicited, a letter from a person of whom I have never heard. It is dated February 11, 1949. It shows how grievous is the position of these people. This woman says that she is a doctor's widow. She passes several observations on the Minister of Health, which I will spare your Lordships! She states that she has had to sell the whole of her war savings amounting to £540 to repair the roof of a rent restricted house. She adds: "I am a doctor's widow with £300 per annum." I am not exaggerating when I say that these people in a financial sense are being exterminated; they are being obliterated; they cannot continue.
§ May I turn to another example? It is a letter which deals with a less extreme case. It deals with the accounts of working-class houses in the North of England, property which has been rent restricted since the First World War. "It was possible, in spite of that, to accumulate some reserves. At the present moment all reserves have disappeared. They have been replaced by a bank overdraft of £500. The owners of the property have been driven to raise a mortgage to cover the anticipated short-fall. By no means can the owners rid themselves of this burden. A sale is out of the question: no one would purchase because they 861 would be buying an ever-increasing liability." That very accurately refers to the position not of one single owner, but of a carefully-managed estate which, in spite of rent restriction before the war, had managed to accumulate a small reserve.
§ May I trouble your Lordships with a personal illustration of my own? Mercifully, I do not own much of this property, but I have two cottages. I spent about £70 on them and imagined they were in a perfect state of repair. One of them became vacant; I had it re-examined and it was apparent that I would have to spend £150 on having the roof stripped and re-laid. I hope I am not behind your Lordships in accepting the obligations which circumstances impose, up to the limit of my financial resources, but I have had a most pathetic request from a young married man, begging and imploring me to allow him to live in this house. I wish I could have agreed. I am not putting this before your Lordships purely as a mercenary proposition. I am not saying merely that because of a controlled rent of 4s. and an expenditure of £150 I cannot let this man live there. That, in itself, is bad enough. It is a grievous thing and it shows the nonsense of saying that reserves can be established. But what I do say is that if I let this young man and his wife take possession of this cottage, and charge him any small rent you like, I can never turn him out, and I may well want the cottage for some person of my own choice. That illustrates once more the vicious principle of the unbridled operation of these Acts.
§ I mentioned in the letter which I quoted that the owners of this little estate would, in the end, have no option but to give the property away for nothing. That, in fact, has now begun to happen in Glasgow, where one thousand houses have been offered free. In Salford I am advised that they are being so offered is hundreds by their owners, and some of your Lordships, I believe, have knowledge that the process is spreading. It may be that the Minister of Health is not greatly concerned at the loss of the life savings of these people, many of whom sprang from the same humble walks of life from which he raised himself. That does not seem to concern him greatly, but even if he turns a blind eye to their financial sufferings, even if he is quite unmoved by their losses, he might at least be moved by the thought 862 that these houses, which once were habitable, are ceasing to be so. These people have not been able to keep them up; and at this very moment—I illustrated it, with your Lordships' indulgence, in my own case—when people are crying out for homes, when young couples are wearing themselves out in the anxious and cruel struggle to find a house, homes are allowed to fall into ruin and decay simply because the owner, who cannot afford to repair them, is denied the right to charge a reasonable rent for them.
§ I do not suggest, and I never have suggested, that rent restriction at this stage should be repealed, but I do suggest that it is not merely in the interests of one section of the community but very much in the interests of the whole community that this problem should, without delay, be solved. It might well be asked: If the case is a strong one (as I do not think even the noble and learned Viscount who will reply would deny that it is), why are the Government so strongly resisting any relief? They give two reasons. The first is that they cannot deal with this matter piecemeal; that it needs a single comprehensive Act. Secondly, they say that no Parliamentary time for such an Act can be found. I can leave it to your Lordships to decide whether legislative time has been altogether taken up with urgent matters. To turn to the first reason, your Lordships are well aware that not long ago the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act was passed. It is, of course, a perfect example of piecemeal legislation. At the present moment, a Commission is sitting and considering the restriction of rents of office premises, and inquiring into the problems of leasehold premises. Further piecemeal legislation is contemplated there. There are other examples which might strike your Lordships, to which it would not be proper for me to refer to-day. If we are to have this piecemeal legislation, why should it always be directed against the landlord, and why should his interest never be considered?
§ Your Lordships will remember that when the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act came before your Lordships as a Bill, it proposed the setting up of tribunals which were to have the power to reduce rents but in no circumstances to increase them. By your Lordships' 863 efforts, some minor modifications of that proposition were achieved, but it still remains the law. I have never heard or known of any tribunal in this country—and I have made searching and diligent inquiries—which has ever before been established with its hands fettered in this way. It has been said, I believe, that "Justice is to the weaker side inclined." If we call the tenant the weaker side (and he is not always that) I can only say that the scales have not been inclined; they have been tipped right out of balance. If they had any desire to be just, why did not His Majesty's Government, in the Act to which I have referred, grant relief to the landlord, who not only has rent restricted flats to let but has to carry the increased cost of the services which he provides?
§ That was a matter which the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley (whom I am sure your Lordships will welcome as a participant in this debate), will tell you his Committee recommended should receive immediate attention. But it has been totally ignored, because it helps the landlord but does not help the tenant. We need not explore this matter very far, but let us take one or two other samples. If a tenant of a rent-restricted property is able (and it is not very difficult if he is a nuisance) to persuade his landlord to sell the property on the basis of its rent-restricted value, he can then vacate it and sell it with vacant possession and secure the whole of a not unsubstantial profit for himself. Any comparable transaction by a landlord would be described as an outrage, and no doubt a law would be immediately passed to stop it—and quite rightly, too. Again, a landlord has no power whatever to change his tenants. He may have some very bad tenants, but he cannot change them. The tenant is not in that position. Having obtained a rent-restricted tenancy, if he has any sense, when he feels the sands are running out he recruits a relation and puts that relation in—even a niece has been held to be sufficient. She can take it over and so deny the landlord the chance of possession, and force him to grant a subsidy which he has no wish to extend. The very basis on which this restriction is imposed is unjust, because it means that the more lenient the landlord has been the more severely he is 864 punished. To my mind, injustice, like the refrain of some orchestral piece—permeates every phase and feature of rent restriction as it now stands.
§ My Lords, the question is whether any solution can be reached. I have said that I am not myself a substantial owner of property. As this is a matter of the greatest moment in my view, I thought it right to ask the Chairmen of the two organisations of which I have the privilege to be President if they would express their considered views so that I might put them before the noble and learned Viscount who will reply. I have their letters here, but I do not think I need detain your Lordships by reading them, because, although in different words, they are much the same. They have both stated that they feel that the minor injustices on which I have touched—and to which other noble Lords will no doubt refer—should receive attention.
§ In regard to the general principle of rent restriction, they loyally accept it as a necessity in times of housing shortage, but they ask—and I trust that the noble and learned Viscount will not feel that it is an unreasonable request—that as a temporary measure they should be allowed such increase of rent as will enable them to keep their properties in a proper state of repair. Both of them assure me that if that increase were granted they would accept with the greatest readiness a restriction, or give an undertaking that the money so received would be spent on the repairs in question. So there would be no possibility of a landlord putting any money into his own pocket. They feel that they have a case for a greater increase, but they do not ask for it, because they are anxious loyally to co-operate with His Majesty's Government in curbing the tendency to inflation.
§ I hope that the noble and learned Viscount may feel that these demands—which, after all, are based on justice and are, I hope, moderate and temperate in themselves—can be granted or, at any rate, that some promise can be given that, in the future, they will be far more fairly and fully considered. If the noble and learned Viscount again has to disappoint me, I can only say—if he will not mind my saying it—that I hope political circumstances will relieve me of the obligation of once more bringing this 865 matter before your Lordships. Should those circumstances arise, or in the hope that they may arise, perhaps your Lordships will allow me to express my own personal creed in this matter. My creed is this: that even as the struggle between capital and labour can be happily resolved, so I feel that the conflict between landlord and tenant need not be eternal; it should be possible for them to meet together, each through their own elected representatives, to agree a fair rent for a standard basis of accommodation, and also to curb rapacity and extortion wherever such may exist. It is in this hope that I have spoken and in this spirit that I urge His Majesty's Government not to resist demands which I believe not merely justice but the common interests of the community impel them to accept. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.4 p.m.
§ LORD KERSHAW
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will be grateful to the noble Viscount for having raised this very important subject. Following his example, I make a declaration. I declare that I am not a president of even one property association, let alone two. I have no property interest other than the house in which I live. I was surprised that the noble Viscount should have thought it necessary, out of his profound knowledge of the principles of the Socialist Party, to give your Lordships an impression that is quite erroneous—that is, that we believe that by reason of having paid rent for many years we are entitled to the property concerned. As a Socialist of many years standing, I may say that I have never heard that principle enunciated before. I hoped that the subject would be approached from an objective angle, as one which is of great complexity and which has confounded even those members of the public who are entitled to be addressed as "learned." I would not suggest that the members of your Lordships' House who are entitled to be so addressed are confounded by any law, but it is a fact that lawyers generally have been confounded by the complexity of the laws of which we are now speaking. There are times when I, myself, am entitled to be addressed as "learned," but I sometimes suspect that the barristers who so address me—especially the fledglings—expect it to be tacitly understood that the word 866 should be in inverted commas, with a pronounced question mark in brackets immediately after it.
