HL Deb 21 July 1954 vol 188 cc1319-28

6.50 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time. I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to signify to the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Landlord and Tenant Bill, has consented to place Her Majesty's interest, so far as it is concerned, on behalf of the Crown, the Duchy of Lancaster and the Duchy of Cornwall, at the disposal of Parliament for the purpose of the Bill.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a. —(The Lord Chancellor.)


My Lords, even though the hour is Parliamentarily late, I think it would be wrong if the House were asked to give this important Bill merely a formal Third Reading—because it is an important Bill. Her Majesty's Government do consider it important, and they go further: they consider it to be a document of major social significance. I think the Bill was a good one before it came to your Lordships' House, and after the scrutiny to which your Lordships have submitted it I suggest that it is an even better Bill. I think even noble Lords opposite are beginning to suspect that it is a good Bill. In the course of his Second Reading speech the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, welcomed Part II of the Bill and described it as "a big step forward." I am beginning to hope that he may now extend that congratulatory expression to the remaining portions of the Bill. Your Lordships have given this measure a detailed examination. Those of us on this side of the House would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and his colleagues for the helpful, if necessarily critical, examination to which they have subjected the Bill—and in one respect, notably that of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, a quite spectacular examination.

We had on the Marshalled List of Amendments some eighty to ninety Amendments, of which fifty-six have now found their way into the final draft of the Bill. Five of those Amendments were important. Amongst them there were two which the Government brought forward: one, the new clause dealing with the question of property held on trust, which will be valuable to many religious and charitable bodies; and another to enable the National Trust to make the best use of property in their hands. Three of the five Amendments to which I refer found their way into the Bill at the instance of the Opposition. There was the Amendment concerning the tenant who wishes to carry out his initial repairs; there was the deletion we made to one of the grounds on which a landlord can get possession of business premises; and thirdly, there was the question of the tenant's right to make a written representation opposing the grant of a certificate when a Government Department or a public authority desire to take action under the Clause 57 procedure. I think it will be admitted that these are important Amendments. I would not go so far as to say they are radical Amendments, or vital Amendments, or Amendments that go to the root of the Bill; indeed, it would be odd if at this stage, after the details put into it, and the scrutiny to which it has also been subjected in another place, we should be able to find five radical Amendments. But the fact that we have been able to put into the Bill at this stage five important Amendments is, I feel, full justification of the time and trouble which your Lordships have expended on this important measure.

Three points which the Opposition made in the course of our discussions remain uppermost in my mind, and I should like to make one short reference to them. The first is the question of scarcity value, of which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and his noble friend, Lord Ogmore, spoke at some length. They made the point that scarcity value should be excluded from the rent payable by a tenant who retains possession after the end of a ground lease. We argued this backwards and forwards for some time, and we maintained that it was impossible to achieve what noble Lords wanted by means of a valuation formula. May I attempt to solve their problem by reminding them that the only real way to eliminate the scarcity value problem is to eliminate scarcity itself? That is what the Government are trying to do in other portions of their domestic and housing legislation, and I think we are entitled to claim, with some pride, that we are making notable progress towards the elimination of scarcity.

The second point was this. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, came to the Dispatch Box time and time again, and when one of his Amendments was unsuccessful he would shake his head sadly and say: "This is one more example of the Government's bias in favour of the landlord" I want to do away with that point once and for all. This Bill is not a Bill in favour of the landlord; indeed, if I could show the noble Lord some of the protests which have been received from landlords' organisations I am sure he would change his tune considerably. This Bill is practically a tenants' charter; it is biased in favour of the tenant to a marked degree, a point which my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor made forcibly on the Committee stage. If the Amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, had been, say, 50 per cent. in favour of the landlord and 50 per cent. in favour of the tenant, and the Government had accepted only those Amendments which he put forward in favour of the landlord, he might have been justified in shaking his head sadly, as he did. But all of his Amendments, without exception, were in favour of the tenant, and if we had accepted them all great injustice would have been done to the landlord. We have tried to strike a balance, of justice in this Bill, and whenever we were in doubt we have favoured the tenant. I hope that will set the noble Lord's mind completely at rest.

