§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, as your Lordships are aware, we are now approaching the end of the passage of this Bill, which has been the subject of so much controversy, both in and out of Parliament, through your Lordships' House. Without wearying your Lordships by reciting again the purposes of the Bill, or the Amendments which were inserted during its passage through the House, I would only say this. I believe the case for this Bill to be quite overwhelming, and I have never thought that it would have such a devastating effect as the Opposition have always considered would result from its passage into law. The Bill has been discussed at considerable length in this House at each of its stages, and we have made some useful additions to it. The Government have, wherever possible, endeavoured to meet the wishes of the House, but it has not been possible for me to accept any Amendment, on the Committee or Report stages of the Bill, which would radically have altered the Bill's structure. I would only repeat that I am sure the House will not expect me on this occasion, when we also have a number of Amendments, to remind your Lordships of the purposes of the Bill, or of the Amendments which have been so recently inserted. With those few remarks, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3ª.—(The Earl of Munster.)
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, I beg to move that the debate on the Third Reading of this Bill be adjourned until to-morrow. This is a rather unusual procedure, but I understand it is quite a correct one, and it is applicable in this 13 case for this reason. On the Report stage of the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Meston, put down an Amendment to insert a new clause after Clause 17. The noble Lord, in the course of his arguments in support of the new clause said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 203 (No. 71), col. 1035]:The short point is that at present the amount of any expenditure incurred by a landlord in carrying out what are generally known as ' street works ' does not count as expenditure on an improvement, within the meaning of that term in the Rent Act. This Amendment reverses the position….The noble Earl, Lord Munster, speaking after the noble Lord, Lord Meston, said [col. 1036]:My Lords, my noble friend has correctly interpreted the purpose of the Amendment which stands in his name and which I told him on the Committee stage of the Bill—we should be prepared to accept.I then said that I was surprised that the Government were going to accept the Amendment, and that, in fact, I did not recall that on the Committee stage the Government were of this mind.
I gave reasons at some length as to why we were concerned at the attitude of the Government in accepting the new clause of the noble Lord, Lord Meston. In reply to me, the noble Earl, Lord Munster, said [col. 1037]:If the noble Lord will refer to Clause 5 of the Bill, he will see that it re-enacts Section 2 (1) of the Rent Act, 1920, which already covers the case in which a landlord himself incurs expenditure in improving a road which forms part of a dwelling let to a controlled tenant. Thus, for nearly forty years the landlord who makes up the private road adjoining his property has been enabled to recover from the tenant expenditure up to 8 per cent. What this Amendment mainly does is to make clear that the law passed in 1920 will function after this Bill becomes an Act. There is nothing sinister about it: it merely re-enacts Section 2 (1) of the Act of 1920.My noble friend Lord Alexander of Hillsborough then asked a question of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack as to whether the county court referred to in the new clause was the one referred to in Clause 5; and he then said [col. 1038]:Perhaps I may know from the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack, as I am just a layman in these matters, whether this is one of the matters that can be the subject of appeal by the tenant to the county court.14 The noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, replied [col. 1038]:My Lords, I should like to help the noble Viscount, but I am not sure what he has in mind as to the stage at which this matter would go to the county court. Perhaps the noble Viscount will explain his doubts to me further. I will then certainly look into the matter and let him know the position before the Third Reading.Taking the first point, whether there was any alteration in the law as the result of Lord Meston's new clause, your Lordships will have observed from what Lord Munster said that he first of all agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Meston, that there was an alteration in the law; that it did, in fact, involve a complete reversal of the law. Then, in answer to me, he said that there was no change at all: it was mainly, he said, a re-enactment of the previous taw. To that extent, there was a complete and contradictory series of statements by the Government on this important clause.
Recently, the noble Earl, Lord Munster (I must give him full marks for this, because he could, I suppose, have said nothing about it), has courteously, properly and fairly written to me and pointed out that in fact there is a difference as a result of this clause; and that the noble Lord, Lord Meston, was right and he himself was right the first time, but that he (that is, the noble Earl) was not right the second time. I have obtained the noble Earl's permission, and I will read to your Lordships what he said to me. He said:On reading over Hansard for Tuesday's debate on the Report stage of the Rent Bill I felt that I should send you this additional note so that there can be no misunderstanding as to the extent to which the new clause on road charges adds to the existing law.Clause 5, as it stands, for all practical purposes, has the same scope as Section 2 (1) (a) of the Rent Act, 1920, in that, as I am advised, is already covers the case in which the landlord himself directly incurs expenditure in improving a road which forms part of a dwelling let to a controlled tenant. This is normally so where the whole of the landlord's property is let to the tenant. The new clause makes that quite clear and also deals similarly with the, nowadays, more normal case where the landlord, on the requisition of the local authority, does not himself actually do the work but leaves the local authority to do it and they charge him for it.The clause also does one more thing in dealing with the case where the landlord's property is let to more than one tenant. This happens not infrequently nowadays where a large house and its grounds are split up. The 15 clause provides that the cost shall be spread over the occupiers by agreement, or by the Court, regard being had to the benefit received. This is the proviso to subsection (2).I hope you will agree with the Government that these two extensions, to meet the practical circumstances of to-day, in no way violate the principle already enshrined in the 1920 Act.Whether the extensions violate that principle or not, it is quite clear, I think, from the letter of the noble Earl that they do import into the law new considerations; that they do enable landlords to claim from certain classes of tenants higher rents for improvements for road works which landlords could not claim previously. To this extent—and it is an important extent because, as the noble Earl says in his letter, the new cases covered by this new clause are, in fact, the more usual cases in these days—it is an important change, and I say, with all sincerity, that if we had known this on the Report stage of the Bill, we should certainly have divided the House against it.
§ LORD OGMORE
We are going to; that is the whole object of this exercise.
We felt that, as we were given information which was incorrect—although, let me say, here and now, that I do not charge the noble Earl for one moment with consciously misleading the House, though, in fact, he did unconsciously do so—that we must test the opinion of the House on this new clause. We have now had its effects and ramifications explained to us for the first time, which was not done before, although, to be fair to him, the noble Lord, Lord Meston, did say that it involved a change in the law and an obligation on the tenant. I absolve him from any fault in this case. We must test the House on this matter. It has never had the opportunity of being tested, and for that reason we intend to divide the House and to ask your Lordships to agree that the Third Reading be adjourned until to-morrow. If your Lordships will agree to that course, it will enable us to put down an Amendment for a debate to-morrow. We cannot do that to-day. Under the Rules of the House it is not possible for us to put down a Manuscript Amendment on Third Reading-. But if your Lordships would agree, as I hope you will, to adjourn the proceedings 16 on the Third Reading until tomorrow, we will put down an Amendment. We will put it in straight away, and it can be argued and the case can be put more fully than I have been able to put it in the short time I have felt justified in taking up this afternoon. Therefore, I would ask your Lordships to agree to that course.
Before we get to that stage, there is one other matter to which I must refer. I mentioned earlier (in one way it is a separate issue, although, in a sense, it is tied up) the question which my noble Leader put to the noble and learned Viscount, and that was the question about the county court. We did not get an answer to this on the Report stage, for the reasons I have given. But we have now received from the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack—and we are grateful to him for his courtesy—an answer. If he has no objection, I will read the answer to your Lordships. It clears up that doubt, but it puts the unfortunate tenant in a difficulty, as your Lordships will see. The noble and learned Viscount says in his letter:In the course of the discussion of Lord Meston's amendment to the Rent Bill I promised that I would look into the question you put to me about the jurisdiction of the county court and let you know what the position is. When you referred to the possibility of an appeal by the tenant to the county court, I think you probably had in mind the provisions of Clause 5 of the Bill which relate to improvements generally, and in particular subsection (3) of that clause which enables a tenant who considers that an improvement made by the landlord was unnecessary or unreasonably expensive to appeal to the county court for an order cancelling the increase in rent otherwise permitted for the improvement.Such an application by the tenant would not be appropriate where road works are concerned and Clause 5 (3) is accordingly excluded by subsection (4) of Lord Meston's new clause. The execution of the works will be required by a local authority under one of the enactments mentioned in subsection (2) of the new clause. Indeed, normally the local authority will itself do the work and recoup its expenditure from the owner of the house. A machinery for testing the reasonableness of the local authority's request or expenditure is laid down under the enactments I have mentioned, and in these circumstances it would not be right to provide a further system of appeal by which the need for the works, or their cost, can be challenged by the tenant as between himself and his landlord. There may, of course, also be questions of apportioning the improvement charge between two or more tenants occupying different parts of the house. Lord Meston's 17 new clause, in the proviso to subsection (2), enables any dispute on the proportion to be borne by a tenant to be taken to the county court or, in Scotland, to the sheriff court.Your Lordships will see that the unfortunate tenant, so far as the expenditure which is incurred by the landlord or (as is more usual) by the local authority on the landlord's behalf is concerned, has not the right of recourse to the county court, and he has to go through the machinery under the Private Street Works Act. The only case where he can go to the county court is where there is an argument between two or more tenants over an apportionment of a charge which is about to be made or has been made by the local authority. Here, again, as the result of this clause the tenant is put in a difficult position, and the recourse to the county court which we imagined he would have is not available to him, at least as to the amount to be charged. That, it seems to us, is an added reason why this particular clause should be rejected. As I have said, we cannot reject this clause, however much we dislike it, to-day, because there is a rule against Manuscript Amendments. Therefore, I strongly urged your Lordships to pass the Amendment that I am submitting, that the debate al the Third Reading of this Bill be adjourned until to-morrow, so that we can put down a proper Amendment on the Order Paper and have it properly and fully debated, when the Government can no doubt bring forward such arguments as they may have in support of it. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the debate on Third Reading be adjourned until to-morrow.—(Lord Ogmore.)