The noble Viscount alleges certain injustices and anomalies, and no one who has studied the subject even cursorily will deny that anomalies and injustices do exist. If we wanted a sort of official confirmation of that, we have only to look at the Report of the Committee presided over by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, to which the noble Viscount has referred. That Report, as your Lordships know, was issued in 1945. As the noble Viscount has said, there is general agreement that restriction and rent control are necessary. No one would advocate the free and unfettered play of the law of supply and demand. That freedom, that divinely inspired freedom (if we are to believe what was said by the leader of the Liberal Party in another place, when he broadcast last Saturday), applied to this particular problem would inflict great hardships on the people, would upset the social and economic life of the country, and might create most serious disorder, if nothing worse. That, however, is accepted, I believe, by everyone in this House.
The noble Viscount asked that there should be some trimming and adapting; that we should endeavour, as it were, to relieve the shoe-pinching that we know is taking place. For my part, and having regard to what the noble Viscount has said—again I emphasise that I am speaking as a Socialist—I find it extremely difficult to understand this discrimination against one class of property holders, while other classes of property owners are allowed to fleece the public to their hearts' content. The other classes of property owner of whom I speak include not only owners of bricks and mortar but also owners of goods and merchandise, who are allowed to exploit us without let or hindrance. But there is, undoubtedly, a class of person who is experiencing hardship under these laws, and that is the class of aged people who, by reason of their thrift, believed they were providing a modest income for the evening of their lives.
Few of us who are consulted from time to time by people with regard to their difficulties have not come across cases of aged people—very often widows—who were entitled to believe before the war that they would at least be able to live 867 free from anxiety in their old age. Instead, they have found that, by reason of the freezing of their income at the normal cash rate of 1939, or earlier, it is extremely difficult for them to live even at the modest standard which they had set for themselves. At the same time—and in fairness this should be noted—the tenants of those houses have, in general, had an increase in wages; they have been able to earn more by reason of the full employment of the time and in many cases the number of wage earners in the family has increased, as it usually does in any period of ten years. So it has to be admitted—and I do so freely—that quite a number of small property owners have real grievances, of which this House should take notice. These grievances, whether they be the grievances mentioned by the noble Viscount in respect of the increased cost of repairs, services and maintenance of larger properties, or grievances felt by these smaller owners, should be looked at and mitigated or removed, if it is possible to do so. That should apply, however the grievances arise. If they arise owing to the operation of precise laws, then I submit that the Legislature that passed those laws should regard it as an elementary duty at least to try to remove these grievances.
But it is wrong to assume that all landlords are suffering hardship—I think the noble Lord would probably grant me that submission. It does not seem long since we were thrilled by the valiant deeds of the men of London. The Battle of London was fought and won. The City of London was left scarred and battered. The devastation and destruction which was caused in the City, to the sight of which those of us who pass it nearly every day are now accustomed, still appals our provincial brethren when they see it for the first time. There must have been great hardship, and even distress, caused to property owners by the damage in the City—which, of course, has its counterpart in other parts of the country. The aggregate loss must be enormous and the provisions of the War Damage Act afford little compensation to the people who have suffered. The owners of property which came through undamaged are enjoying huge profits only because they are more fortunate than their neighbours. The premium scandal, 868 which was the subject of a debate in another place yesterday, did not arise accidentally. It would have been impossible without the operation of the law of supply and demand, which is sacred to the noble Viscount. I do not complain. Under the present system they are entitled to, and the application of the principle of private enterprise demands that they shall, profit by the misfortunes of others. That is the system and anything else would be regarded as utter madness.
But let us examine this. It is within my own knowledge that leases are being negotiated in the City of London to-day which will return to the owners of property, within five years, the whole cost of the property. Some millions of pounds are involved in this. The noble Lord spared your Lordships figures, and quite rightly, and I will merely say that I have chapter and verse for what I am now saying. I can say, quite plainly, that individuals, let alone associations such as that for which the noble Lord speaks, will be able to cash in to the extent of £1,000,000, or more than £1,000,000, on the present situation as it exists in the City. But this is not confined to the City of London. Only yesterday I was concerned in the renewal of a lease in the West End, in which the undertaking with which I am concerned is being asked to pay 26s. a foot against a price of 17s. a foot which is now being paid—an increase of 50 per cent. We may be told, and I rather suspect we shall, that it is not possible by law to ensure that there shall be no anomalies and injustices arising out of those laws; but it seems to me, a layman in these matters, that it should not be beyond the wit of man to devise a scheme to prevent huge fortunes being made out of a war which has inflicted such great loss on the nation. Some scheme of equalisation should be possible.
From what I have said the House will realise that I am supporting the Motion put down by the noble Viscount. I would welcome a survey of this subject, but not wholly for the same reasons as the noble Viscount. Let us look at the tenant's side of this question. The noble Viscount seemed to suggest that the iniquities were all on the side of the tenant. I hope to show the House that there are hardships to those who occupy 869 houses, and, in particular, to the widows and families of those who have been tenants of houses. I hope to go further and show the Government that there is an urgent need for an amendment of the law, and that they should take the opportunity of amending the law while the Bill which is now in another place is passing through that place. Your Lordships will forgive me if I appear to be speaking on elementary matters, but you will know that statutory tenants are protected and that the widows and families of statutory tenants are protected when a tenant dies. But I am not sure that we appreciate that the great mass of weekly tenancies are not statutory tenancies. Nothing has happened to make them statutory tenancies. They were, and still are, contractual tenancies, and the position of the dependants of a contractual tenant is totally different from that of a statutory tenant.
I want the House to be seized of what I regard as the imminence of a concerted move—I think I should be justified in calling it a conspiracy—to defeat the purpose of legislation passed by your Lordships in this matter. The contractual tenancy of which I have spoken forms part of the estate of the deceased person, and on his death it immediately vests in his personal representative or, if he dies intestate, in the Probate Judge, under Section 9 of the Administration of Estates Act. There it stays, vested in the Probate Judge or in the executors, until a grant of administration is taken out and the property is transmitted to the beneficiaries. In this connection an excellent exposition of the law on the matter was given by a Mr. Widgery, barrister at law, in a lecture at the Law Society's Hall on October 27 last. The lecturer appears to have assumed, in my view accurately, that the lawyers present to listen to him were more likely to be consulted by landlords than by tenants.
If your Lordships will permit me to quote his exact words you will then be able to judge for yourselves on that particular point. I have here the notes of the lecture. It seems to me that as members of the Legislature we should appreciate the approach that is being made to this subject by the legal profession at this time. The lecturer said:From the landlord's point of view, if he wants to get the tenant out"—870 not if the tenant wants to remain in, but if the landlord wants to get him out—his remedy is to terminate the contractual tenancy before it has become vested in a person residing in the property. If you"—that is, the lawyers to whom he is lecturing—are acting for the landlord and on the death of a contractual tenant you want to determine the tenancy and get the family out altogether, the thing you must aim to do is to determine the contractual tenancy before that tenancy has got itself vested in a person living in the property. If you can do that, nobody claiming under the tenant has any right to the property at all and you can have vacant possession straight away. But you have to be quick.
§ VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER
I do not wish to handicap the noble Lord in any way, but I would like to point out that when the contractual tenancy is terminated, it becomes a statutory tenancy, and you are back where you started.
§ LORD KERSHAW
If the noble Viscount will be patient, I propose to quote from two cases which form the basis of this lecture. The lecturer continued:If the deceased died intestate you can determine the contractual tenancy while it is vested in the Probate Judge. You do that by a notice to quit, addressed to the President of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division.The lecturer goes on to say that by then—which was last October—there had been a flood of these notices sent to the President. He went on:If the deceased left a will, then first of all the property goes to the executors, and if you are quick you can terminate the tenancy whilst it is in their hands.As I said, the lecturer quoted two cases. The first was Thynne v Salmon (1948, 1 King's Bench Division, page 482). In that case the contractual tenant died, leaving two sisters; one had resided with him and one had not—probably a married sister living with her husband. It so happened, quite fortuitously, that the non-resident sister took out letters of administration. The landlord was quick, and gave notice to her to terminate the tenancy; and it was held on appeal that that was in order. The result of it all was that neither of those two sisters was entitled to continue the tenancy.
The second case is a little different. It is the case of Smith v. Mather (1948, 1 All England Reports, page 704). In that case, the tenant, Mrs. Mather, died intestate, and no letters of administration were 871 taken out. The landlord served a notice on the President of the Court. A son and daughter had resided with this good lady from the beginning to her death, and they thought—as perhaps many of us thought—that they were entitled to succeed to that tenancy. But it was a contractual tenancy, and had never been made a statutory tenancy; and it was held by the Court of Appeal that the tenancy had vested in the President, to whom notice to quit had been properly and effectively given. If that is right (and if it is not, I am sure that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, and all your Lordships, with your customary kindness, will forgive a layman for having gone wrong) then most tenants of small cottage property are in this particular danger. When the father dies, if the landlord is quick he can get the family out, because most people of that calibre do not take out letters of administration, except in cases—as so many of us know—where they have a small deposit, perhaps in the Post Office Savings Bank, which cannot be recovered until letters have been taken out.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
May I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? He is perfectly right in his statements. Those are two decisions of the Court of Appeal. But his last proposition should be qualified by saying that it applies only to a contractual tenancy.
