§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Debate on Second Reading resumed.
THE LORD BISHOP OF CARLISLE
My Lords, I rise to speak briefly and to support with conviction the principle that in present circumstances there should be no eviction without a court order. I speak only for myself, but I believe that I reflect the general opinion of the Christian Church in saying that we want to support the main aims in the present Bill. I grew up in a country where eviction was a dirty word, and for very good reasons. I can remember, when I was seventeen years of age, witnessing an eviction order being carried out. It made such an impression upon my mind and conscience that the very word "eviction" still sticks in my nostrils.
Last week I listened on the radio to a broadcast on an eviction order that was about to be carried out. I heard a mother with her children tell her story. It was not a case of an eviction order that was going to be carried out sometime in the future: she was waiting for the people to come. It was a cold winter's night, and when the interviewer asked her where they were going to sleep she said she did not know; she would be on the street within an hour. I felt that that 307 was a terrible thing to happen. Therefore I support with deep conviction and strength the principle in this Bill. I know that it may produce difficult situations because, as we are all aware, there are obstinate people on both sides.
I think that I ought here to declare an interest for I myself live in a tied cottage, an eight-roomed house situated in an ancient castle. I do not know whether or not I am to be protected through this Bill, but I suspect that if I misbehave I shall be out in six weeks. However, I shall guard myself, I hope, against any actions which would lead to such drastic conduct. But, of course, I have to express a little anxiety for brother Prelates in this matter.
I now come to this question which has been mentioned before, the question of agricultural workers. I have a diocese which is largely agricultural—Cumberland and Westmorland—and I know that there is very considerable concern not necessarily among the large farmers, but among the rather small farmers who employ one or two men and who can secure labour only if they have a house to offer. Some of them are afraid that if this Bill goes through men may leave their employment and still hold on to the houses, in which case the farmers say they have no hope at all of securing the necessary labour. This will create tremendous difficulty for dairy farmers about labour for milking, and for stock holders.
I mention their concern, because I hope that in some way what it has been suggested the courts may do can be strengthened, so that they will give very serious consideration to which decision on their part will cause most hardship—eviction or refusal to grant eviction. I mention this kind of difficulty only because it is near to me in the district where I live. I know something of the problems in the bigger cities, and the awful conditions which prevail when evictions are carried out there. But, in spite of the difficulties which may arise, I still support this Bill, because I believe its aim is the right aim. It is a humane aim, and it is an aim which I am sure every one of us accepts in his heart, even though we see the problems that it may throw up. I support the Bill because of the 308 dignity due to human personality, because of the importance of the family as a unit of society, and because I believe that there is a need for every family to have a home of its own.
I know that this question of eviction arises to a very great extent out of a far bigger problem—namely, the shortage of houses. Here we are all suffering the consequences of our inability to make a greater effort, good as it has been, to provide an adequate number of houses for the people who want to make homes in this land. If the housing problem were not there. the eviction orders would be very few. My last word is that I want to support the Bill not only with strength, but as a matter of urgency. This Bill will not be worth passing six months hence; it is needed now. In spite of the difficulties and all the problems that it may throw up, I should like to see this Bill become an Act of Parliament before the great family festival of Christmas.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I should like to join the right reverend Prelate in welcoming this Bill. This is a Bill which is designed to prevent eviction, and as such I am sure that everybody in this House will accept it. Even the Opposition have accepted it in principle, subject to a number of reservations. The Bill would have been unnecessary but for two things that happened some years ago. One was the passing of the wicked Act of 1957. I always thought that the removal of rent control in 1957 was one of the worst acts of the Conservative Government in all the thirteen years in which they were in existence. I say that, not because there was no need to deal with the rent question—I think there was—but because at a time of great shortage, when the Government must have known that any withdrawal of security of tenure would inflict tremendous hardship on large numbers of people, it was wrong to withdraw security of tenure. I think the Government must have known that. If they had dealt merely with rents, no one would have complained. If that Act had not been passed, this measure would not have been necessary.