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am very sorry; I was moving from one capacity to another. First of all, let me say, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Munster and myself, that we both regret that the words should have misled noble Lords on the Opposition Benches. My noble friend Lord Munster was really distinguishing between the introduction of a new principle into the Bill and a minor alteration in the law. He has asked me to express regret that he did 18 not make clear to the House words which have been found misleading by noble Lords.
I think it would be useful if I indicated to the House the exact change which the provision proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Meston, makes. I hope the House, on consideration, will come to the conclusion that it is a point of infinite smallness and that I was right in saying that no new principle is introduced. As my noble friend Lord Munster said in the course of his speech, this provision, the new clause, to some extent overlaps Clause 5, and Clause 5 in this respect re-enacts Section 2 (1) (a) of the Act of 1920 in England and Wales, that provision being repealed by the Eighth Schedule, although the provision remains in force in Scotland.
Section 2 (1) (a) of the Act of 1920 and, similarly, Clause 5 of the Bill cover the case in which the landlord himself incurs expenditure in improving a road which forms part of a dwelling let to a controlled tenant. May I repeat that, because it is difficult when one refers to these various provisions. I want to make it clear that the case where the landlord himself incurs the expenditure is dealt with by Clause 5 of the Bill, and that, of course, has already been passed in the Committee stage and gone through this House. That is normally so where the whole of the landlord's property is let to the tenant, but, while this enables the landlord to recover the cost where he himself pays for the work, whether he does it on his own motion or because he is required to do it by a local authority, it does not cover the case which is even more usual nowadays where the local authority themselves do the work and charge the landlord, who is one of the frontagers to the street, his share of their expenditure.
In other words, Clause 5 deals with the case where the landlord has done the work and allows him to charge for that, but it does not deal with the case where local authority do the work and charge the landlord, who is then faced with the posit ion that he has to pay and in that case, before the clause of the noble Lord, Lord Meston, was inserted, he could not pass the cost on. But, in equity and fairness, there is no difference between the two situations and there can be no distinction in principle between the 19 two cases: one where the landlord himself pays for the work and the other where the local authority do the work and recover the appropriate charge. All that the new clause does in this respect is to put the two cases on the same footing. Therefore, although the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, is quite right in saying that my noble friend's words may be technically incorrect, in that he said that it does not make a change in the law, it really applies the same principle to two complex sets of facts. That is the first point.
As the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, said, the clause makes one further provision. Although the landlord, in the circumstances which I have described, can increase the rent where only one tenant occupies the property against which the charge is made, the law makes no provision where the property is let in parts—for example, where a large house and its grounds have been split up. Again, the principle is clearly the same, whether the premises fronting the road are occupied by a single tenant or by several tenants. Subsection (2) of the clause of the noble Lord, Lord Meston, accordingly enables the landlord to increase the rent of any controlled tenant whose dwelling has access to the road. Again, there is no introduction of a new burden in any sense of that term, but there is an attempt to make all the provisions come logically into line. With that, I ask your Lordships to agree with me that Clause 18 introduces no new principle into the Rent Acts. It merely brings up to date the application of the existing principle embodied in Section 2 (1) (a) of the Act of 1920. Both extensions—the case where the local authority do the work, and where several occupiers are involved—are reasonable modifications of the law in order to make the matter logical and fair.
Upon the second point, I am sorry if I did not give an immediate answer to the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition. I was anxious to be quite sure that I had got his point. The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, was good enough to read a letter which I wrote. That makes clear—at least I hope it does: that was the intention of my letter—that there are two aspects. One is where the local authority have already provided the basis of the charges and made the charges, 20 and in regard to the local authority's determination there is no appeal to the county court because the local authority act under their statutory powers. There is the procedure in the Act for seeing that the local authority do their duty. I must say I had not thought that noble Lords on those Benches would have wanted an appeal from the local authority's determination, because the machinery has always been laid down in the Acts which give them their powers.
With regard to the point of the apportionment between the various parties concerned, there is, as my letter says, an appeal, but you cannot go behind the determination of the local authority. Again, I think that that position is perfectly clear and I hope that my explanation will convince your Lordships that this point is not the sort of point that ought to lead to an adjournment of the debate; that the position is clear and the reasons for the approval which the Government gave to the clause of the noble Lord, Lord Meston, are obvious. Therefore I hope that your Lordships will not agree to the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack for courteously looking into this matter for me and writing me direct. I can assure him that we have no complaint against him whatsoever. We have no great complaint against the noble Earl, Lord Munster. But we do feel that what has emerged since the debate on the Report stage is that the Amendment which was granted to the noble Lord, Lord Meston, has put the landlord in a more favourable position in this particular regard than when the Bill emerged from another place. That is the fact. I agree that there is perhaps not so much difference in principle, but most certainly we should have divided upon the Amendment in the Report stage if that had been made quite clear to us, as I am sure the noble Earl would have intended it to be. If the Government are not willing to-day to adjourn, then all I can say is that we shall at once go to the Division Lobby on the Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Ogmore, in order to register our view.
My Lords, may I ask the noble Viscount one question? Am I to understand that the attitude of the Opposition is not to decide on what is fair and right as between landlord and tenant, but that in any case where the landlord is slightly better off, it is to be opposed by the Opposition?
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, we in this House have been hoping for the last few weeks to try to get some Amendment in favour of the tenants, who are much more in need of protection from this House than are the other class. That is how I should have thought the noble Lord would look at it. Certainly this is an improvement from the landlords' point of view If that had been made clear to us we should certainly have divided upon it, because we were being given nothing by Her Majesty's Government in favour of the tenants.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
My Lords, I do not want to say anything about the merits of this matter. I only want to say one word about procedure in regard to the complaint made by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, that there was not an opportunity, or adequate opportunity, to put down an Amendment, and his Amendment to ask the House—who have assembled here, on notice, to dispose of this measure—to adjourn. That is a very unusual course. In all the years that I have been in the House I do not think I recall the taking of such a course. That is not to say that it is not perfectly in order to propose it, and, if there were a good reason, then I have no doubt the House would assent to it.
I should like to say—I say it only because I think that although we, in this House, have not many rules of procedure we must adhere to them strictly—that it has always been the rule of this House (it is laid down in Standing Orders) that there cannot be a Manuscript Amendment on Third Reading. I well remember that once, when I was leading the House, an Amendment, which the whole House would have wished to make and which was for the general convenience, cropped up in debate. Lord Salisbury, the father of the late Leader of the House, said that while that Amendment was something which, no doubt, would be for 22 the convenience of the House, yet we must not transgress the rules; and the Bill went through without that desirable Amendment.