§ LORD KERSHAW
I am grateful to the noble and learned Viscount. I see that I did not make it clear. Most dependants of tenants of cottage property—I use the word "most" deliberately, because my experience is fairly wide amongst that class of person—will not have been given notice to quit, and therefore the contractual tenancy still remains. I think it should be made clear that although the person has continued week by week to pay his rent, and the landlord has not given him notice (because there is no purpose in giving notice if the house is to be let again; the control of rents makes that not worth while), most of the tenants of weekly tenancy properties will be in this particular danger if the breadwinner of the family dies. There would be no purpose in the landlord evicting the tenant for the purpose of re-letting the house; 872 but, as the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster rightly said, the selling value of a house with vacant possession is much greater than the selling value of a house without vacant possession. So we are already beginning to see a flood of these notices going in to the President, and they are sent only if it is intended to sell the property.
That is the point. Having evicted these people, the landlord sells the property for twice, and sometimes for three or four times, the value the property would fetch with the tenant sitting in it. I gather from the noble and learned Viscount that I am not very much off the rails in what I have been saying—but if what I have put before your Lordships to-day with regard to contractual tenants is substantially correct, then I beg the Government seriously to consider putting some Amendment in the Landlord and Tenant (Rent Control) Bill, which is now on its passage through another place.
§ VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER
Is the noble Lord in order in discussing a matter which is before another place? I carefully avoided all reference to it.
§ LORD KERSHAW
I have not been long enough in this Chamber, or indeed in the Houses of Parliament, to be able to distinguish readily between what is proper and what is not proper in that sense. But I hope the Government will take the earliest convenient opportunity of amending the law in respect of contractual tenancies, to bring them more into line with the law as it applies to statutory tenancies. I would like them to do that before the scandal and real hardship (which will accrue more and more as the landlords understand their power) becomes a real public mischief.
§ 3.32 p.m.
My Lords, I must declare an interest in this matter, in that I am the landlord of a few controlled properties in Scotland, though up to date I have not put on any weight as a result of being such a landlord. On the contrary, some years ago, through having to meet a large bill for repairs, I made a loss of £16 on my properties. That being so, I feel that I am fully qualified to be a member of the Labour Party. The question as to whether the Government ought to do anything about rent restriction is almost apostolic in antiquity. The noble 873 Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, deserves the gratitude of many people for his persistence in pursuing this subject, and also for the clear way in which he has over and over again explained the fundamentals of the position. I feel, however, that he, and those who support him in raising this subject, are addressing a brick wall.
I remember that Aristotle used to say that he always liked addressing a brick wall, because it was the one thing that never answered him back. However, I have an idea that the Government are not quite so Aristotlean as that! But we are indeed up against a brick wall. The Lord President of the Council is reported to have said that to revise the rents of 8,000,000 dwellings in this country would raise a fierce and bitter resentment among a large section of the community. I agree with that statement, so far as it goes, but let me put the matter in another way. If a candidate for any political Party were to stand on the platform at a by-election or at the next General Election and say: "I believe in doing justice to landlords and tenants, but the effect of doing such justice will be to increase the rents of 80 per cent. of the dwellings in this country," that candidate would have no chance of receiving the majority of the suffrages of this country.
That is really the crux of the whole matter. I am not a Party politician but I am a psychologist, and I can see deep down into the bosoms of the Lord Chancellor and the noble Lord on the Labour Benches; and in those bosoms there is an exquisite admission that they agree with every word which has been said by the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster—that they would like to carry out his proposals but do not think it expedient to do so at the present time. Let me make one suggestion, although no doubt it will be regarded with derision by the Government. There are fair-minded people in every political Party, and every fair-minded person knows that the present standard rents are far too low. May I suggest that the Government should convene an all-Party conference so that we try to thresh out some general measure which will receive the support of all Parties? If they would do that, when a candidate stands up at the next General Election, and is taunted with having voted in favour of a measure which increased the rent of 874 many houses in this country, he would be able to say: "Well, my colleagues are all in the same boat." However, I have not the remotest expectation that the Government will follow that suggestion.
None the less, the position is a serious one. If no atomic bomb intervenes in the interval, it will, from the numerical point of view, take at least twenty years to make up the leeway in house building. That is to say, from the numerical point of view it will be another twenty years before there are sufficient houses in this country for the population. However, during that twenty years the physical condition of some 8,000,000 controlled houses will be rapidly and visibly deteriorating, owing to the fact that the unfortunate landlords are unable, for financial reasons, to carry out the necessary repairs. That is indeed a very serious position and, therefore, I support the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, in making his appeal to the Government to do something about this matter.
§ 3.40 p.m.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Buck-master for having initiated this debate. I feel that we ought to take every opportunity of discussing this subject, and I hope very much that we may receive a statement on behalf of the Government as to what their policy is to be. I have had the opportunity recently, along with some others, to spend a good deal of time on two Committees who studied all the details of these Acts and tried to advise the Government on them; and while I would not attempt to go into any detail, I would just like to remind your Lordships that some of the real difficulties, hardships, and confusions do not result from any deliberate policy which was behind the Acts when they were passed, but have grown up in the process of time.
The first is the very great difficulty in any case of dispute or doubt in ascertaining what the rent of any house is and by what means it should be ascertained. There are several categories of rent control. The original 1914 Rent Restrictions Act was one. That Act provided for a permitted increase of 40 per cent. over the original rent. Many houses are still controlled by that Act and by all the Acts which have been passed since. 875 Some of the houses which are controlled did not happen to be let at the time of the passing of the original Act, and had not been let for many years; therefore it was necessary to find out what the rent of the house or cottage was when it was last let, which might have been forty, fifty, or sixty years ago. Further, a number of these houses were decontrolled after the Act of 1920, vacant possession giving de-control—a bad system, but it operated. Rent control was the subject of another Act in 1939, which brought under control a whole new series of houses, many of which had been built or let for the first time since the original Act. If we do not insist on consolidation, there will later on be many complications.
In addition to these Rent Restrictions Acts there are other methods of legal control of rents, particularly in rural areas where houses are let under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act; others are let for service occupation, their rents being controlled and decided by the agricultural wages committees under the Agricultural Wages Board rulings. There are also houses which are occupied under what I think are called "service occupation," which means that they are in fact a tenancy: they are let on condition that the occupier works for the employer. I think that that is the definition of most of the houses occupied by employees of railways and other public utilities. The conditions under which the houses are controlled are different. Then there are the local authority houses, which are not subject to any legal control but are subject to a financial or taxation policy control by the Government through the local authorities. These are subsidised by the taxpayer and by the rates, and there have been many opinions as to the desirability or otherwise of including and of further subdividing that latter category. The houses built by housing associations, who under certain definitions of the Housing Act of 1936 have special powers for the receipt of subsidies and for assistance from the rates, are not at present controlled.
Your Lordships will see how formidable this problem is. It is not only the lawyer who must learn all these things by heart; the average man also needs to know something of them, for they are the 876 cause of a good deal of difficulty and misunderstanding to both tenant and landlord. I have said nothing yet as to the different amounts paid in rent for these varying classes of houses. I am speaking now of the legislation and the items which have to be understood and worked out. It is not surprising that there has been an enormous number of decisions in the courts, both on the interpretation of these Acts and on their relationship with each other.
There are further complications in the matter of obtaining possession of houses for one cause or another. That also has changed very considerably through the various Acts. At one time there was the system of getting possession by the house becoming vacant. There is also the question of an owners' right to occupy his house himself in certain conditions, and of the great hardships which that has led to in so many cases. Then there is the parallel of the rural house—the special arrangement under which owners, through the agricultural executive committees, can obtain occupation of a house for the use of an employee. It is all very confusing. There is a further complication in the possession by a tenant of the right to become a statutory tenant. I was not familiar with the cases which were exposed by the noble Lord, Lord Kershaw, and I am bound to admit that I did not think he was right; but I would not like to make any categorical statement on such a matter. I hope the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will be able to give us a legal interpretation of these principles later in the debate.
A further difficulty arises in this matter, and that is that when a tenancy becomes not contractual but statutory, there are provisions in the Acts whereby certain specified relations of the tenant have a right to it. In fact, I think it is true that since the original control measure in 1914, many cases have occurred in which this kind of tenant has died and his widow, daughter, or son, has succeeded to the statutory tenancy; and I think I am right in saying that when that person dies there is no statutory successor, and the house becomes free. I repeat that that is very illogical. There is the further complication that some of the houses have been re-let at different times from 1914 to 1939, so that a series of dependent statutory tenancies, all overlapping, have 877 grown up. That again, I submit, is one of the complications which we should do well to avoid. There is a further distinction between categories of houses. The earlier Acts up to 1939 permitted increases up to 40 per cent. on the standard rent, to allow for the increased cost of repairs (if the repairs are certified by the local authority not to be satisfactorily carried out that 40 per cent. can be withheld by the tenant) whereas there is no 40 per cent. increase for houses which have come in under the 1939 Act. Some of the 1939 houses have not in fact been vacant since the beginning of the war. It is probably true that in some of these cases there should be a certificate of disrepair—which is a further argument for putting all these Acts together into one. The last Committee of which I was a member made some suggestions on this matter, but I do not want to labour the point.