The other measure to which I should like to refer is the Act of 1964, into which when the Bill was going through this House we tried desperately to incorporate 309 a provision to prevent Rachmanism. Noble Lords will remember that we raised this matter with great intensity, in both the Committee stage and the Report stage. We were told that the Government were proposing to deal with the matter in some other way which was unspecified; but they refused to deal with it in the 1964 Housing Bill, which was the right place on which to deal with it. If there had been incorporated in the 1964 Act a measure to prevent landlords from acting in the way for which the Rachmanites have become notorious, then a good deal of this action would not have been necessary. But it is necessary and, as the right reverend Prelate said, it is a matter of urgency.
I should have understood the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, to give this Bill a meticulous examination if it had been a permanent measure, but this measures comes to an end at the end of December, 1965. All that it proposes to do is to give security to a good many people until there is time to introduce and carry into effect the proposed Rent Act, which I take it will be early in the New Year. If this had been a permanent measure there are a number of points which I myself should have liked to raise. For instance, I am not too happy about raising the limit to £400 a year. I think it is extending the provision of security to a class of person for whom it was never intended. A rateable value of £400 a year would appear to me to represent a rental of, possibly, £700, £800 or £900 a year. That covers a class of person for whom we have never hitherto sought to provide security. Whether or not we should do so, I do not know; but it is something which merits very careful consideration. I should have been a little doubtful about introducing it as a permanent measure, although I certainly have no prejudice against it as a temporary measure.
The other point to which the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, referred, was the question of the agricultural tied cottage. I appreciate that the Government have introduced in another place an Amendment which is designed to make it a little easier for the owner to get possession of a cottage if he can show that his hardship is greater than the tenant's. I would ask the House how they would interpret that. The hard- 310 ship in the one case is the hardship of being evicted: the hardship in the other case is that, in an extreme case, of having animals unattended and the owner losing profit. It is going to be very difficult to equate the two and to say which is the greater hardship, the hardship of eviction or the hardship of not having somebody on the spot to look after one's animals.
My Lords, I have No 1nterest to declare in this matter, although I did have some years ago, but from the point of view of agriculture this question can be a very serious one for the farmer. I myself had three cottages built in order to provide accommodation for men who were going to work on my farm as pig men. It was the only way in which I could get the required labour; and they were very happy with the accommodation. But if one of them had left me suddenly and had insisted on remaining in occupation, and if I had had to go to court to get possession, I should have been in very great difficulty in looking after those animals. There was enough work for three men, and the animals would have been neglected. If this had been a permanent measure I think I should have asked Her Majesty's Government to look very much more closely into this matter, to see how the special case of farmers possessing livestock could be dealt with; but, in the circumstances, I feel that we should be making rather heavy weather of it if, during this coming year, we tried to deal with the matter in as meticulous a way as if this were to be permanent legislation.
Then there is the question of furnished accommodation. Like the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, I was rather taken by surprise to find that in fact this Bill did not apply to, say, furnished rooms which were let at the seaside during the off-season. I hope the noble and learned Lord is right, but there should be no difficulty in making assurance doubly sure. If there is the slightest doubt about this point in the Bill, I hope it will be made quite clear, because there may be a great hardship to the seaside landlady. Very often she has made her bookings for the summer season a long time beforehand, relying, of course, on her being able to get possession of her rooms at the 311 time when they are required. If it is open to an occupier of those furnished rooms to stay on and force the landlady to go to the court to get possession, then I am afraid she will be compelled to break her contract with people who have made their bookings, and their holiday will be spoilt. There is no machinery, so far as I know, for getting an order of a county court in less than a couple of months, as a general rule, and then the court can decide, if they so desire, that the order should not be enforced for another month or two—and that might spoil the whole of the season of the seaside landlady.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, if my noble friend will allow me to interrupt for a minute, may I say that I am not quite certain whether I correctly caught what he said, but I can tell him what I myself said. It was to this effect: that summer lettings at the seaside—I repeat, summer lettings—will not be within the Bill because the occupiers, though they may be in occupation, will not be in residence; and the reference to residence has been included in the definition of "occupier" since the Second Reading of this Bill in another place. That is the advice that was given me, but, of course, it may be incorrect. Then, the words "lets for a substantial period in winter"—and I gave another instance—may be furnished lettings for the purposes of the Bill, but are unlikely to present much practical difficulty.