I say this for future use. I do not think that the noble Lord has any ground for complaint. After all, he knew there can be an Amendment on Third Reading. It does not happen in another place. There, once a Bill passes through the Committee and the Report stages you have lost your last chance of amending it. We take the most unusual course here—it is a rather sensible one in the final reviewing Chamber—that, if occasion arises, we can move an Amendment on Third Reading, but that Amendment must, I think quite rightly, he put on the Marshalled List. It is common knowledge and common practice that if anyone is in any doubt, or thinks he may want to raise a matter on an Amendment on Third Reading, he can put down an Amendment, of which notice can be given at any time after the Report stage of the Bill. Noble Lords heard what the noble Earl, Lord Munster, said and what the Lord Chancellor said. The proper course, if there were any question, would have been to put down some Amendment which would have come up and could then have been answered and voted upon.
I say this only because I do not think the House should be under any idea that either side has unexpectedly been taken by surprise over this business. This matter was fairly fully discussed and an explanation has been given. There has been in the past few days, before the Third Reading, ample opportunity to put down an Amendment which could have been moved aria discussed in order to elucidate the position. I do not know what the Government are going to do, but I think it would be an unfortunate precedent if the House were asked to adjourn this matter.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I do not want to delay the House. I would only say to the noble Earl, Lori Swinton, that the major surprise came to us when we received Lord Munster's letter. We were not surprised at anything which happened during the debate; it was what came later.
§ On Question. Whether the debate shall be adjourned?
§ Resolved in the negative and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ Bill read 3ª, with the Amendments.
§ Clause 17 [Provisions to facilitate exchange of controlled dwellings]:
LORD OGMORE moved to add to subsection (2):
Provided that if the landlord or any superior landlord refuses to be a party to such agreement the tenant may apply to the county court and the court may make such order in relation to such application as it may in all the circumstances consider to be proper.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, your Lordships will remember that I moved an Amendment to this effect on the Committee stage of the Bill. Clause 17 provides for the facilitation of exchange of controlled dwellings; that is to say, where the tenants of two controlled dwellings, for reasons which seem good to them, decide to exchange their premises this may be effected, with the consent of the landlords and the superior landlords concerned. On the Committee stage everybody agreed that this was a perfectly sensible and reasonable thing to do. I said that if one of the landlords, or the24
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 17; Not-Contents. 65.23
|Attlee, E.||Archibald, L.||Lawson, L.|
|Listowel, E.||Chorley, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Faringdon, L.||Pethick-Lawrence, L.|
|Greenhill, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Alexander of Hillsborough, V.||Haden-Guest, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Stansgate, V.||Latham, L.||Wise, L. [Teller.]|
|Kilmuir, V. (L. Chancellor.)||Furness, V.||Grantchester, L.|
|Goschen, V.||Gridley, L.|
|Home, E. (L. President.)||Hailsham, V.||Hacking, L.|
|Hereford, V.||Hampton, L.|
|Lansdowne, M.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Hawke, L.|
|Reading, M.||Stonehaven, V.||Jessel, L.|
|Salisbury, M.||Templewood, V.||Leconfield, L.|
|Tenby, V.||Lloyd, L.|
|Albemarle, E.||Luke, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Addington, L.||Lyle of Westbourne, L.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Barnby, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Fortescue, E. [Teller.]||Birdwood, L.||Merthyr, L.|
|Gosford, E.||Cawley, L.||Meston, L.|
|Howe, E.||Chesham, L.||Monson, L.|
|Limerick, E.||Conesford, L.||Newall, L.|
|Munster, E.||Cottesloe, L.||Rathcavan, L.|
|Onslow, E.[Teller.]||Craigmyle, L.||Remnant, L.|
|Radnor, E.||Croft, L.||St. Levan, L.|
|St. Aldwyn, E.||Dynevor, L.||St. Oswald, L.|
|Swinton, E.||Ennisdale, L.||Salter, L.|
|Waldegrave, E.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Saltoun, L.|
|Gifford, L.||Waleran, L.|
|Crookshank, V.||Gisborough, L.||Wolverton, L.|
§ superior landlords, did not agree to a proposed exchange, perhaps for some frivolous reason which should not be taken into account, or because he was merely being absolutely obstinate, the result would be that the whole plan, which might be very desirable and acceptable, would fall to the ground. I therefore proposed this Amendment which said that where the objection was frivolous or obstinate there should be a right of appeal to the county court and that the county court, having taken all the circumstances of the case into account, could then pronounce upon it and deal with it as it thought proper.
§ Here again, by one of those little circumstances which seem to crop up on the Rent Bill, we were not told by the Report stage of the view of Her Majesty's Government on this proposal. The Amendment had earlier been withdrawn by me, on the Committee stage, on the understanding that Her Majesty's Government would let us know their view by the Report stage. As they did not do so, I was not able to put down the Amendment for consideration by your Lordships 25 on the Report stage. I mentioned the matter on the Report stage on the Motion that the Report be received, and I then said that if Her Majesty's Government could not agree to the very reasonable proposal that I had made I should put the Amendment down on the Third Reading and, if necessary, divide the House upon it. That is what I have done. And we have put it down, I would stress, because your Lordships have not had a chance of giving your opinion on this particular proposal. It was withdrawn during the Committee stage, and I was not able to put it down on Report. Now it comes up for the consideration of your Lordships really for the first time. I think your Lordships could well decide to give it your approval, irrespective of what the Government may say. After all, this House is not a rubber stamp—at least, it should not be—and it is for us to consider these matters, whether the Government are in favour of them or not, on their merits.
§ This proposal received considerable support from the Benches opposite during the Committee stage. Both the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye and the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, supported me upon it. Perhaps they did not go all the way, but they said that the case which I had made out was a reasonable one. They did not actually use those words, but that was the effect of what they said. And they intimated that they thought the Government ought to try to meet me on this point. It is, I submit, a reasonable case. Why should a bargain or arrangement, made, say, by two tenants to exchange their houses, an arrangement which is supported, perhaps, by two landlords and one superior landlord, fall down because the other superior landlord (perhaps for reasons of his own which have no connection with the merits of the case) refuses to be a party to the agreement. We are not saying that in these circumstances the plan must be carried out. All we are saying is that the matter should go to the county court, if the tenants concerned so desire, and that the county court judge should arbitrate between the parties.
§ If I may say so, I think this is a very sensible Amendment and, as I say, it has already received a certain amount of support from your Lordships' Benches opposite. I would therefore ask your 26 Lordships to support me in this Amendment to-day. I feel that it will be a very practicable provision to have in the Bill. I can foresee many cases where it may he desirable for tenants to effect an exchange. For example, there may be two people who are getting a little elderly, and who have a big house which They would' like to exchange for a smaller one. And they may know people with a family in a small house who would like to get into a larger one. This Amendment does not affect control at all. If accepted, it would simply mean that in the circumstances which I have mentioned the two parties, with the consents provided for in the Bill, would be able to exchange their homes. I suggest that the Amendment is one which carries out the intentions of the clause and will probably have quite a good effect in a number of cases. I beg to move.
Page 14, line 24, at end insert the said (Lord Ogmore.)
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, I feel sure that the House will recall that on the Committee stage of this Bill your Lordships agreed to insert what is now Clause 17 in the Bill—a clause which deals with provisions to facilitate the exchange of controlled dwellings. During the passage of the Bill through another place two Amendments were moved to deal with precisely the same matter which Clause 17 deals with at the present time. There was, however, one important exception: one of the new clauses which was put down for discussion contained a proviso similar to that which has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, this afternoon; the other omitted the proviso altogether. My right honourable friend the Minister of Housing was anxious—and I think said so—to meet the case which had been made during the Committee stage in another place, and I accordingly introduced the clause on an earlier stage of our discussions, but without the proviso which the noble Lord now seeks to insert.
On the Committee stage, my noble and learned friend who sits on the Woolsack, while not giving any promise, agreed to consult with my right honourable friend about that Amendment; and that, indeed, he has done. The Amendment required 27 some consideration and I think it was only natural to assume that if I or my noble and learned friend who sits on the Woolsack made no mention of it on the Report stage, it was an indication that my right honourable friend and the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack were considering this matter with some care.
The basic argument against the proposal of Lord Ogmore is, as your Lordships will clearly understand, that it is completely at variance with one of the major objects of the Government's, policy on decontrol. Under Clause 11 (2) (c) of the Bill, provision is made for houses to be decontrolled when they become vacant. To compel a landlord through the county court to agree to the assignment of a statutory tenancy when otherwise the house to be vacated would become decontrolled would, in fact, be in conflict with the whole of the Government's policy which we have outlined during the course of the passage of the Bill. I maintain (I do not for one moment expect that Lord Ogmore will agree with me) that it would be manifestly unfair to expose landlords to the desire of a tenant whose occupancy of the house is not at issue to see that some stranger steps into his shoes when he vacates the house. My right honourable friend can see no objection whatsoever to the voluntary assignment of statutory tenancies, but he could not agree to the introduction of any element of compulsion. While, therefore, I appreciate what the noble Lord has in mind, I must advise the House to refuse to accept this Amendment.