It is of interest, perhaps, to refer briefly to the broad principles of what we suggested. First of all, we said that, if any sort of improvement or success is to be achieved, there must be one new comprehensive Act to cover the whole subject. That has been said so often and by so many. We said it in our Report as strongly as we felt we were able to. We said that if that was not done, we did not recommend anything at all. I think we said that we had no confidence in any of the other suggestions which we made unless the whole problem was tackled. That is why I have given your Lordships some detail showing that that was the problem in our minds, that we should simplify and consolidate the whole system.
Having done that, we suggested that the problem should be solved in three stages. First, we suggested that there should be a registration of all the rents which were then being paid. They could be disputed at law and, therefore, they could be held to be either too high or too low. As a starting point, we suggested that all the existing rent payments should be registered by local authorities. We would then have what would be called a registered rent, to which should be added rates, if paid by the landlord for the tenant. That would become recoverable rent. We took that as a starting point, that there should be a rent register of what was the rent in each particular case. Then we said: "Let us try to 878 level all these rents so that they are all fair, one house to another, up one side of the street and down the other side." We had cases quoted of houses in the same street, of the same construction and of the same age, attracting rents which varied by an enormous amount—some of 4s. or 6s., still under the original control, and others a matter of 18s. or 20s. They were identical houses, and the difference was due simply to the accident of the historical result of this legislation.
We said: "Let us get these rents equalised in larger areas. They will all be under the same Act, and will all be subject to the same details. We will get them all equalised by means of the tribunals which we propose." We argued as to the number of tribunals which we thought would be necessary for the country, and the various areas which they should cover. We suggested this in view of the experience which had been gained by the furnished rents tribunals in Scotland, which had been in existence for a long time. We had clear evidence that the procedure adopted there had been satisfactory. Since then, that system has been extended to England. From what we learned from these tribunals we thought they could be extended to England, not only as regards furnished rents but also unfurnished rents. We proposed that they should be tribunals to establish values, rather than to decide points of law. We also said that on points of law there should be an appeal to the courts. We did not want the tribunals to act as judges of fact, of what is right or wrong, but simply as assessors of what the property was worth.
I note that this afternoon there has been some discussion or the question of the cost of repairs. With your Lordships' permission, I might refer to the sort of instructions we said should be given to the tribunals in assessing the level of the rents at which they should try to aim. It was quite a long definition, but at the end it said:The rents should be decided on purely ordinary terms as to conditionsand so on, including amongst other things theexpenditure necessarily entailed on the parties, on the assumption that they are fulfilling their respective obligations under the tenancy agreement as regards property or any other matters, and the general level of the 879 rents in comparable houses in the district which are kept in good repair.I do not know whether that would be a good definition under which to invest a tribunal with legal power. We certainly intended it to mean that, whoever has the obligation of repairing the house, the rent should be something which would enable the landlord to do so; that it should compare with similar houses in that neighbourhood—"neighbourhood" meaning a fairly large area in which the general level of houses of that kind were kept in good order.
We intended that the outgoings on the house should be met, but we made a further point. This was that, if the outgoings on the house were not used in the right way, and if the house was not kept in repair, we would extend the provisions of the earlier Acts to cover all houses within the Acts. We said that under this new comprehensive Act we would revive the old tradition that the 40 per cent. reduction for repairs should be allowable on a certificate from the local authority. I think that is a material point which has been a little overlooked in some of the arguments which have been used in various places against any possible increase, and indeed in the other arguments as to the use of the money by the landlord if he gets it. That was the second stage: to equalise these rents on the basis that the houses were kept in proper repair, but otherwise to reduce them.
There was a third stage, which we thought might come some three years later. We thought it would take a long time to get all these houses levelled up. Had the Act been passed at the time, this stage would have been starting about now. The third stage would be to appoint a purely technical committee to advise whether or not the actual cost of building a house warranted any further increase. A decision could then be arrived at as to what increase would be made on that score, for the cost of keeping the properties in repair. I much regret that a move has not been made in that direction by now, because I think a lot of that ground would have been covered. Whether or not, when the houses had reached some sort of level, we should find that the increases had been so great during that process as many had anticipated, I do not know. I am in- 880 clined to think that the rents of quite a lot of what I might call the 1939 Act houses would have come down. I think it is true that even more of the pre-1939 houses would have gone up, but I believe the total effect of the movement would not have been anything like so great as the total amount of increase all over the country is widely thought to be. That is only an expression of opinion, based on a recollection that I have of the figures which we were able to obtain for the discussion on this Report.
I think it is material to refer to the cost of repairs and the building of houses. Indeed, some of your Lordships have already done so. To illustrate the difficulties which some people encounter, I would stress that there are a large number of fairly small owners who may be, for instance, well-off retired people, who perhaps have a small amount of capital invested in one or two houses. This is an important point, as there are a great many of these people, and they have no resources upon which to come and go. Figures were published, I think, in the White Paper on National Economic Resources, published in November, 1948, which showed that the national income and expenditure could be divided into various categories. One set showed that the increase in rents paid throughout the country was very slight—an increase of about 15 to 20 per cent. Deducting from that the increases in rates, which were included, and the increased cost of local authority houses due to the rising of rents, an estimation was made that probably the rents of one sort or another of non-local authority houses have gone up since 1939 by something like 5 to 10 per cent. The statement has been made in another place, however (I think by one of the members of the Government), that the purchasing value of the pound is something like 38 per cent. of what is was in 1914 as compared with 64 per cent. in 1939. That shows a very considerable drop in the relationship between the two, and indicates that the percentage of personal income which is used up in rent by any family is very much less than it was.
There are, of course, the well-known facts about the increase in the cost of building materials. In 1945, when our Committee was busy, we had evidence to show that the costs of building had 881 gone up by something like 75 per cent. since before the war. We thought that was quite a lot in those days, but it is a great deal more now. It may not be three times as much, but I think it is something very near it. Apart from the question of local authorities raising the rents of their houses built before the war, as they are entitled to do, not coming within the Rent Restrictions Acts, it is common knowledge that they have been forced to ask for very much higher rents for the houses they have built since the war ceased, because of the increase in costs and prices of all kinds—and this is so, even with a subsidy. Local authority houses are admittedly of a higher standard than they used to be, and including the rate contribution the rents of new council houses often range from 12s. to 15s., whereas the houses which were built before the war were let for something like 5s. to 6s. It is interesting to me to remember that many people, including one or two members of our Committee, suggested that local authority houses should come within the Acts. Had they been so included, what would have happened to the housing accounts? What would have happened to the Exchequer subsidy which local authorities received, if they had not been able to increase the rents to meet the extra costs of building?
I hope it can be generally agreed that a new and a complete Act is needed, and I regret that the Government have not taken any steps in the matter. There were two members of the present Government sitting on the Committee of which I was Chairman, and we were entirely agreed on our main recommendations on the general policy which I have outlined. One or two members made reservations on important but minor points. I feel it is not quite right to say that there is no Parliamentary time for a comprehensive measure, when we think of the Parliamentary time that has been spent on many other matters, not all of which are quite so near the lives of so many people at the present time. I would have liked to see this matter tackled seriously some time ago. It was a good comment that our proposed system of tribunals would have been difficult administratively, and that it would have been difficult to set up enough of them to cover the whole area, to provide them with offices, staff, 882 organisation, and so on. But, again, we have the lesson of the legislation which has been passed during the last three years and which has involved the setting up of a great many more and a great deal larger administrative bodies than is here contemplated. I refer particularly to those organisations which have been evolved in the nationalisation of different industries, and under the Town and Country Planning Act and so on. A great deal of Government administration has been successfully launched on its way—much larger than anything we proposed—and therefore I feel that the remark about administrative difficulties is not really a valid argument.
I feel that the effects of these Acts, if allowed to go on in their present state of confusion and almost chaos, rather than being of assistance in the housing situation will tend to make it more and more difficult. In many cases people get into a house and will not move because they have certain rights in it. Probably the general housing pool would be far better served by more elderly people, whose children have grown up, moving into a smaller house; but there is a very natural tendency not to do that if they can help it. That is only one example. There are plenty of minor troubles and adjustments of that sort which could so easily be met and which in the majority of cases are uncontroversial. The only controversial point which has arisen is as to what should be the proper level of rent increase, if any, to meet the cost of repairs. All these other things are matters of argument and of a different viewpoint. They are matters of policy which have nothing really vital and controversial about them, and if they were attended to it would do much to simplify and make easier the lives of many ordinary people. I hope very much that the noble and learned Viscount, when he comes to reply, will give us some indication of the Government's intention to make a real attempt to sort out these complicated pieces of legislation.
