§ 3.6 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ THE MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO (THE EARL OF MUNSTER)
My Lords, I beg to move that this House do now resolve itself into a Committee on this Bill. Before the Motion is put by the Lord Chancellor, I should like to say, on behalf of noble Lords who sit on this side of the House, and, I believe of noble Lords in all parts of the House, how much we shall miss the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who was to have taken an active part in our deliberations this afternoon. As most of your Lordships know, the noble Lord is now in hospital. We all hope that his stay there will be of very short duration, and that he will return to us at an early date fully restored to health. In whatever part of the House noble Lords may sit, I think we should on this occasion send to Lord Silkin our best wishes for a complete and speedy recovery.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Munster.)
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for his kindly reference to our colleague Lord Silkin. I am glad to say that, although he was obviously very poorly indeed last week, when he had to go home from the House, we are hoping that he will not be in hospital longer than perhaps the remainder of the week, although we cannot yet be sure of that. He is then ordered a period of rest, and I hope that none of us will try to persuade him to give up that rest until he is thoroughly fit for duty. We shall miss him very much on this Bill, and upon other Bills and Motions connected with his activities in the House. We join with all the other Members of the House in sending him our best wishes.
Before I look to the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor to see if he is putting the Question, I should like to ask a question of the Government: that is, whether, in the state of the developing political circumstances, the Government have reconsidered the question of proceeding further with this Bill. The agitation against it proceeds apace. My postbag grows day by day. I have 645 had two further communications to-day from very large associations, not political associations but tenants' associations, protesting against the process which is going on, which I think ought to be taken note of. Moreover, the continued growth of losses of Independent and Conservative members in the urban and municipal elections, elections which have this time been fought very largely upon the rents issue, show clearly, in spite of some extraordinary statements made with regard to the issue in these elections, that on this Bill the Government have not got the country behind them. I should have thought that in the political circumstances now revealed to us in by-elections, and in the municipal and urban district council elections, it was high time that the Government considered withdrawing the Bill altogether.
My Lords, I should not like this corner of the House to be left out of the tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who has done so much good work in this House. I have had the opportunity of calling at the hospital, and my own information in regard to the noble Lord is such that we hope to see him back soon. On the later point mentioned by the noble Viscount, who has just sat down, I cannot entirely agree with him. Whilst I feel that the country is not behind this Bill, I feel that it is not entirely against it, and I would say that it is the duty of your Lordships' House to try to put the Bill in a better condition than it is at present.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
Would my noble friend remember that at the last General Election Mr. Aneurin Bevan was charged with having said something quite wrong? He said that the Government would introduce a Bill of this kind. The intention to do so was stoutly denied by the Conservative Ministers and propagandists at the last General Election. Here is the Bill before us, with all its iniquities.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, as the noble Viscount knows very well, it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to continue with this Bill and to pass it into law at the earliest opportunity. I am not really concerned one way or the other with what Mr. Bevan has said in the past or, indeed, with what he will say in the future. But I am aware of the gains which have been made by the Conservative Party in the last 646 local elections in the large towns and cities, and that result would seem to us to be eminently satisfactory.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The EARL OF DROGHEDA in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1 [Rent limit of controlled houses]:
§ 3.12 p.m.
LORD OGMORE moved to add to the clause:
(5) Notwithstanding any of the provisions of this section no increases of rent (other than increases under subsection (1) of this section or under section five of this Act) shall at any time exceed in the aggregate fifteen shillings per week.
§ The noble Lord said: As the Committee will know, the object of Clause 1 is to limit the rent to which controlled tenancies may be assessed. This is the most important clause in the Bill and its object is to increase the permitted rent under a controlled tenancy to an amount "equal to the 1956 gross value of the dwelling multiplied by two." Our object in this Amendment is to limit the maximum increase which can be obtained under Clause 1, except in those cases in which the tenant agrees to a reasonable sum or to an increase for certain specified reasons, such as the improvements mentioned in the Bill.
§ We have had a look at the number of dwelling-houses which are likely to be affected by this clause, and at the way in which they will be affected. According to the Government's own table of statistical information, published in November last year (Command Paper 17), the facts are as follows. There are 4,250,000 houses which are at present controlled, and they are split up into various categories of houses; of those with a present net rent of up to 5s. a week, there are some 983,500; from 5s. to 10s., there are 2,062,500; from 10s. to 15s., there are 835,200; from 15s. to 20s., some 325,400, and over 20s., 43,400. Those figures give the Committee some indication of the rentals which are paid now by controlled tenancies. In other words, except for 368,800 premises, all the remainder of the 4,250,000 premises are paying rents of 15s. or under. The vast majority are paying rents of from 5s. to 10s. a week. On that basis, even a maximum increase of 15s. is a very substantial sum.647
§ When we analyse the figures still further, we find that, taking the excess of twice the 1956 gross values over the net rents, the figures are these. The houses for which twice the 1956 gross value will exceed the present weekly net rent are as follows: up to 5s., 963,000; from 5s. to 7s. 6d., 954,000; from 7s. 6d. to 10s., 1,109,000; from 10s. to 15s., 897,000; and over 15s., 327,000, again making a total of 4,250,000. So there we see that, as assessed by the Government, there will be only 327,000 tenancies which under the Government's proposals will have an increase of more than 15s. In fact, as I understand it, having come somewhat late on the scene, for the unfortunate reasons which have already been given, our Amendment really applies to only these 327,000 houses—as I think the Government agree. That is, assuming that all the landlords who own these 327,000 houses decide to give the notice of increase, or, by virtue of the state of the premises and so on, are entitled to give notice of the increase. We are asking the Committee to fix at 15s. the maximum increase which a landlord can claim.