It is true, as stated by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, that during the Committee stage my two noble friends behind Inc, Lord Balfour of Inchrye and Lord Ridley, endeavoured to suggest that a compromise might be found in conferring jurisdiction on the court to determine whether a landlord's consent had been
§ unreasonably withheld. That my right honourable friend considered in some detail. But he found—and I think he was right—that in substance that suggestion was very little different from the principle of the present Amendment which has been moved by Lord Ogmore. In fact, in the proposal of the noble Lord the element of compulsion is still present, and my right honourable friend believes it would be very difficult indeed for the court, against the background of the provision in Clause 11 (2), for decontrol on vacant possession, to decide in what circumstances the landlord's consent was being unreasonably withheld. I do not see how a court could take the view that a landlord was acting unreasonably in refusing his consent to the assignment of a statutory tenancy because he wanted to let his house at a free rent to a tenant of his own choosing. In these circumstances, while I appreciate the point which the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, has made, I must advise your Lordships to refuse to accept this Amendment or to insert any other similar provisions in the Bill.
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Earl has taken this view, because I think that this is a very reasonable point. After all, the Government themselves have agreed to the provision of an exchange of controlled tenancies, and to some extent that is itself a reduction from the principle of the Bill—freedom from controlled tenancies. All we seek to do by this Amendment is to try to facilitate what the Government had in mind to do, where there is one obstinate person who refuses to agree. I regret that the noble Earl did not accept this reasonable Amendment, and therefore I must ask your Lordships to divide.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 17; Not-Contents, 60.29
|Attlee, E.||Archibald, L.||Lawson, L.|
|Listowel, E.||Chorley, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Faringdon, L.||Pethick-Lawrence, L.|
|Greenhill, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Alexander of Hillsborough, V.||Haden-Guest, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Stansgate, V.||Latham, L.||Wise, L.[Teller.]|
|Kilmuir, V. (L. Chancellor.)||Goschen, V.||Hawke, L.|
|Hailsham, V.||Hayter, L.|
|Home, E. (L. President.)||Hereford, V.||Jessel, L.|
|Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Leconfield, L.|
|Lansdowne, M.||Stonehaven, V.||Lloyd, L.|
|Reading, M.||Luke, L.|
|Salisbury, M.||Addington, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Barnby, L.||Merthyr, L.|
|Albemarle, E.||Birdwood, L.||Meston, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Cawley, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Chesham, L.||Monson, L.|
|Fortescue, E. [Teller.]||Conesford, L.||Newall, L.|
|Gosford, E.||Cottesloe, L.||Rathcavan, L.|
|Limerick, E.||Craigmyle, L.||Rea, L.|
|Munster, E.||Croft, L.||Remnant, L.|
|Onslow, E. [Teller.]||Dynevor, L.||Rochdale, L.|
|Radnor, E.||Ennisdale, L.||St. Levan, L.|
|Swinton, E.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.||St. Oswald, L.|
|Waldegrave, E.||Gifford, L.||Saltoun, L.|
|Glyn, L.||Waleran, L.|
|Crookshank, V.||Grantchester, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Furness, V.||Gridley, L.|
On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 19 [Jurisdiction of county court or sheriff, and procedure]:
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, this Amendment applies the provisions of subsection (4) of Clause 19 to apportionments made by the court, or in Scotland by the sheriff, under the proviso to subsection (2) of Clause 18, which was moved into the Bill at Report stage. Subsection (4) of Clause 19 provides that apportionments of rates, gross value or rateable value made by the court, or by the sheriff, for the purposes of the Bill are to be final and conclusive. There is precedent for this in the 1920 Act as well as more recently in the English and Scottish Acts of 1954. It would he unreasonable if such matters were taken to higher courts, on appeal, and the same is true of the apportionment of the cost of roadworks under subsection (2) of Clause 18 where more than one person benefits from the work. Your Lordships have already discussed this last point. I beg to move.
Page 16, line 26, after ("Act") insert ("and any apportionment made by the court or sheriff under the proviso to subsection (2) of the foregoing section").—(The Earl of Munster.)
§ Clause 25 [Interpretation]:
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, the next Amendment is almost drafting. The definition of the Act of 1939 is unnecessary, 30 since there is no reference in the Bill to the Rent and Mortgage Restriction Act, 1939, as such. I beg to move.
Page 19, lice 14, leave out ("'the Act of 1939'").—(The Earl of Munster.)
§ Sixth Schedule [Minor and consequential amendments and application of enactments].
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
My Lords, this Amendment to the Sixth Schedule is solely drafting. I beg to move.
Page 44, line 36, leave out ("Act of") and insert ("Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act,").—(The Earl of Munster.)
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(The Earl of Munster.)
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ VISCOTTM ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, this is the last day of discussion on this Bill, which has now passed its Third Reading. The Opposition have not been able to get any Amendments accepted on behalf of the tenants who are so cruelly treated by this new piece of legislation. It is obvious that right throughout the country feeling is rising against this Bill—I think that is quite clear from the results of the local municipal and urban district elections. The noble Earl, Lord Munster, 31 was very confident the other day that the recent elections in the big towns were all in favour of the Conservatives; but I can assure him that that is not so, and that over the country hundreds of seats, net, have been gained for Labour in elections which have been fought largely on this Bill.
It really is, as I said in a previous debate, an iniquitous Bill. It is not that we feel there is no need for revision of legislation concerning rents—of course, there is need for that—but that this is a piece of legislation which provides for revision in such a way that security of tenure is gone for the great mass of tenants covered by the Bill; that it will lead to substantial increases of rent, especially in respect of the houses which are to be decontrolled, and often to quite considerable rises in the houses remaining under control, which are, of course, subject to conditions as to the amenities and the general state of repair of the premises. The Bill, taken as a whole, is one of the most disastrous measures for the people concerned that has ever been introduced; and wherever I go, and to whomsoever I talk, I find that it has gained for itself the most unpopular reputation. If one wanted to choose a vantage ground for fighting a political action upon it, then one would welcome the Bill. But when you consider what is going to be the result in hundreds of thousands of individual cases, then I feel it is necessary for us to do just the opposite and to say that we very much regret that the Government have seen fit to go forward to this position to-day.
Moreover, we feel that, before this Bill leaves this House, we ought to point out that there is really no mandate from the country for it. I want to put on record in the OFFICIAL REPORT Of the House the facts about that. In the 1955 General Election, Mr. Aneurin Bevan, speaking at Huddersfield on May 10, said—and I quote from The Times of May 11, 1955—There are 5 to 6 million rent-controlled houses in Britain and I prophesy all these rents will be increased if the Conservatives return.Two days later, the Conservative Central Office issued a denial in their Daily Note stating:This is reminiscent of an earlier canard of Mr. Hugh Dalton, who said at the Margate Conference on 2nd October, 1951, that a general permission to raise rents everywhere was what the Conservatives wanted.32 and they went on to say that there was no more truth in the reports circulated by Mr. Bevan than there was in Mr. Dalton's insinuation of October, 1951. So it is not surprising that I am receiving almost by every post protests that the Government are passing this Bill into law without any mandate whatsoever from the country. I had a communication three or four days ago from a man who lives at Enfield, who obviously is not a member of my Party. He says:The present Government have not received a mandate for the new Rent Bill. The Government cringe in the shadow of a majority that was obtained under false pretences. This new Rent Bill, whilst giving millions of pounds to rent racketeers, housing spivs and wealthy landlords, will deal a mortal blow to many people with fixed incomes whose only crime is that they voted for a Party that pledged itself to keep down the cost of living.