§ 4.7 p.m.
My Lords, I am sure many of your Lordships have been extremely interested to hear what my noble friend, Lord Ridley, said on some of the points raised in the Report of his Committee, and I, too, hope that the 883 noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack will give some indication of what the Government's line will be on that Report. It is quite useless to say that the Government cannot set up rent tribunals. They have in the last four years set up all over the country every sort of board, much larger than any rent tribunals could possibly be. Therefore, the statement that rent tribunals cannot be set up, when this mass of boards have been established, carries no conviction. Many of your Lordships will have noticed with interest that the noble Lord, Lord Kershaw, referred to elderly people who were not able to live on the proceeds of their pre-war rents. I think he said that the cost of living had made it impossible for them to do so. Well, the Minister of Health has said that during the war years, when taxation was as high as it is now, if not higher, owners could have built up reserves out of which to repair their properties. The Minister of Health has said that these people, the owners of property, can build up reserves, but the noble Lord, Lord Kershaw, says that they are not able to live on their small pre-war rents. Obviously, there is a discrepancy between those two remarks, and I think your Lordships will agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kershaw, in preference to accepting the quite ridiculous remark made by the Minister of Health.
But I should like for a few moments to approach this subject from another point of view—namely, from the point of view of the occupier. We have heard with interest and conviction—which I am sure the speeches have carried—of the great anomalies and difficulties facing owners in maintaining their properties. Nobody has spoken of improving them, but simply of maintaining them. But may we for a few moments look at the matter from the point of view of the occupier?—the occupiers of these countless thousands of houses which are now deteriorating day by day.
To give your Lordships an illustration of the size of the problem, I would refer to the Report on British households which was issued by the Ministry of Information in 1947. In this Report, it was stated that 13 per cent. of all British households live in local authority houses, while 70 per cent. of such households live 884 as rent-paying persons in houses rented not from local authorities but from other sources. That indicates the enormous extent of this problem. We have 70 per cent. of British households living in rented houses, not let by local authorities, and to-day, of course, it is of these houses that we are particularly speaking. The position seems to be that the occupiers, the ordinary families, in many cases to-day are living in extremely sub-standard houses. What is more, we have been told that they are likely to continue doing so for the next twenty years. Lord Meston, I think, referred to a building programme of twenty years, which means that it will take twenty years to carry out the rebuilding and provision of new houses needed in England. For twenty years these families will continue to live in these sub-standard houses with, under present legislation, small hope of their being improved and precious little hope even of their being properly repaired.
That, I think, will impress your Lordships with the importance of this problem. One would have thought it would appeal to the present Government, because this is a social problem of very great magnitude. Debates in your Lordships' House during the last six months have on more than one occasion related to the deplorable effect on family life of people having to live under these miserable housing conditions. I believe that it is undoubtedly the cause of much of the crime which is dealt with in the law courts to-day, and I am convinced that all the free education and social services now provided will do little to ameliorate the state of those families during the years in which they have to live in these houses which are going from bad to worse. I would ask the Government, most earnestly, whether they do not feel strong enough to make at least some move in this matter. It is not necessary to increase rents in order to help to improve housing conditions. There are many other financial methods of attaining that end. It would be possible substantially to increase the repairs allowance, for example; and, of many methods, that, to my mind, is probably one of the best ways of dealing with this question, because it is important that any additional money which becomes available to the house owner, shall be ex- 885 pended on repairs and improvements. That was a point which was very clearly made by the noble Viscount, Lord Buck-master, in his opening speech.
Another method which could be employed would be an extension of the method provided for, I think, in the Finance Act of 1943 or that of 1942, whereby a considerable rebate of income tax is payable on all improvements to agricultural buildings. It is a fact that in this country to-day it is financially easier to provide improved accommodation for cows, under the operation of various agricultural grants and provisions of the Finance Act, than to improve living conditions for human families. That is well known to almost all members of your Lordships' House who take an interest in these matters. The two methods which I have mentioned would avoid any suspicion of an increase in rent—not that, as at present restricted, all rents are on a reasonable level; they are not. I am convinced, and no doubt many of your Lordships are also aware of this, that in many working-class houses today sums amounting in the aggregate to £20 and £30 a week are being taken in by members of the household. A rent of 2s. 6d., 3s. or 4s. a week is positively derisory when compared with the gross family income of such households. Therefore, I am quite certain that in many instances rents are too low when compared with the wages coming into the houses.
The proof of this can readily be demonstrated, I think your Lordships will agree, if you consider the millions that are being spent every year on football pools, dog racing, horse racing and cinemas and, indeed, on all the quite unessential things of life. Rent, in many instances, accounts for only a tiny proportion of the total family expenditure in the case of families living in rent-controlled houses. So I think that if this problem is regarded as a social problem, if the question to which attention is devoted is how to improve in a reasonable manner the miserable living conditions of many families, it becomes impossible to understand why the Government will take no effective action. The suspicion therefore remains that it is for purely political reasons that they will not take action.
§ 4.18 p.m.
My Lords, with the permission of the House I will read five or six lines from the Ridley Report, paragraph 78:We think it is true to say that except for a year or two before this war, and in some parts of the country not even then, there has been no free market for housing within the controlled limits since 1914. There were always more would-be tenants than houses available, and so rents of uncontrolled houses were maintained at a high level.The interests of the community are served by cheap and abundant supplies of the things that are wanted. When we do not get cheap and abundant supplies, what do we do? In war, when victory is dear and scarce, we look to the generals. In peace, when coal is scarce and dear, we turn our attention to the Coal Board. When we do not get cheap and abundant houses, we have to decide what to do. I think it would be fair to say that every Government since 1914 has had a finger in this unholy pie, so we reluctantly turn from the first objective, the Minister of Health, and consider the system he has inherited. Surely, there can be no greater indictment of the folly of control over all these years than the words I have read from the Ridley Report. We have played fast and loose with the law of supply and demand and, of course, we have reaped our fair and just reward. In thirty-five years we have not had cheap and abundant housing, and the conditions with which the noble Lord, Lord Kershaw, wrung our withers is entirely clue to that fact.
What is it that we really want? Surely we want a complete freedom of consumer choice. We desire that the consumer should be able to buy or rent a house to suit his taste, in a place convenient to him at a price within his means; and if his means are not sufficient we, as a community, have to see that they are sufficient. At the same time, we want competition to supply these amenities, but that competition should not be so intense that the stream of supply is frozen. It would be hard to find a situation further from that ideal than that which we have achieved at present. In fact, the housing conditions of Moscow, where control is complete, would seem to be only one degree further removed from the ideal. The measures of control have resulted in a system 887 whereby nobody would dream of supplying a house to let to weekly tenants except as a means of obtaining their services for himself. It is left entirely to the public authorities to supply this need and to the extent they supply the need, the burden on our finances is the greater. There is no incentive to supply the need. I assume we agree that the long-term ideal of a free market is what we really want. I submit that our only chance of wiping off this fearful reproach that I have read from the Ridley Report is gradually to undo the whole system of controls.
Ultimately the price of accommodation must hear some relation to the replacement cost, and must not be based on historic value, as at present. Until this is done, we shall never get away from the enormous disparities of rent which exist at present for equal or similar properties and which by themselves create such a great fixed interest in controls. The process of adjustment will be a difficult one, but as a community we have to face it. Once the new principle is accepted, houses to let will begin to attract private savings, which to-day are ceaselessly looking for outlets which are reasonably secure and which can safeguard the investors against depreciation of the value of money—as in fact they did before the First Great War. We should then expect to find that the amenities supplied varied according to the rent. What an excellent thing in a system which is always searching for incentives!
Moreover, when the supply was created, we should perhaps get somewhere near that mobility of labour which is the ideal of the economist but which has so far been an idle dream. At the moment, everyone who has a house rented at a cheap rent has a fixed interest in staying where he is. There is no inducement to change his job, because the improvement may well be wiped out by the loss of his fixed interest in a cheap house. Of course, even in a free market, we should probably have to have some protection for the sitting tenant, because he is always more squeezable than the landlord. Nevertheless, it would not require the present enormous apparatus.
Did the Ridley Committee agree that this is the kind of ideal we should aim 888 at, and what means did they suggest? In 1945 they recommended that it should be assumed that rent control would be necessary for ten years—that is, up to 1955—but that there might be a partial decontrol in the interval. They proposed to set up rent tribunals to determine fair rents, but they never defined what a fair rent should be. Should it be based on historic value or on replacement cost? I think that by implication the Ridley Report meant historic cost plus an allowance for depreciation. I do not think this would ever lead to the free market and a supply of houses to rent, but at least there would be some form of justice in it and one could agree on its merits. In addition to rent tribunals, the Ridley Report recommended a technical committee on the cost of repairs. By these two means the providers of houses would undoubtedly secure amelioration of their position, but I still do not think we would get a free market.