§ I should have thought that that was a most reasonable and, indeed, proper Amendment. In this instance, it seeks not to destroy the principle of the Bill—it is not in any sense of the word a wrecking Amendment, as I think the Government will agree; it is an Amendment by which it is intended to try to remove from those who are likely to pay the most under Clause 1, the harshness of the top limits. I might perhaps say here that I have an interest—not necessarily in this clause but throughout the Bill—which happens to be in the other direction to that in which I am speaking, because for years past I have been a landlord. I am happy to say that I am now to a much lighter extent than I used to be a landlord. I do not know whether one ought to divulge a sort of contrary interest to the one in regard to which one is speaking, but if, in accordance with the rules of procedure, it is necessary to do so, then I do so. I hope that this Amendment will commend itself to your Lordships, as I feel it is a very reasonable one which will temper the wind to the lamb that 648 is going to be most heavily shorn. I beg to move.
Page 2, line 19, at end insert the new subsection.—(Lord Ogmore.)
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
This is the first time that I have spoken on this Bill, and I should declare an interest which is just the reverse of that declared by my noble friend Lord Ogmore, in that I am a tenant of a controlled flat in London and I have no doubt that when this Bill is passed into law my rent will increase. In that sense I have a financial interest in this Bill. Nevertheless, I very much hope that, like any other member of the Committee, I shall make an effort to see that my personal interest in no way affects my judgment on the Bill.
I should like to support the Amendment put down by my noble friend because I believe it is both important and reasonable. It is reasonable because it is so limited in scope. It deals with a certain category of houses that are already controlled and will remain so after the Bill has passed into law; and it will not affect rent increases due to such factors as local rates, cost of services or improvements made by a landlord to his property. Clearly, these are variables which cannot be taken into account. But surely if we disregard these factors, it is not unreasonable to say that the increase in the rent of a controlled tenancy should be anything up to, but not more than, 15s. a week. I am sure that that provision would prevent a great deal of very real hardship.
My noble friend has given the figure of 327,000 dwellings in England and Wales of which the rent is likely to be increased by more than this amount. Though this is a small proportion of the total number of controlled dwellings in the country, there are living in these houses a large number of tenants, such as pensioners, people on fixed incomes, people with small salaries or those at the lower end of the wage scale, who will suffer real hardship if they have to pay a rent increase of more than 15s. a week. I hope therefore that Her Majesty's Government will look at the Amendment from that point of view and will see it as a moderate and reasonable effort to mitigate the hardship which otherwise will be caused to a certain number of tenants with small incomes.
§ LORD WISE
Before the noble Earl the Minister replies, I should like to call attention to the country aspect of this particular Amendment. The noble Lord who moved it referred to a total of 327,000 houses as being affected, but if noble Lords will look at Table IV supplied with the White Paper they will see that there are 4,000 houses of a gross value between £21 and £26, and 210,000 houses of a gross value of between £27 and £40. These 214,000 houses in country areas, apart from London and Scotland, are affected by this particular clause, and we must bear in mind that some of these houses of a gross value of between £21 and £40 are let at comparatively low rents—perhaps as low as 15s. a week. Thus by this one particular clause the rent of those people is being doubled. We must bear in mind that those who live in houses of these gross values are, in many cases, retired people living on fixed incomes or pensioners who cannot bear this big increase in rent.
Noble Lords will remember that when I spoke on Second Reading I made a suggestion that rateable value should be used as the basis instead of gross value. That would have had the effect of taking out from this particular increase many thousands of the 210,000 dwellings shown as being of a gross value of between £27 and £40. Apart from that fact, it must be remembered that as the years have gone by landlords have had, in addition to the standard rents of years gone by, increases of rent to the tune of 15 per cent. or 40 per cent., or whatever the figure may be, and have also had a certain amount of tax relief in respect of repairs. I hope, therefore, that in this particular instance Her Majesty's Government will consider not only the landlords but the tenants who will have to find this particular increase in rent.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
As the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore pointed out very clearly in moving this Amendment, its intention is to prevent the landlord of a house which remains in control from increasing the rent of that house by more than 15s. a week. The noble Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Wise, drew attention to Table IV of the White Paper which shows the number of houses where a rent increase of over 15s. a week would be needed to bring the rent up to twice the gross value. In fact there are 327,000 650 such houses. If noble Lords will study that Table carefully, as no doubt the mover and other noble Lords have done, they will realise that dwellings in respect of which the rent increase would be over 15s. a week (apart from the 4,000 houses in the £21 to £26 category) are only those whose gross value is over £26. All the other cases are those in which the 1939 market rent of the house was between 10s. and £1 per week. They are, therefore, as the Committee will see at once, the larger houses among the controlled group—those on which we believe a higher rate increase would be more justifiable.