The last point I want to refer to is the question of leasehold enfranchisement, which was raised time and time again on all the discussions on the Bill. May I remind the House that the independent Committee set up by the Socialist Government, of which noble Lords opposite were members, recommended against enfranchisement by eight to two? Although we have not gone so far as the Opposition would have liked, I would suggest that Her Majesty's Government have gone a long way in this Bill to ameliorate the position of the occupying tenant by reducing his liability for dilapidations and by giving him security of tenure. That is what we set out to do, and that is what I believe we have achieved. I, for my part, will be surprised if we hear much more in the future about this old bogy of leasehold enfranchisement. This is a complex Bill; in many ways it is a technical Bill and a lawyers' Bill. But, for all that, it is, I submit to your Lordships, a very good Bill. If your Lordships are good enough to see it into law, then I hope we shall sit back and watch these complex provisions working themselves out with the good will of all concerned and to the great advantage of all concerned. It is a courageous and, I suggest, a far-reaching measure, and with confidence I recommend it to your Lordships for a Third Reading.

6.58 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, really feels that he has convinced me by the few remarks that he has made at this late hour, and at this late period in tile progress of the Bill. I admit—and I admitted it at the beginning—that this Bill seeks to improve the position of tenants of dwelling-houses of certain classes, and of business premises. It is an improvement, and it would be wrong to deny that. The whole burden of the case that has been made from these Benches is that a good many of the benefits which this Bill seeks to confer upon tenants are illusory, because the terms on which those benefits are provided are, in our view, unfair and beyond the means of many of those for whom they were intended.

I do not propose, however, to enter at this late hour into a controversy with the noble Lord about the detailed Amendments. It would be ungracious on my part not to recognise that some advance has been made by the Government on a number of (may I say without disrespect?) relatively minor matters. The noble Lord was quite right in saying that it was difficult, if not impossible, for the Government to make any concessions on major Bills. That is a matter which I believe is worthy of the consideration of the House on general lines. The noble Lord was quite right when he said that this Bill has been scrutinised very closely in another place. It had sixteen days in Committee, and either one or two days on the Report stage. There were on this Committee a number of eminent lawyers, both on the Opposition side and on the Government side. I do not complain that it has not been examined in the closest possible way, and I must say that it was exceedingly difficult, when this Bill came to your Lordships' House, for us to discover any point that had not been threshed out.

Does that not bring us to consider what is the function of this House? If, in fact, we have been told: "Here is a Bill which has been closely scrutinised in another place, and there is really very little for you to do here," is that not an admission that the position of this House needs closer consideration? Perhaps the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, can give us information as to whether there is a possibility of the reform of this House being considered in the present Parliament. We were promised, or threatened—whichever way you like to put it—that it would. When we do come to consider the question of reform, is this not a matter that we should consider very carefully? After all, if the noble Lord is right—and I think he is—that there is really not much scope for a Committee stage in this House—


I never said that.


I think the noble Lord said, "not much." I say that there is not much scope for a Committee stage or a Report stage here. I said it on the last Bill in which I was personally concerned, the Housing Repairs and Rents Bill, where there was even less scope. If it is true that that is the position, is it worth while our spending a large amount of time in carrying out what is virtually a drafting operation? The noble Lord referred to some of the Amendments which we have passed. He referred to two of them as being Government Amendments. They were, I believe, Amendments which the Government had undertaken to insert in this House. They had given the undertaking in another place, and we acted merely as instruments for carrying out their undertaking. A number of other Amendments were drafting. The three Amendments that might be regarded as being of substance were all right, but I do not think the noble Lord himself put them forward as being especially important. I think they were an improvement, but I cannot help feeling (I hope that I am not being ungracious) that even they were regarded as being some sort of crumb that ought to be offered to the Opposition as a reward for the hard work they had put in during the Committee stage.

Be that as it may, I personally am having increasing doubts as to the value of these lengthy Committee and Report stages of Bills which have been through another place. It is, of course, different where the Minister who is directly responsible for the Bill is in this House—we had an example of that with the Television Bill. In the case of that Bill, a considerable number of Amendments were put down here on Committee stage, and there was an offer to consider a number of points that arose during that stage. There was a discussion at which the Minister himself was present and took part. I had the privilege of being present at that discussion, and I am bound to say that that private discussion, which took place after the Committee stage, was a valuable stage in the progress of the Bill—far more valuable than the Committee stage in the House itself. The Minister was able to make a number of concessions to the point of view of the Opposition and, as a result, the Bill has been considerably improved.

In the case of a Bill like this, the spokesmen in this House are of necessity limited by their instructions—they are not their own masters; they are given briefs. I myself have seen these briefs in the past, and I have been through the same process. They are told to resist an Amendment, or to agree to an Amendment—though of course it is rarely that they are told that. Mostly they are told to resist and to give the reasons why. They do it most courteously and graciously, but they resist; and it is very rarely that there is an undertaking to consider. I hope the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will not mind my saying this, but when we do come to reconsider, what we meet with—and, I suppose of necessity it is all part of the organisation of this House—is not really a reconsideration but a decision. We are told what is the decision of the Minister on certain matters which the Government have undertaken to reconsider. There is no possibility of further discussion of the matter; we just accept what is offered to us. We can, of course, put down further Amendments on the Report stage, but when we do that we are told that the Government have fully considered all this and that there is nothing more to be said.