The awkward question of what is a fair rent would still remain unanswered. I believe that Parliament would have to appoint another Committee to answer that question. The decision might be that the rent should be the historic rent plus repair allowances, or it might be replacement cost less depreciation. The one would lead to more justice than there is at present, but the other, I am convinced, is the only road to the free market which will give a plentiful supply. I appreciate the enormous difficulties His Majesty's Government have in this matter, but sometimes one has to make a compromise with one's past in the interests of one's supporters. If the Government do not do something about the chaotic state of the rent control laws, I think they can say good-bye to any chance of a plentiful supply of houses to rent. I am not privy to all that goes on in the bosom of the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, but to-day I seemed to see passing through his mind all sorts of thoughts about three and a half years of Parliamentary time frittered away on idle nationalisation measures when this great task awaited the Government. I think it would take years to bring this about, and the measure of transition would require the good will of all Parties. I submit that we must ultimately get away from the present system of subsidised wages. Men 889 must earn enough to live in houses which other men can afford to provide for them. The first step towards this is to provide a decision on the question of what is a fair rent.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
My Lords, I intend to intervene in this debate for only a short time. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Buckmaster on having put down this very important Motion today. The purpose of my intervention is to say a few words on the important question of repairs. I gather from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kershaw, that he considers it a very important matter. I am not a landlord myself, but I have always been interested in housing and have spoken in several housing debates in your Lordships' House during the last two or three years. One cannot help seeing the terrible depreciation of existing property to-day. I agree with my noble friend Lord Meston that it is going to take a great number of years to meet the demand for new houses. Meantime, we do not want to let the existing 8,000,000 houses get into a bad state of disrepair, which they are doing, and deteriorate into further slums.
The Government recognised the fact that building costs had gone up tremendously when they gave a concession on war-damaged houses of 40 per cent. over the 1939 prices. Having given that concession, I cannot understand why—unless the reason is entirely political, which it ought not to be—they cannot do something in the way of first aid to help the poor unfortunate people who are finding all their savings going on the repair of houses. On the long-term policy of my noble friend Lord Ridley, I agree that all these rent control Acts ought to be put into a comprehensive Act, but that will take time. I regret very much that it has not been done before. What is needed are some concessions to help the poor people who cannot find the money out of the rents to keep the houses in repair. It is not as if wages are not good to-day. As the noble Lord, Lord Kershaw, said, there are often several wage earners in a house, all earning good money. I think they can afford, without hardship, a little more money to enable the landlords to put their houses into repair, which naturally they wish to do.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
My Lords, I am sure we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Buckmaster for returning once more to the charge on this very important topic—important to hundreds, nay thousands, of small property owners. He last raised the matter in your Lordships' House, if I remember rightly, on November 18, 1947. In a previous debate the noble Lord, Lord Ammon, was much more optimistic as to the time the Government would take to deal with the matter, but on the occasion of that last debate, while the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, was not very optimistic, he did say this:We are deeply conscious of the problem here involved. It is a very real problem. We are anxious to deal with it, but it is a long, complicated, difficult and probably contentious task. There is no chance of dealing with it in this Session"—that was the Session of 1947–48—and I cannot say whether there will be a chance of dealing with it next Session …The next Session happened to be the very short one of a fortnight, and there was not much chance to do anything about it then. The noble and learned Viscount went on:But it is quite obvious that sooner or later, however difficult and however lengthy it may be, it is a task that any Government will have to face and must attempt to solve.This debate will be justified if we can get some further assurance from the spokesman for the Government this afternoon. It is a problem which the noble and learned Viscount then realised that "any Government will have to face." What we should like to know is how the Government are going to face it, and when. I have not the powers that the noble Lord, Lord Meston, thought he might have, of seeing what goes on in people's bosoms or their minds, but I fancy that if the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has not already arranged with his colleagues in the Government to give us something very definite, if he were quite truthful and honest he would rise in his place to-day and say: "In the year before an Election? Not on your life!" But that really would not be good enough, because every year that passes with the small property owner not having enough in his pocket to keep these houses in repair, we are doing more than any of our ancestors 891 did to create slum property in this country. That is what is happening every day with masses of these houses, whether they belong to individuals or to housing associations. At the moment some of these housing associations are having great difficulty in making ends meet.
The Minister of Health has said that he will look into their problems, and I hope he will. In a great number of cases, as the noble Lord, Lord Kershaw, said, the owners are people whose father or husband invested money in property; they hoped to get a small income from it, but now find they have not enough coming in to keep the property in good repair. It is no use the Minister of Health saying that the property owners—at any rate, the smaller ones—ought to have enough in their pockets out of funds accumulated in war time to be able to do the repairs. Although they may not have been able to do the repairs during the war, due to lack of labour and materials and for other reasons, the cost of repairs does not decrease by their being left un-done. It saves money in the end to deal with the repairs when they first arise, rather than to have to deal with delayed repairs at the end of a war. If owners had been able to carry out these repairs during the war years, they could have completed them much more cheaply than they can carry out the accumulated repairs to-day.
Here is further evidence that the Minister's words on this subject do not hold water. It is extraordinary how one finds that properties to-day are just being handed over to someone else. In Glasgow, for instance, during last year alone, no less than 936 properties were abandoned to the local council. The property owner no doubt said: "I am sick of this. I cannot get enough in rent to keep my property in repair. I will hand it over to the council." As a matter of fact, the council had to set up a sub-committee for the purpose of dealing with the problem of houses that were handed over to them. I have numerous figures here from Salford, Merseyside and other parts of the country, which I believe are genuine figures, showing that what the various landlords receive by way of rent will not pay for the proper repairs, and meet other expenses, such as those of collection, incidentals, Schedule A income tax, and so on. From another set of figures, 892 which I received from a completely different source, covering a large number of cottage properties, the outgoings represent no less than 95 per cent. of the amounts that are taken in rents. Therefore, there is here a problem which must be tackled.
The local authorities put up a very good case to the Government and said: "We cannot go on"—I suppose they asked for an increased subsidy if they had to go on—" keeping our housing estates in order unless we are allowed to increase the rents." The vast range of local authority estates are not rent controlled at all, as your Lordships know. All over the country, local authorities, whatever the political complexion of the majority of their members may be—whether they are Conservative-controlled, Socialist-controlled or Independent-controlled—are quite rightly not increasing the rates of the poorer people who live in the other houses, but are instead raising the rents of the houses which come within their housing schemes.
There is the policy laid down by the Government in regard to nationalised industries. The railways have to pay their way, even though it means raising freight or passenger fares; the Coal Board has to pay its way, even though it means raising the price of coal to the consumer, and the local authorities have to pay their way in housing. The only people who are not allowed to receive anything like a fair return and keep their property in order are this little group of people who own rent-controlled houses. In that respect the Government say, so far as I can make out—unless we get a different point of view from the Lord Chancellor to-day—"We are not going to do anything much to help them." Unless something is done, more and more slums will be created in this country, and the housing problem will become more and more difficult every year. We should all agree that the ideal solution of rent control would be to have a supply of houses equal to, or rather more than, the demand, when automatically, through the law of supply and demand, rents would fall. I am not suggesting—and I think nobody would think of suggesting from this Box—that in the present state of the supply and demand of houses we should repeal the Rent Restrictions Acts. Those Acts were enacted quite rightly in the 1914–18 war and were continued during 893 the following years, although, as supply began to meet demand, we were gradually taking out categories of houses—which I think was the right way.
There must be methods of dealing with this problem. First, let us realise that if there were to be a small increase of rent on these rent-controlled houses, the rents would still be far cheaper than those paid by people living in local authority houses. Very few of the rents would come to anything like 25s. or 27s. 6d. per week, which people are paying at the present moment for local authority houses. There is another way (although I do not advocate this as completely meeting the problem, because it would not meet the case of the small owner who does not pay much in the way of tax) which would certainly help the big housing associations. It is that they should be given a rebate on the income tax assessments on their houses, just as was given to industrial undertakings and to Agricultural holdings (as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton) under the last Budget presented by Sir John Anderson. That rebate could easily be applied to money actually spent on repairs to houses, and in that way something could be done to help keep some of the houses in a proper state of repair.
We have had a long debate this afternoon, and I do not want to detain your Lordships much longer, but I would like to refer to one or two of the remarks in the interesting speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kershaw, with the greater part of which I agree. In the early days of the Rent Restrictions Acts nobody had thought of this method of serving a notice to quit in the interregnum, when the existing contractual tenant had just died and another tenant had not yet acquired the full tenancy rights because they were vested in some official of the court. The probable reason why that method has been invented now and was never invented before is that people will always try to find a way out when things are pressing most severely upon them. That is why ingenious people have gone to the trouble of finding a way out which they never attempted in the early days of rent restriction Acts—when, by and large, owners were allowed a charge for repairs which, in fact, met the bill.