Since the increases permitted by the Bill are not percentage increases but increases to bring the rents up to a uniform level, the greater the rent increase the lower must be the rent as compared with the present rent of other similar houses. In other words, the rent increase in respect of any particular house will be over 15s. a week merely because the present rental is low, even compared with the 1939 values. I am told that, for reasons for which I am never quite clear in my own mind, it often occurs that the rent which was being paid in 1914 or 1939 can be described as a more or less nominal one. It may be that the house was let to a relative of the landlord, and that therefore the rent was kept at a very low figure. But whatever the rent may be, the effect of control has been to "freeze" the rent, ever after, at the level at which it happened to be in 1914 or 1939, when control was first imposed. That, I think, in these modern days, is fundamentally wrong, and it is one of the main purposes of this measure to try to put that matter right.
Furthermore, any arbitrary limit to the total amount of rent increase would be bound to work, in many ways, extremely unfairly. I believe, therefore, that what we have decided to do within this Bill provides a very reasonable rent level. The noble Lord will remember that under the Bill protection is afforded to the tenant against an increase in rent of more than 7s. 6d. during the first nine months. I should have thought that that would be adequate to safeguard his personal expenditure on rent for his house and at the same time to enable him to adjust his financial situation accordingly. I could quote—but I do not wish to weary noble 651 Lords—many instances of houses which have a gross rateable value of £40, and yet the present rent is something under 5s. per week. The noble Lord will realise as well as I do that to continue in that position would be quite ludicrous. At the same time, to lay down that a house in that category shall not have its rent increased by more than 15s. is really not of much value. I hope that in these circumstances, the noble Lord will not press his Amendment.
§ LORD OGMORE
Just as a matter of elucidation I should like to ask this question. Did I hear the noble Earl aright? Did he say that he could quote many instances of houses of £40 rateable value—
§ LORD OGMORE
Many instances of houses of £40 gross value and £30 rateable value for which the rent paid is less than 5s. a week? Where on earth did he find those houses?
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
I can tell the noble Lord of two offhand—perhaps he would like to go and live in one of them. One is at Portsmouth and the other is at Basingstoke.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
I should imagine that those are cases in which the rates have been constantly increasing on the houses, and it would have been wholly within the power of the landlords to raise their rents according to the increase in rates. These must be examples of extraordinary benevolence on the part of landlords. I must say that I am not very much impressed by examples of that sort. On the other hand, I have read reports of some parts of the Committee stage debates in another place, and I found mention of cases where houses with gross assessments of £30 to £40 are lived in by working class people. The case of one such house, which is situated in the East End of London, was quoted by Mr. Charles Key. A man who has several children and who earns £7 a week lives in it, and his rent by this Bill will almost certainly go up to 30s. a week or more. How that sort of thing can have anything else but a bad effect on the workers as well as a 652 general inflationary effect I cannot see. It must have a general inflationary effect on the whole of our costs of production throughout the country. If you look at the particular categories you will see a large number of such cases coming within the limits which we want to avoid. I think this is a much more important Amendment than the noble Earl seems to consider it to be. I am not satisfied with his answer and I shall ask my colleagues to divide.
§ LORD OGMORE
Before the Chairman puts the Question, may I say, with all respect—for I like the noble Earl—that if the Committee stage is going to be conducted with the sort of arguments to which we have just listened, it is not treating Parliament seriously. Out of a total of some 4,250,000 houses, or whatever it is, to instance the case of two houses, one at Portsmouth and one at Bermondsey as having rents of less than 5s. a week with gross value of £40 and rateable value of £30 is fantastic. I have no doubt that if the noble Earl says that there are two such cases they do in fact exist, but they are so highly exceptional that they must be due to some very peculiar circumstance—such as a father permitting children to live in a house—and they can have no bearing on this problem as a whole. I ask the Government to treat the House seriously and to give us arguments upon which we can base reasonable conclusions. I do not regard that as an argument that should be put to this House. It can do no good and can only be frivolous and misleading.
Really this matter is within a very tiny compass. The test is twice the gross value. If someone's rent has to be increased by more than 15s. a week to come up to that limit, it means that they have been paying a very small rent indeed. Therefore there is no injustice in the matter.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, I do not wish to prolong the discussion, but, having been a Member of this House for over twenty-five years, I think, if I may say so with respect, that I do know how to treat the House—at least I hope I do. I have quoted two cases, one of a house at Portsmouth and one of a house at Basingstoke. According to the advice I have been given there are literally 653 hundreds of houses in a similar category. The noble Lord knows in his heart of hearts as well as I do that that is really the position.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, I think that it would be appropriate for me to move that the House do now resume in order that my noble friend Lord Mancroft can make a statement to your Lordships. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the House do now resume.—(The Earl of Munster.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and House resumed accordingly.