§ THE EARL OF MUNSTER
May I ask the noble Viscount whom he thinks that man supports? I have had innumerable postcards, but not that one.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
I must say that he gives me no indication at all that he is a member of any Party. I have his name and address here, but I have never heard of the man before. I should be glad to show the card to the noble Earl, in confidence. As I say, there is no indication on it that he is a member of my Party. However, if that is the situation, let me take a more up-to-date case than that postcard received a few days ago. I have here a telegram from Hornsey. I hope that the noble Earl has had it.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
Then I think the best thing than can happen for the Government is to put this on record in Hansard. This telegram is from the Hornsey Tenants Anti-Rent Bill Association. It is sent by Mr. Sterne, the honorary secretary (he may be listening because he has visited the House to-day), who assures me that he is a non-Party man and has never been a member of any political Party. The telegram says:The Committee of the Hornsey Tenants Anti-Rent Bill Association, while recognising the need for legislation to amend the Rent Act, consider that the Government Rent Bill does not fulfil the requirements of sound, humane and just legislation. We sincerely believe that the proper legislation should (a) safeguard the security of tenants while the 33 housing shortage lasts; (b) limit the extent to which rents can be increased; (c) relate rent rises more closely to condition, repairs and maintenance and (d) retain Rent Tribunal. We therefore ask the Government at this late stage to withdraw the Bill, or to amend it in such a way that the above requiremens are fulfilled. The Hornsey Tenants Anti-Rent Bill Association is a non-Party organisation of tenants and residents in the Borough of Hornsey representing approximately 700 members. We are submitting to-day 3,000 signatures to our petition against this Bill. It is being presented to the Minister of Housing, the right honourable Mr. H. Brooke, M.P. (Signed) H. Sterne.In case there is any dubiety about that, as the Hornsey tenants feel that they have no Member of Parliament to whom to present their petition and they want people to know that it has been presented, they have asked me to mention that have it here before Mr. Sterne delivers it to the Minister of Housing and Local Government. It will be presented to him to-day. There are over 3,000 signatures to the petition, and thousands more could have been obtained if there had been art earlier organisation of sufficient people to collect the signatures. This is not something which demands the scorn of the noble Earl in charge of the Bill, and who has not seen fit to remain to hear what I have to say about it. But it has got to be said.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I am sorry my noble friend did not have a chance to mention it to the noble Viscount. My noble friend is, as the noble Viscount knows, an Officer of an Association connected with Parliament, and he has to go and to leave the reply to me. May I express his sincere apologies and say that the last thing he wanted was to be discourteous to the noble Viscount.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
I am obliged. I am quite sure that, if he had thought of it, he would have passed me a card across the Table. I did not know what his engagement was.
It is notable that of the 190,000 houses which are to be decontrolled in the London area alone, a great many of them are flats and similar dwellings which are already subject to high tents, and which are likely to be re-let at double the present rents—and more. A few days ago I had a letter from a lady writing from an address in Battersea Park, in which she gives examples in the tier of 34 flats in which she has had a tenancy for many years. She is now a very old lady. The ground floor flat in one block has already had its rent raised on change of tenants from £200 per annum to £365. It is assumed that in that block, in the next rearrangements, there will certainly be an average increase of double—from £200 to £400. I have been talking to a policeman friend who lives in a lat. He is proud of his flat, and proud of having been able to save enough money to go into a flat in which he would like his family to be brought up. It costs him £2 10s. 6d. a week. He has no idea what it is going to cost him in future. All he knows is that he cannot afford to pay it. That is just one kind of example, which can be multiplied by the thousands and hundreds of thousands throughout the country.
It is true that in some cases the Government's lengthening of the period of hiatus from six to twelve or fifteen months will give a little more time for tenants to look around; bit I am quite sure, from the reports that are coming in, that in the meantime there will be all kinds of attempts to get them out for other reasons, so that they are becoming very fearful indeed. It is not every block of tenants who will have either the knowledge or the courage to take legal action when they have their rights abused. It is significant that the Minister of Housing in another place has had to say that he hopes that landlords will take note of what has been said, and at least will not be guilty of the practices which have been reported to him. I hope, with the Minister, that that will be so; on the other hand, I am quite sure that there will be large numbers of instances where people will be frightened out of their tenancies at the present time.
Now it is argued by some that this new piece of legislation will be all right because, for the first time, there is likely soon to be an equilibrium in the housing provisions. I read that in the speech of Mr. Enoch Powell, Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing, when he said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 560, col. 1760]:…we are now within sight of, and should in 12 months' time or so be level with, an equation of the overall supply and demand for homes.Anybody who goes and speaks for only a few minutes to the housing experts of 35 our local authorities will see the present situation of local authority housing: the huge lists still remaining to be dealt with, the warnings that have had to be issued that it is quite impossible, in present financial circumstances, to go on building at the same rate as they have been doing, especially in view of the credit squeeze, and the increased costs of the housing loans and of the general burden upon local authorities and ratepayers.
You may depend upon it that when this new Act (as it will be as soon as it has received the Royal Assent) is put into operation, there will be hundreds and thousands of tragic cases, because there will not be anywhere for thousands of these people to go, unless they crowd in to the already overcrowded houses, tenements, flats and the like. It really is a most shameful measure. That is my view of the situation, and I do not hesitate for a moment to say that I completely agree with what Mr. Godfrey Nicholson, Member of Parliament for Farnham, said, or part of what he said, in another place. Having first said that he would vote for the Bill, he added,but with shame, embarrassment and reluctance.That must be the feeling of a very considerable proportion of those who, from the Conservative angle, have to see the sufferings of the electorate. I hope that in Hornsey and East Ham this week there will be a still further demonstration to the Government—and there have been a good many already—that their policy is not only foolish but exceedingly unfair and unjust to the people concerned.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, I think your Lordships will agree, however much you may disagree with us in other respects, that it is always easier for a Government to make concessions over a controversial measure of this kind—and no one will deny that this is a controversial measure or that the echo of controversy has even disturbed the usually placid atmosphere of your Lordships' House—in this place than it is during its passage through another place. I had therefore hoped that here, where the acerbity of Party strife is not as marked, the opportunity would be taken to improve and alter this measure in the light of the discussions that have 36 taken place during its successive stages. Therefore, I regret very much indeed that the Government have not altered this Bill during its passage through this House so as to mitigate the hardship it will cause, as my noble friend the Leader has just pointed out, to many thousands of households.
We worked very hard during the Committee and Report stages of the Bill, but no Amendment of substance was accepted from this side of the House and no effort has been made on the part of the Government to meet our criticisms. What we object to is not the principle of decontrol, which in the abstract is perfectly harmless. There could be no harm in decontrol if there were sufficient houses available for everyone at reasonable rents. Control was introduced after the First World War because of the housing shortage, and that position continues. We object to the application of this principle of decontrol at a time when there is still, as there was after the First World War and as there has been ever since—between the wars, during the last war and at the present time—an acute housing shortage in the country. This will cause very great hardship indeed to many tenants who cannot afford to pay the higher rent which will be payable for decontrolled premises. They will not be able to find near their present homes alternative accommodation which they must look for, at anything like the rents they are now paying.
If the Government are determined to proceed with decontrol without waiting for new building to catch up with the housing shortage, which we think is a very foolish step to take, they could at least have mitigated in two different ways the hardships to tenants who will be decontrolled. They could have extended the powers of rent tribunals so as to give them jurisdiction in rent disputes arising out of decontrol. There is no reason why a rent tribunal should not decide what is a reasonable rent when the landlord and the tenant disagree. This surely would have been an invaluable check on the landlord who wanted to charge an excessive rent. Or, if they were not prepared to have these matters referred to an impartial tribunal, a rent tribunal or possibly even a county court with extended powers, alternatively, as we suggested in several Amendments that 37 we tabled during the Committee and Report stages, they could have raised the rateable value from which decontrol will start. This would have retained under control, for the time being at least, a large number of houses in the lower range of rateable values. This would, in particular, have exempted many flats and houses London and other great cities where the housing problem, as everyone will adroit, is most difficult of all.
But the Government chose neither of those equitable courses. They have kept this substantially what it was when it reached us from another place. The Minister himself has said that the Bill could be either—I quote his words—"a triumph or a disaster", according to the behaviour of landlords. Everyone hopes that landlords will behave in a responsible way. But, of course, landlords, like the rest of us, are a mixed bunch. Some will behave well, some less well and others badly. There are well-to-do landlords and there are poor landlords, and obviously the temptation to squeeze tenants and to divert the higher rent from its proper purpose will be strongest in the case of the landlord of less means. The shocking defect of this Bill, as we see it, is that it puts the decontrolled tenant entirely at the mercy of the harsh or greedy landlord. It has been said that we on this side of the House take the side of the tenants, whereas noble Lords on that side of the House take the side of the landlords. I think that both these views are equally wrong. We all want fair dealing between landlords and tenants. What we do not want and what we believe this Bill does is to put the tenant at an unfair disadvantage in relation to the landlord.