If that is the position, I would seriously suggest, as I suggested on a previous occasion, that we ought to reconsider the value of these proceedings. Nobody is going to continue indefinitely to take part in a farce, and if these proceedings do result in the farce of people giving all their effort and their time, with no more result than has been secured in the case of the two Bills I have mentioned, the Housing Repairs and Rents Bill and this Bill, then this House will find that they will not have an effective Opposition. I do not know what the answer is, and I am not at this hour putting forward an answer. I am merely putting forward a problem and a dilemma. I am not in the least being critical of the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, who has been courtesy itself in every possible way, or of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, who has also been most courteous. Both of them have treated seriously every argument that has been put forward, and have not attempted to brush it on one side. But it is a dilemma that we have all to face in this House. Having put it forward, and put it forward in conjunction with the possibility of the reform of this House, I must leave it at that.

Let me conclude as I began, by saying that undoubtedly this Bill will bring about an improvement in the position of tenants. I am not going to be drawn into a discussion as to whether or not there has been bias in favour of the landlord. I think that probably a certain amount of bias in favour of the landlord has existed en the Government Benches, and I am prepared to admit that most of the Amendments that we put forward from this side were favourable to the tenant. Your Lordships can have it that way if you like. This Bill had it in its power to mark an immense step forward in the relationship of landlord and tenant, It has not gone anything like so far as we on this side could have wished, and I am convinced that we have not seen the last of legislation of this kind. But we do things gradually. On the last Bill, the noble Viscount made the same statement. Let us be thankful for what we get, even if it is only half a loaf. I suppose that, on that principle, we are grateful for half a loaf or a quarter of a loaf, as the case may be.

7.10 p.m.


My Lords, it falls to me to wind up the long-drawn-out proceedings on this Bill. I confess I feel some difficulty, and indeed some diffidence, in answering what the noble Lord has said, for I do not think it falls to me but rather to the noble Marquess who leads the House to deal with such questions as the reform of the House and what function the Opposition may usefully play when it is unfortunately—shall I say "unfortunately"?—in a small minority. I cannot help thinking that the greater part of the complaint that the noble Lord has made is founded simply on the fact that the Labour Party is in a small minority in this House. But that does not mean, I beg him to believe, that we do not consider the suggestions which are made by way of Amendment or proposal of any kind by the noble Lords on the Opposition Benches. We treat them with the utmost consideration; and may I say to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. that, after all, it is quality and not quantity that counts. Nothing could have exceeded the acuteness of his examination of the provisions of this Bill or could diminish in any way the value of the suggestions which he has made.

There is only one point where I join issue with him (perhaps because for so long I had a more or less independent position), and that is when he tells me, as he has told us, that we did nothing but accept our instructions and nothing more. I do not recognise that as the position in which I stand in relation to the Home Secretary or any other Minister. If I think that the Amendment proposed by the noble Lord is a good one, I do my best to get the Home Secretary or whatever other Minister is concerned to accept it. That is what I did in this case. Then, when, as the noble Lord says, he came to a conference—and I enjoyed it, as I hope he did—and we discussed matters together, I was able to tell him that upon consideration some of his proposals were accepted on their merits. Equally, I had to tell him that certain proposals that he made were not acceptable, but that did not mean that the door was closed. After all, it is not I that the noble Lord has to persuade. This is a debating Chamber and he must satisfy the House. I cannot take it as a defect in our system that, if he is unable to persuade me, that is the end of the value of this House as a debating Chamber. I do not want to travel now too far into the matter. After all, it far transcends the circumstances of this particular Bill. I would only say to the noble Lord that I hope that he will labour in future as he has in the past, and I believe that, as a result of his labours, other Bills will be improved, as this Bill has I think been improved. I would only repay him the compliment that he has paid me by acknowledging the courtesy with which he has always treated me and my noble friend, Lord Mancroft, in this very difficult and intricate Bill.

On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments.

Clause 37 [Compensation where order for new tenancy precluded on certain grounds]:


My Lords, there is one small Amendment, purely drafting. It is, at page 28, line 24, leave out "on" and insert "of". I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 28, line 24, leave out "on" and insert "of".—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.