The vast majority of tenants in this country are good clean tenants. Here 894 and there you find tenants who will make any house into a slum after they have been there for a few weeks; but the great majority of the people are good tenants, and if the landlord is getting a fair deal he would normally like the son or daughter of an old tenant to continue in his house. He knows that the family are satisfactory as tenants. It is only when the law is pressing most unfairly on these small landlords, as it is at present, that they try to have this ingenious procedure invented for them, and eventually to make use of it. The duty of Parliament and of the Government is to see that the law is fair both to the tenant and the landlord, so that both get an absolutely square deal: that the one gets a reasonable but not excessive return on his money—that he gets at any rate enough to be able to keep his property in repair, not only for his own sake, but for his tenants' sake—and that the tenant gets a decent house at a fair and reasonable rent. That is not the way that the Rent Restrictions Acts are working at the present time. I hope that we shall hear from the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack that the Government intend, and intend very quickly, to right this wrong.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Buck-master has returned to the charge, and as a result we have had a very interesting discussion. I sincerely wish, for that reason, that I could say something to send the noble Viscount away happy, but I am afraid he will go away, after I have spoken, more unhappy than he was when he came, because he is really asking for something which is impossible at the present time. It is, of course, a difficult topic, and if I were to answer all the questions raised by noble Lords, I should keep your Lordships here for an unconscionable time.
The noble Viscount reminds me of a man who has fallen amongst a lot of thieves, who have beaten him up, smashed his head in, knocked his eyes out, broken his legs and incidentally taken his pocketbook; and the only grievance he has is about the pocket-book. Of course this shortage of houses is causing great hardships and terrible suffering. The county court judges who have to determine these cases all complain of the heartbreaking 895 nature of their task when they have to turn some unfortunate person out to make room for someone else to go in; they come to me and complain bitterly about this jurisdiction which is thrust upon them. And the only grievance which the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, has expressed is the grievance of landlords who are not getting enough rent! I agree that in certain cases—by no means all—this legislation does bear hardly on landlords. But really, my Lords, that is a small matter as compared with the frightful hardship that is entailed upon tenants. Personally, I am neither a landlord nor a tenant. I do not own an acre of land, in Middlesex or anywhere else. The only chance I shall ever have to own an acre will be, I think, in Utopia. But if any of your Lordships has had to launch out a son or a daughter, and tried to find a small, modest house for them in the last few years, you will recall what you have come up against: the extortion that is being practised by some unworthy people—I am not for a moment abusing landlords as a whole—has been absolutely scandalous. Every noble Lord in this House, in his heart of hearts, knows that to be true.
What are we trying to do? We are trying to improve these Rent Restrictions Acts. In 1946 we dealt with furnished houses, in which there was a shocking ramp. A man would put a few sticks of furniture into a house, just enough to make the idea of furniture not completely illusory. He would then say, "This is a furnished house," and would then let it for an exorbitant sum of money. We dealt with that problem. At the present time (though I am not of course going to refer to it in this speech) we are trying to deal with the evil of premiums. Does anybody doubt that that has been a scandalous thing, too? Everybody knows it, and we are trying to deal with it. I agree that the time must come when we deal with the question of the landlord's rent—but first things first. The landlord's hardship is nothing like so great as the tenant's hardships at the present time.
Let us for a moment discuss the landlord's rent. I do not believe we can deal with this matter by simply taking a flat rate by which to increase the rent. The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, and his 896 Committee blew any such idea out of the water. They took a group of selected cases and compared the rents with the fair value. They found that in 4 per cent. of the cases the rents were under 50 per cent. of that value, and in 9 per cent.—more than double—were 150 per cent. over the value. They pointed out with irresistible logic that if a flat rate increase over the whole field were given it would involve an increase in a large number of cases that cannot possibly deserve it. Therefore they said—and I think they were right—that the only way to deal with this subject is to have a review over the whole country of every house; and they pointed out that there were 10,000,000 houses. If Lord Buckmaster had his way, and local authority houses were brought in, it would make something like 13,000,000 houses. Lord Ridley's Committee contemplated that we should want 200 tribunals. We have 77 tribunals now, in connection with the furnished house legislation. They contemplated that it would take three years to deal with the matter—and in my opinion that was a most optimistic view. Now, when we are having all these alterations in the law—and very necessary they are—is this the time to start upon that survey?
The noble Lord, Lord Meston, claimed to be a psychologist and said he had looked into my bosom. I do not know what is in my bosom; I should have thought it was there that I kept my emotions; but to my regret I now find it is full of thoughts about rent restriction and nationalisation Bills. I wish he had looked into the bosoms of the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin. I should like to know this. Are the Tory Party asking us at the present time—I repeat "at the present time"—to start an investigation into the appropriate rents to be paid for 13,000,000 houses in this country?
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
What we are doing is asking the Government, upon whom the initiative lies, what they are going to do about this problem. That is what I am hoping to hear from the noble and learned Viscount, if the Government are men enough to take their own responsibilities.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I quite follow that. I will deal with that in a moment. But I was asking the noble 897 Lord, Lord Meston, to look into the noble Lords' bosom. I want to know whether in that bosom there is a desire that we should now set up 200 tribunals to investigate the appropriate rent to be paid for 13,000,000 houses, because, if that is in their bosom, it is not in mine. I do not believe that you can contemplate doing any such thing at the present time—not merely, mainly or at all because we are within a year, or approximately a year, of a General Election, but because the whole state of the law about this is at present, as is quite plain, in a state of flux. Unless you have some reasonable stability and certainty in your law, it is no good trying to fix what the rents are to be. Therefore, I decline altogether to contemplate such a thing at the present time.
I have conceded, as I must concede, that there is some hardship to some landlords, and I have stated—and I believe it to be the fact—that the only way to remedy that and find out who those landlords are is by starting upon this vast inquiry. I do not think—I say this frankly—that the hardship to the landlords as a class is anything like so great as has been made out. I will give your Lordships these figures which I have and which your Lordships may take as authoritative. If you take a rent-controlled house five years before 1939, occupied by a statutory tenant, and you take that same house to-day, still occupied by that same statutory tenant, that house to-day will sell for at least 50 per cent. more than it would have sold five years before 1939. Probably I am taking too conservative a figure. It might sell for 100 per cent. more. Your Lordships may take my figures as correct; they come from the Inland Revenue values. I cannot see how this great hardship arises.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Without vacant possession. I am taking, the case of a house occupied by a statutory tenant five years before 1939, and the same house occupied by the same statutory tenant to-day. Those are the figures that I am given. I cannot myself vouch for them. I take the figure as 50 per cent. If it were free possession, I think it would be more like 200 per cent. or 300 per cent.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am taking houses at prices obtainable today, if you desire to sell a house to the highest bidder. If that figure is right, or even approximately right, it seems to me to follow that people who have invested in that particular class of property are better off than people who have invested in other classes of property. If a man complains that he cannot get enough rent to do the repair, surely the remedy is to sell the property? So much for that.
Therefore, I would say this. We shall go on at the present time trying to reform this legislation piecemeal, for I agree we must do it piecemeal. We must try to Lind out where the shoe is pinching and put that right. A few years ago, we did it with furnished premises; we are now extending it further in an attempt to deal with premiums. When we have the law worked out to a more or less satisfactory state, then will be the time—and not before—to consolidate. I cannot help feeling that there is a little confusion, both in the Ridley Report and in this Motion, with regard to what consolidation means. Consolidation is a most desirable thing, because it involves little or no Parliamentary time. It is simply putting together into one Statute what is already in a series of Statutes, so as to make it a matter of convenience for everybody to refer to. But the draftsman who is consolidating has to go before the Consolidating Committee. He has to be able to lay his hand on his heart and say: "I have reproduced exactly the existing law." If there is a doubt in the existing law, he has to be able to say: "I have reproduced the doubt," and he calls the attention of the Committee to that fact.
The talk in the Motion before the House of "revision and consolidation" is short-circuiting into one two wholly different conceptions. I think the same criticism might be made of the Ridley Report in this respect. If you are going to revise or alter the law, you must do that first of all by ordinary legislation. We are now, in fact, in the process of altering the law by a Bill which is at present under discussion in another place. But it is impossible to combine the pro- 899 cess of revision with the process of consolidation. First of all, you must make it plain what your law is to be; and then, by all means, consolidate. I agree—I realise this now more strongly than I did when we spoke on this matter before—the need for revision. And, when that revision is over, when we have more or less reached calm waters, then I for one admit frankly that there will be a strong case for consolidation.
It is a tremendous task. I will take your Lordships frankly into my confidence and say that there are two immense tasks at the present time which confront any lawyer. One is the consolidation of the Income Tax law; the other is the consolidation of the Rent Restrictions Acts. Both of them will take a very long time. Action in either case would mean that we should not be able to do any other consolidation for a very long time. Therefore, quite frankly, I hesitate to embark on either of those tasks, because even if it were only consolidation, it means that we would have to stop all our efforts at consolidation of other matters. However, that is a matter which obviously must be considered.
As I said before, I am in favour of consolidation when, and only when, revision has been finished. It is idle to try to consolidate at the present time, when the law is changing, not every day but rather every rear, and when it is likely, in my view, to go on changing. Therefore, I am sorry to tell the noble Lord that I am not willing at the present moment to undertake a revision involving the immense task which the Ridley Report recommended. I do not believe that any other Party is willing to do it. I invite correction if I am wrong. If the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, wants to say that his Party wish to do it, I invite him to rise, and say so.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
My Lords, surely the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor realises that the present Government are the only people who are in a position to do anything of the sort at this time. It is up to them to say what they, as a Government, will do. I have not the slighest doubt that in a year or eighteen months' time we shall be quite prepared from those Benches opposite to answer that question!