I should like to read your Lordships an extract from a letter written by an old lady who lives by letting her rooms for a short period in the year, which must be typical of thousands of pensioners and other persons living on fixed incomes whose homes will be threatened and whose security will be jeopardised when this Bid becomes law. This old lady says:I am one of thousands who are going to suffer untold misery by this wicked Bill. It is no use you writing and saying you all think that our fears are exaggerated when we know our landlords. My landlord has already hinted to me I shall be out. I have rented this house since 1940 and my landlord has never once 38 been to see to any repair. I have spent all my money on keeping property in good repair and decoration. I am 54 years of age and have never been able to save money for a home. I have to look after an invalid sister and my only source of income is from a few visitors for about ten weeks in the summer. We sleep in a cupboard made into a bedroom so we can take a few visitors in our three bedrooms. I have spent all my money on beds and bed linen and china and I have got regular people who have come for seven or eight years but se have to live all the winter. I pay 35s. rent now. This house is central and it can be let furnished at £20 a week in the summer so of course my landlord does not want me There are three old ladies next door the same as me, and next door an elderly couple who are so worried they are on the verge of suicide and I am sure I and my sister are to…. Cannot any of you realise how dreadful it is to have the fear of eviction when you are over fifty years of age? Could not you possibly put an Amendment so landlords cannot turn us out? We would all try and pay a little more rent. Do you realise that on an average my income is only £5 a week all the year round so how can we save? Before you have a mass of suicides on your consciences, please consider before you pass this dreadful Bill…. Please do not publish my name and address as I do not want my landlord or my friends to know how upset and worried I am about the future.It is this lack of the human touch in the present Bill which we deplore. We feel that there is a lack of imaginative understanding of the difficulties of many small people. I am not going to say anything more, because I think that that one letter is typical of the feelings of many inarticulate people who perhaps have not written letters to Members of your Lordships' House but who, if they could have expressed themselves, would have written in the same vein.
My Lords, the noble Earl who has just sat down has stated that people on this side of the House are all in favour of the landlords and people on the other side are in favour of the tenants.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, I know the noble Lord does not want to misrepresent me. I said quite distinctly—I shall be within the memory of noble Lords on both sides of the House—that I thought it was an entirely wrong view to say that noble Lords opposite were on the side of the landlords or that noble Lords on this side of the House were on the side of the tenants.
My Lords, I beg the noble Earl's pardon unreservedly. I did mishear him. I hope, then, that I 39 have misheard a great many other observations from noble Lords opposite during the passage of this Bill. But I should like to say this: that I know of a man living not very far from Hornsey who tells me that he and his wife and three children of both sexes are living in one room; that the local authority inform him that none of the houses for which he has applied and which are vacant can be given to him, and that there is no prospect of giving any one of them to him because they are all needed to re-house people from slum clearance areas. If, when it goes through, this Bill does anything to prevent the steady and relentless increase of slums in our country, then I think it deserves less of the language that we have heard from noble Lords opposite.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ LORD WISE
My Lords, I should like to endorse the protest which my noble friends have made against this Bill. The noble Earl, Lord Munster, in introducing the Third Reading this afternoon, said, "The case for this Bill is quite overwhelming." I am pretty certain in my own mind that that is entirely wrong. There is no case for this Bill in its present form. The Bill is a bad one. It will throw tremendous burdens upon hundreds of thousands of tenants. Under the first stroke of the axe the figure of houses is 810,000, of which 560,000 are in the provinces—and I am concerned mainly with the case for the provinces. I greatly regret that the Government, in this particular instance, did not see fit to increase the limit of rateable value for decontrol from £30 to £40 so far as the provinces were concerned. To a large extent, that would have eased the situation for people living in the cities and in the country towns. The London limit is £40; the Scottish limit is £40. I had hoped that at any rate the Government would have made some slight concession in regard to the rateable value for the provinces and brought it into line with London and Scotland.
The noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack tried to make a case for this particular Bill on the percentage basis of the houses which would be affected on the passing of the Bill into law. The percentage that he used, both in regard to London and the provinces, 40 was about 25 per cent. or one-quarter of the houses which are at present controlled. But it still means that there are practically 5 million houses which will remain controlled but which, under this Bill, may become decontrolled in the future by an order made by the Minister of Housing and Local Government. That is a tremendous power to put in the hands of a Minister and we may find in the course of time that we have a Minister of Housing who will exercise that power. By one act of the Minister, the remaining 5 million, or practically 5 million, houses will be decontrolled, and the burden of additional rents will be thrown upon them.
It has been stated in regard to the present Bill that the occupants of those houses which are not yet decontrolled will have to bear additional rents to the tune of about £100 million or just over. What will be the total amount of the additional rent which will have to be paid 'by the householders in regard to houses which become decontrolled I do not think anybody can possibly indicate; but I think it will certainly be much more than £100 million. It has been said for this Bill that when it comes into operation it will free houses to let; that people will move out of houses; that owners of houses will move out of their own houses and be prepared to let them at economic rents. I do not believe that for one moment. I think that when people leave their own houses, they will want to sell them if they are moving into other houses. Only yesterday I was going into a provincial city, and for about two miles before reaching that city, I counted at least twenty bungalows and houses which were up for sale. I think that is what will happen when houses become vacant under this Bill—that the owners will sell and will not be prepared to let.
I stand in the position of receiving some slight, or some possible, benefit under this Bill because I, amongst others, am the owner of a house which will be decontrolled. Various cases have been brought to the notice of noble Lords during the course of the discussion on this Bill. In this particular case—I want noble Lords to mark this well—the house which will become decontrolled has been occupied, probably for the last twenty years, at the old standard rent; and we have never increased the rent. The occupiers are old-age pensioners with a small 41 income. It is not possible for them, by reason of their income, in any case to claim National Assistance. Under this Bill, tremendous power is put into my hands as a landlord to increase their rent to a very great extent. I do not want that power. I believe, not in the rights of property, but in the rights of human beings, and I am thankful to say that in this particular case I shall not operate the Bill, or the Act as it will be, to the disadvantage of those particular tenants. I hope that there will be many landlords who will act in the same way. Nevertheless, the power given by this Bill to owners of property is such that I can foresee, in the two or three years which lie ahead of us, tremendous disturbances in the homes of Britain. The people, good folks all of them—or most of them—who are now to receive the whip of this particular Bill, do not deserve the conditions which will be imposed upon them. I am extremely sorry that the Bill is to be put upon the Statute Book. So far as my political experience goes, I never remember, either in this House or in another place, such a Bill coming before Parliament for consideration and approval.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, I have retained such remarks as I have to make until the end because we on this side had hoped that possibly some noble Lord on the other side would have addressed your Lordships on the principles and some of the provisions of this Bill; but, except for a short intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, no one has done so. First of all, we on this side feel, as my noble Leader Lord Alexendar of Hillsborough has said, that the Government had no mandate for this Bill. So far as we have been able to test, the various programmes which they put before the electorate never contained any indication that this Bill was to be presented in this Parliament; and any indications which have come to our notice were exactly the reverse. We would therefore urge, in fact we would challenge, Her Majesty's Government if they think this is a right and proper Bill and one which has the support of the electorate, to go to the electorate now and to have a General Election so as to test by the proper and democratic means whether their contention is sound. We feel that if they do 42 not do that it will be because they are afraid to take a measure of this kind before the people of this country.
During the progress of this Bill through your Lordships' House, as my noble friend Lord Listowel has said, only one Amendment from this side has been agreed to—a comparatively minor one which, although we were glad to have it accepted by Her Majesty's Government, did not to any extent affect the main provisions of the Bill. Sitting here hour after hour putting forward Amendments which we felt had a good deal of merit and which were occasionally supported from the Back Benches on the other side, we could not help feeling that we were going through the motions of treading a treadmill; or, to use another metaphor, that so far as we were concerned this process was a rubber stamp and that whatever Amendments were moved and however reasonable, our case was, nothing could be done; that Her Majesty's Government would, in fact, take no notice whatsoever of our submissions. I am not saying that both the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack and the noble Earl, Lord Munster, did not deal very courteously with them, but that Her Majesty's Government did not alter the provisions of the Bill or change their minds with regard to the provisions.
The attitude of the Liberal Party on this Bill has also surprised us and caused us considerable dismay. We all have in our minds the great Liberal Party of the past. Some of us belonged to it in the past; some of us did not. But we all have in mind the very great contribution made to the social services of this country by the Liberal Government prior to the First World War. I am told by my noble Leader that last night, during the Hornsey electoral campaign, a prominent Liberal went on the platform and advised the Tories of Hornsey to vote for the Tory candidate. In view of the attitude of the Liberal Party on this Bill, we are not at all surprised at this, much as we regret it. It appears to us that on this matter, which, as my noble friend Lord Listowel has said, is a great human matter, the Liberal Party have gone right back to the days of Malthus and John Bright, far behind Mr. Gladstone and his later manifestations, and are not in the same street with Mr. Asquith, Mr. Lloyd George and Mr. Winston Churchill (as 43 they then were) in that great Government from 1906 to 1914.
There is no doubt that this is a laissez faire, laisser aller Bill at its very worst. As my noble friend Lord Listowel has said, the main hardship will fall upon the people who are liable to be evicted. They will be affected by the decontrol provisions of the Bill affecting some 800,000 dwellings in the country as a whole and 180,000 in London. The letter which the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, read to your Lordships was, I thought, a very moving one, one which, however laissez faire, laisser aller the sentiments of Her Majesty's Government may be, ought to give us pause; for I am quite sure that that letter expressed a fear which is in the hearts and minds of large numbers of people—sonic elderly people, some married men with families—who face eviction under this Bill.
Let us not cover it up by talking about the "free market" and "allowing landlords to exercise the rights which they ought to have under contract," and so on. What we have to face in this country is the probability of eviction. In my view (though I may be entirely wrong) it so happens that the main burden will fall in London and Greater London, for this reason: London, as we know, is not only the national capital but also a great Commonwealth and international centre; and to London come large numbers of people on official business or on private concerns. They are not in many cases much worried about what they may have to pay for accommodation. They are not making their homes here but are here only for a short period; and while they are here business firms or Governments pay for their accommodation. For that reason houses of a particular kind will be snapped up at enormous prices, as will be fiats. Huge premiums will be charged and enormous rents will be obtainable in certain areas of London and Greater London. I do not think our own people will have a chance of competing in this market for this accommodation. I am sure that that is particularly important and that it will have a great impact in this area for the reasons I have given.
What are these unfortunate people to do? Here is the tremendous impact of demand for accommodation in London and Greater London, with people who 44 will pay very large sums for accommodation. How are elderly people or people with families to compete? We know that in many cases they appreciate that in modern times some increase in rent is desirable. Many tenants have spoken to me and have told me that they feel that it is also just. What they cannot contemplate with any equanimity is the chance that they may all be evicted because they cannot pay a vastly increased rent or put up the money to buy a house or flat.
Although we warned Her Majesty's Government of this possibility on the Report stage, they have made no provisions or arrangements to meet this situation. Most of these houses will be becoming vacant, or the tenants will be getting notice to quit, at about the same time; or they may do under the Bill. I cannot help feeling that we may be in for very serious trouble and that there may be great public disquiet at that time, as well as many cases of great human hardship and suffering.
In a short intervention the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, said something about slum clearance. I do not see the noble Lord here now. He thought this Bill would have some beneficial effect upon that. We on this side of the House cannot see that the Bill can have any effect at all upon slum clearance. In some cases it may create slums because a number of people who will be ejected or evicted from their houses or flats may have to go and live with relatives or friends. There may thus be serious overcrowding, and some of the conditions which cause slums may be created.
There is one other matter which I should like to mention. When we take leave of this Bill we shall, I suppose, send it to another place for consideration as regards Amendments, but this is to a large extent the last opportunity we shall have of dealing with it. The matter to which I wish to refer relates to the Constitutional issue. By Clause 11 (3), the Minister, as we know—it has been made clear in our debates—has enormous powers. He has terrifying powers. Under the Bill, he can, without any Amending Bill, simply by Affirmative Resolution to an order which cannot be amended, upset the whole of the rent system of this country. He can cause restrictions such as there still are to be lifted either over part or the whole of the country. Really he 45 can do as he likes with the whole of the Rent Acts—with the whole subject with which we are concerned.
We feel that this power should not be in the hands of any Minister. We feel that on a subject such as rent, which, after all, affects the vast majority of the people of this country, any amendment should be made by legislation and not by an order which cannot be amended, made by the Minister concerned. We regret that an important Constitutional principle of this kind, raised in this House, did not have the consideration by your Lordships which we think it should have had. The only people who spoke on it were noble Lords on these Benches. Nothing, so far as I can recall, was said from the Benches opposite. This House, which is a Second Chamber, is particularly concerned, in my view, with Constitutional issues. I think the House should have dealt much more seriously with this one and that we should have had many more contributions from noble Lords opposite than we have had on this vital Constitutional point. I have nothing else to say except that we on this side of the House have very sad hearts, having regard to the prospect that this Bill, which we think will have such unfortunate consequences, is now to be unladen on the people of this country.
§ 5.3 p.m.
My Lords, I had not intended to address your Lordships at this stage, but in view of what I think I may describe as the attack on noble Lords on these Benches from Lord Ogmore, which followed a similar line to that taken by the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition, perhaps I may be allowed just one word. We consider that this Bill deals with an unpleasant and awkward situation; and in that sense it must be an awkward and unpleasant Bill. The matter is one which must he dealt with, and it is very difficult to deal with it. There is bound to be dislocation and, to sonic extent, hardship in all quarters. We also believe that those who are going to be victims will be far fewer in number than they would have been in the days referred to by Lord Ogmore. On the other side, there are many landlords who are really quite poor people, and who have been having a bad time, and they certainly deserve some alleviation of the conditions which have been adversely affecting them. As a Liberal Party, we 46 feel that possibly the balance of injustice may be with the tenant, but it is not possible to lay that down in any dogmatic way. It takes a Bill such as this at least to try to put things right.
If I may say so with all humility, I feel a little sad that noble Lords should have quoted individual cases of hardship because they can very easily be quoted on both sides. Lord Wise quoted the example of a house which he owns and in respect of which he intends to act generously. I have been, until recently, the owner of a cottage which has cost me a certain amount in dealing with the roofs and walls, and in keeping it up generally; and the rent which I have been getting for it is one shilling per annum. I do not intend to put up the rent from one shilling to two shillings or to twenty shillings. I am sure that there are many other people in a similar position. Specific cases like that mean nothing. The position in general is what must be tackled. We, as a Liberal Party, when we learned that the Conservative Party were going to bring in a Bill of this sort, gave the matter very careful consideration. We decided that we were not going to be Socialist; that we were not going to be Conservative; but we hoped that we would continue to be Liberal. I do not understand why, as the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, has told us, a prominent Liberal speaking at Hornsey, where there is no Liberal candidate, should have advised Conservatives to vote Conservative.
I understood the noble Lord to say that Conservatives were advised to vote Conservative. I thought perhaps he meant Liberals were advised. Of course, if there is a choice between Conservative and Labour we look to see which is the more Liberal; and he is "our man."
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I should not venture to occupy any substantial part of your Lordships' time, were it not that the noble Viscount who opened for the Opposition and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, both based part of their opposition on the timing of the Government's action. For that reason, I must, in the shortest time, just remind your 47 Lordships—I hope it will not take more than a sentence or two—of the background of this Bill. The background commences with the fact that in the last five years under a Conservative Government over 1,500,000 houses have been built and the whole housing situation transformed by that achievement. Secondly, the programme of slum clearance is well under way. When these two things had happened, the time had come, in our view, to take steps to preserve the great national asset of existing houses by preventing them from falling into slumdom, and so making more houses available for people who want rented accommodation.