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I gather from that reply that at the present time the noble Lord is not willing to take it on.
My Lords, will the noble and learned Viscount allow me to say a word with reference to the question of consolidation in our Report? We did not, in fact, phrase it as recommending that, but we said that all the Statutes should be replaced by one single comprehensive Statute. We carefully avoided suggesting consolidation before revision—at least, we certainly intended to do so. What we had in mind was that there should be a great deal of change following upon what we suggested in the Report, and that there should be one Act; but that it would not be so much a question of consolidation as of omitting altogether a lot of it.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
If it is not a Consolidation Bill the noble Viscount will see what sort of a Parliamentary task is involved there; it would indeed be immense. I gather that the complaint has been that we have been bringing in too much legislation, not too little, and to bring in this if it is not consolidation would be a truly immense task.
My Lords, that is the position which I am bound to take up. The noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, enunciated the most extraordinary proposition of Socialism I have ever heard. I should be interested to hear where he got it from, because it is always well to try to understand the point of view of the other side. I have never heard of it in all my life, and I have been a Socialist now for twenty years. He said the position is that, by paying rent for a house, after a certain time (I do not know what time) the house becomes yours. I can assure the noble Lord that there is no such doctrine in Socialism—none whatever. He puts the analogy of the bank payment. You may have to go on paying interest to a hank, and I quite agree that the payment of interest does not mean the debt is wiped out—of course it does not. But I would like to know whether the noble Viscount will tell me to what source he has gone.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I would like to know to which source he went 901 for that doctrine, because I can assure him that it is a doctrine of which I have never before heard. The next proposition the noble Viscount enunciated was that the mere fact that a fund for repairs had been accumulated was regarded as an answer in itself to this question of the increase of rent. I do not agree with that at all. I agree with the old adage "A stitch in time saves nine," and even though a man put aside a fund every year for repairs I agree that the rise in the cost of repairs might beat him. But in fact, of course, as the Ridley Report points out, there were not a few cases in which, instead of trying to put aside any fund, the landlord regarded the whole sum as being merely an addition to his income; and when the 25 per cent. increase to the rent was made, expressly for the purpose of dealing with repairs, some landlords simply accepted the 25 per cent. as part of their ordinary income, and did not put it aside for repairs at all. Those are the facts.
My Lords, in conclusion, the noble Viscount wanted to know what we are going to do. It is this. We are going on with these reforms in order that we may bring under the shelter, under the umbrella of the Rent Restrictions Acts, all those persons whom we believe to be in need of protection. Lord Kershaw, in his interesting speech, referred to the contractual tenants. That is obviously a matter we shall have to keep in mind. I have no authority to say anything about it, but if that abuse becomes widespread it is exactly the sort of thing we shall have to deal with. The noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, bases his question largely on the fact that local authorities and statutory corporations are excluded from the operation of the Act. I do not know what he means by "statutory corporations," unless he has in mind the case of the cottage belonging to the railway company.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
That was the cottage which was said to be Crown property. So far as we are concerned, such a case was never put forward by the railway company themselves, and never will be put forward by any of these public corporations, who do not want to be in any such position. That is another matter with which, if necessary, 902 we shall have to deal by legislation. So far as local authorities are concerned, I have looked into the figures, and I believe it to be right that the rents charged by local authorities for comparable houses are substantially less than the rents charged for that class of house belonging to private owners. That is the information I have, and that is to be coupled with the reason which we were given in the Ridley Report, where they dealt with this matter. The Ridley Committee did not recommend that the Act should be extended to local authorities, who by Statute have to take a particular class of tenant—for they cannot select their tenants in the way that ordinary people can. That Committee recommended, and I agree, that the Act should not extend to local authorities. So I think that the terms of the Motion;To call attention … to the injustice of refusing any relief to private landlords while houses he longing to local authorities and statutory corporations are excluded from the operation of these Acts. …are really a misconception of the true position. With regard tothe urgent need for a revision and consolidation of the existing ActsI have pointed out that they are two wholly different things, and we are at the present time rapidly engaged in revising the existing Acts. That is the Motion of the noble Viscount. My Lords, I devoutly hope that we shall soon reach a better state of equilibrium, although perhaps not complete equilibrium, between the available number of houses and the number of people who want to be housed. I am not sure whether Lord Hawke went so far as to say that control ought to be abolished to-day.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I did not think the noble Lord did. He thought that the shortage of houses was due to the fact they were under control. He forgot Hitler; he forgot the bombs; he forgot the war; he forgot that building had ceased for about five years, and that during those five years a large number of houses had been knocked down. Surely Ell those things have some bearing on the shortage of houses to-day.
I really cannot allow the noble and learned Viscount to get 903 away with quite so much as that. The passage in the Ridley Report which I read was to the effect that there has been no free market for housing within the controlled limits since 1914.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I realise that the noble Lord read from the Ridley Report, but after that he became more expansive, and used his own words and he attributed the trouble to the control.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
To the control. I suggest only that there are other considerations besides control which have had some slight bearing on this matter. My Lords, we shall go on revising the existing law. I hope that in the course of our revision we shall be able to deal with hardship to all the lieges, whether landlord or tenant. But I am hound to say that at the present time the far more pressing hardships seem to me to be those applying to the tenant. It is those that we must remove in the first instance, so I regret to tell your Lordships that I cannot accept this Motion.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER
My Lords, I have no wish to detain your Lordships, but there are some things which must be said and, indeed, must be plainly said. If I may, I would like to deal first with the point mentioned by my noble friend Lord Kershaw, who courteously forgave me for interrupting him. His point, as I understand it, is that in the case of a contractual tenant, if notice is given at the appropriate moment after the death, the landlord may, if fortunate, secure possession. I believe that to be so; but of course tenants are not always dying and the landlord has to seize the psychological moment to achieve his purpose.
To turn now to what the noble and learned Viscount has said, I agree there may be imperfections in the wording of my Motion; that I am not prepared to dispute. The noble and learned Viscount has a wide knowledge of these matters, and I did not seek legal advice in the wording or phrasing of the Motion. But that its purpose and its meaning are plain to every one of your Lordships is, I think, 904 absolutely true. I cannot, unfortunately, accept many of the statements which the noble and learned Viscount made, and I feel that many of your Lordships are with me in this. In the first place, I would like to make it plain that, while I have no objection to being knocked over the head, I am not, and never have been, primarily concerned with my pocket. There is not one single word in the speech which I have made this afternoon which suggests that I or the Associations of which I am privileged to be President, were seeking a personal gain.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
If I gave the noble Viscount or anybody else any such impression, I am very sorry. It is the last thing I would think or say about the noble Viscount. I certainly had no such intention at all.
§ VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER
I am very grateful to the noble and learned Viscount. I have been trying to put forward a temperate and moderate solution of this problem. In attempting to express the views of the bodies of which I am privileged to be President, I hope I made it plain that they were asking only for an increase which would enable property to be maintained in a habitable state, with an undertaking that the money would be so spent. They were not asking for a profit of any kind.
The noble and learned Viscount has quoted Inland Revenue figures. It is not the first time that I have had to dispute Inland Revenue figures. I do not like mentioning my own affairs, but perhaps I may be allowed to tell the House of this experience. I had two brick-built semi-detached cottages on a main road in the country. In front of those cottages there was main water and electric light. The cottages were controlled, the rent being, I think, 1s. 11d. a week plus the permitted increase of 40 per cent. With what little wisdom I possess, I took steps to divest myself of controlled property—which, according to the noble and learned Viscount, brings in much unearned increment and profit. I put the cottages up to auction, but the best hid that I received for those two brick-built cottages in reasonable repair was £70. With some effort, I managed to sell them privately for £50 apiece. I say, without fear of contradiction, that to suggest that 905 restricted property commands a higher price than it did before the war is contrary to the facts, except possibly in the case of certain selected urban areas. The proposition which the noble and learned Viscount put forward is one which I have never heard before, and in the cases which I have mentioned is surely not in accordance with the facts.
In regard to the local authority houses, I agree with the noble and learned Viscount. I ought to have made it plain that I was not seeking that these should be subjected to control. My purpose is to accept control while it is essential, but not to extend it. I have never tried to be unreasonable in this matter. There are in fact 8,000,000 rent-restricted houses, and the figure would be raised to 13,000,000 only if we added the local authority houses, which, of course, I had no intention of including. My purpose was to show that the exceptional increases in rent which local authorities are compelled to charge to cover repairs show conclusively that the landlord of rent-restricted property cannot maintain it properly.
That leaves me with the only other point to which the noble and learned Viscount referred—namely, the difficulty of getting homes. I think your Lordships would agree that I did my best to make it abundantly plain that even where the landlord is prepared to help and to accept an uneconomic rent, he cannot let houses because he is unable to regain possession. The Rent Restriction Acts operate inevitably and inexorably against the provision of houses for our people, and they have always operated in this way. In view of the attitude which the noble and learned Viscount has taken up—I say frankly that it has caused me some surprise, for while I did not expect him to agree with me I scarcely expected him to take up such an attitude— I will not detain the house further. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.