There are two points on the timing. One is when it was right in legislative form to review the Rent Acts. I do not think noble Lords could say very much about our being precipitate in that regard, because on October 6, 1950, Mr. Aneurin Bevan, who in my recollection was still Minister of Health in the Labour Government, said this:We all know that the Rent Restrictions Acts must be reviewed and at the earliest possible time we shall review them.That was seven years ago, so even his colleagues of that date who are sitting on the Opposition Bench here, and who have spoken this afternoon, must surely agree that the earliest possible time would have been within the period of seven years—otherwise words have no meaning I now come to the second point—and this was a point specifically made by the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition. He said that no one who knew anything about housing conditions could suggest that accommodation in this country had come near the point when decontrol was justified. On November 30, 1953 Mr. Aneurin Bevan (I take the same gentleman again, because of his great experience as a Minister in the Labour Government), said this:Taking the country as a whole we are not very far away from the total accommodation which the nation requires.That was said by Mr. Aneurin Bevan in November, 1953; and the noble Viscount will be glad to note that since that date, under a Conservative Government, no fewer than 1,044,000 houses have been built.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble and learned 48 Viscount, because this issue seems to hinge on the amount of available alternative accommodation? Is the noble and learned Viscount maintaining that, in view of the new building, within fifteen months of the passing of this Bill, when the decontrolled tenants can be evicted, there will not be a serious housing shortage, at least in our great cities?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
No, my Lords, I am saying that if Mr. Aneurin Bevan is right, there will not be a serious housing shortage, and that that fact ought to weigh with the noble Earl. He and Mr. Bevan served together for years. If he wants to say that Mr. Aneurin Bevan is wrong. I hope that he will get up and say so. Surely I am entitled to make the point, and to say that if that was the position on November 30, 1953, then, with all the steps that are being taken, there is a very good hope that, fifteen months after this Bill receives the Royal Assent, the position will be something, like what Mr. Aneurin Bevan said. I am prepared to hear the noble Earl demonstrate the falsity of Mr. Bevan's remarks, but I have no reason for assuming that he has not the degree of intelligence which his own colleague appears to think to-day. That is one aspect of the matter.
Much has been said about inability to pay rent. Again looking dispassionately at the background, a little more than half of the proportion of our national income is being paid on rents to-day than was paid in 1938. To-day, as a country, we are spending more on drink or on tobacco than we do on rent. The average industrial wage, if my memory is right, is between £11 and £12 a week. Surely, in that situation, there is something to come for those who for eighteen years, since the passing of the 1939 Rent Act, have been trying to maintain houses on rents which were, by all account and by every admission, uneconomic and an insufficient basis to preserve the houses in good condition. In these circumstances, there would be a distortion of our economy if there were not something to come in order to provide for the repair and preservation of the national asset of existing houses. I apologise for detaining your Lordships, but it would be unfortunate if a completely one-sided picture went out from the last debate on this Bill in your Lordships' House.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, may I say a word on this question of working class wages and what is being spent on commodities? I have no quarrel with the general argument, but a working man who smokes and drinks beer is paying for a large amount of debt arising out of the war, and when he has done that, he has very little left out of which to buy other things. If you say that the working man must not smoke or must not drink beer, then you have to find some other means of raising the taxation you must get in place of the taxes on tobacco and drink.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I do not think that the noble Viscount has done me justice. The argument I am making is that if, in an ordinary economy, viewed from any standpoint, be it Right, Left, Centre or anything you like, people are paying less on rent than on either drink or tobacco when the average industrial wage is nearly £600 a year, then that economy is distorted. We have not got our values right, and we are not taking the steps that are necessary to preserve existing houses. Somehow or other we have to get more money to keep houses in repair.
I was going to pass to the, next point—namely, the safeguards which this Bill contains. We have tried to secure that there will be safeguards to prevent a sudden or severe alteration in the way of life of those affected. It must be remembered that nobody need leave a house, or have his or her rent raised against his will, in less than fifteen months. It is only if the tenant agrees and enters into a new agreement at an earlier period, and if that agreement is for not less than three years, that decontrol can come into effect sooner. The houses remaining controlled will be six-sevenths of those within the control limits—that is, as the noble Lord, Lord Wise, said, approximately 5 million houses. Their tenants will have security of tenure, and three out of every four will have an upper rent limit of under £1 a week. These rents must be taken in the light of the figures I gave in the first part of my speech. There will be no premiums or key money. There will be compensation for improvements, and, for the first time in the history of our country, it will be illegal in any case to give notice of less than four weeks. All that is being done by the present Bill.
50 I do not want to weary your Lordships with the Socialist alternative, but after what noble Lords have said about the fear of the absence of security of tenure, I think we ought to remember that their Party programme is to purchase, not 800,000 but all these houses, to hand them over to the local authorities, who give no security of tenure and who can put up the rents whenever they like—and this at the cost of £2,500 million for the houses, and anything up to as much again (I do not know the figure, but it is a very considerable one, put as high as that much again) for repairs, maintenance and necessary improvements. That is the policy of the Party which has criticised this Bill and that must inevitably mean either increased taxation, increased rents or increased rates, or—much more likely—increased taxes, rents and rates. That is the alternative—a single landlord in an area, and no security of tenure for anyone.
I now come to the other points made by noble Lords who have criticised the Bill. Noble Lords have doubted whether there will be an improvement in accommodation. We say that accommodation is being withheld because owners will not let houses unfurnished at controlled rents. At the moment, as one noble Lord said, they desire to sell. What we want to do is to create the desire to let unfurnished. At the moment, because rents are controlled, tenants who occupy more space than they need will not sub-let the space that they do not need. There have been endless inquiries as to over-accommodation, and that has been shown to be the fact. Therefore we say that it is necessary to make a pool of houses to let. If I may say so, the arguments throughout our debates have been well and forcibly developed by noble Lords on the Opposition Front Bench, but what I have been wondering is where this new army of people is to come from who make it impossible for the landlord to consider the existing tenant at a reasonable rent. I know that there are the housing lists. But the noble Lord, Lord Lathan, told us on Second Reading that, with regard to London, where they had a list of 165,000, 53,000 of them were serious cases, and the others were people who, quite naturally and humanly, wanted a better house. I am not deprecating the difficulties of the 53,000, but they are 53,000 in a population of (if I remember rightly the population of the London County Council area) 51 something like 5 million people. Noble Lords have prophesied doom—and let me remind them, in a not too serious spirit that it was not a very healthy line of action when it was taken by Cassandra of old—but they have not really brought up any arguments to support it; and I have waited in vain for them to come.
That is the general position, and those are the circumstances against which we have brought in this Bill. At the moment there are 5¾ million houses in Great Britain let unfurnished at controlled rents; and the great majority of these rents are below a reasonable economic level on current values, however those values are assessed, whether we look at the value of money, the level of wages of commodity prices. Throughout out debates no one has denied that point Many of the rents, in fact, date right back to 1914; and not only are the levels wrong, but rents of similar houses are out of relation to each other. Those are the facts; they are undeniable and have never been denied in all this controversy With this tangle of out-of-date rents there runs the consequence that landlords have no incentive and no resources to keep property in good repair, or to let property which becomes vacant. Noble Lords who have spoken have these resources, but they know as well as I do that there are many landlords who are not so fortunate as they. Anyone who knows the north of England knows of the investment in bricks and mortar that took place among quite humble people in out fathers' time. They have not the resources for putting the houses right Those who are fortunate enough to be in a controlled house stay put, although their positions have changed; those who are not so lucky, many of them young married people, go on to the housing list, and until the Conservative policy produced that enormous increase in the rate of production of houses, they had a very grim prospect.
I am not again going through the methods by which the Bill deals with the 52 various points; I have had to do that before your Lordships on a number of occasions. I want to make only this point. I entirely agree with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that to put labels on people, and to put labels on others who support them, is an unfortunate method of argument. I hope the noble Earl will agree with me that, broadly, the people of this country, whatever label may be applied, can be relied upon to act with good sense and humanity. The Government have incorporated in the Bill the best plans that they can to see that all are given a fair chance. I have no hesitation in saying that this Bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation which has passed through this House in recent years, and I do not think it will have such dire consequences, either socially or electorally, as have been suggested.
I was interested in what the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, said about the recent elections, and in the appeal for a General Election by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, would only warn them of this. In 1949, the Labour Party did five times as badly as we did at the last local elections—they lost something like 1,300 seats—but still they got hack with a majority of six. If we are in five times as favourable a position, should we have a General Election to-day we should still get back with a majority of thirty; and that would not help those noble Lords very much at the present time. I believe that, in the passage of time, this Bill will have widespread effects for the better in the housing of the people of this country. I should like to assume the mantle of Elijah for one moment, as so many have assumed it to-day, and to prophesy that in five or ten years' time, when we look back, we shall see that this Bill has been a major factor in the further improvement of the social conditions of our time.
§ On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.