§ LORD SILKIN
I did not understand that my noble friend was referring the first time to summer lettings. I was talking about winter lettings. Landladies at the seaside are only too pleased to let their accommodation for, say, the off-season—for the months October, November, December and right up to, perhaps, April—but by the time April comes many of them have bookings of people coming on their holidays, and they want possession. If a tenant of furnished accommodation during the winter months holds out, it is going to be a very serious matter for the seaside landlady, who depends for her livelihood on her holiday lettings. While, again, it may be that it is not so important for this one coming season, nevertheless, if this matter could 312 somehow be dealt with in the Bill itself, it would be a great relief to many landladies who possibly are now making their bookings for the summer, there being no guarantee that they will be available. In fact, it might very well deter a number of landladies from letting any furnished rooms during the off-season.
My Lords, those are my apprehensions about the Bill; but, on the whole, I think the Bill is certainly a good Bill. I am not at all deterred by the fact that noble Lords opposite think that there is not a mandate for it, or that there is only a mandate to the extent that the Prime Minister said to the electorate that this would be introduced. I would not be deterred by that. That way is much better than the way in which noble Lords opposite dealt with matters, by introducing the Rent Bill providing for decontrol when they had definitely promised the electorate at the Election, in terms, that they would not introduce further decontrol. So I am not disturbed about that. I hope that this Bill will be passed, as the right reverend Prelate said, before Christmas; and it will certainly give comfort to a great many people to know that they cannot be arbitrarily turned out.
§ 4.18 p.m.
My Lords, I think we can congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, upon having explained this Bill in such clear terms. However, I regret that Her Majesty's Government should have intervened in the matter of rent restrictions, or, as it might be more accurate to call it, in the matter of landlord and tenant control. On the one hand, I would not myself at the present time make any orders under the Rent Act, 1957, which create further decontrol: on the other, I think it unfortunate to create further control, because it is not really in the interests of the country at large.
A few days ago I was talking to a friend of mine who is a builder in a big way of business, and he told me that he had just finished constructing some houses which he had intended originally to let to tenants, but that he had now decided, in view of the coming legislation, to sell them. That is a typical example of how this legislation, and further threatened legislation, will make it more and more difficult for people to build houses for 313 letting. In the first place, I wonder whether the implications of this Bill are understood by the country at large. At a modest reckoning, over 80 per cent. of the dwelling-houses in this country have a net annual value of less than £400. That is the basis on which control is going to be imposed next year, and it is just as well that serious attention should be directed towards the matter now.
My Lords, the other point that I wish to raise has been discussed in detail in another place and has been adumbrated here this afternoon. That is, the application of the present Bill to furnished lettings, and it is a matter that does cause anxiety. I am not going to talk about the landladies at Bournemouth or Blackpool, nor am I going to talk about the unfortunate situation of a family that has to live in one furnished room. Let us regard this matter "without malice aforethought" and calmly, from every possible point of view. In the past, furnished lettings have been consistently outside the main purpose of every Rent Restriction Act and have been dealt with by separate legislation. So far as I can see there will now be a double system under which furnished lettings can fall. That may be useful to some members of the legal profession, but it is of no use to the landlords and tenants. Under the present Bill furnished lettings can be dealt with by the county court, and they can also be dealt with by the rent tribunal, under the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Acts, 1946 and 1949. That is surely a very unsatisfactory situation.
As your Lordships know, furnished lettings cover a very wide field. There is the letting of a complete furnished house to a family for a long time, or, perhaps, in the case of a civil servant who has to go abroad, to a family for a comparatively short time. Then there are literally hundreds and thousands of cases where one or two furnished rooms are let to single persons; and then there are the thousands of cases of which we have heard so much, especially in Blackpool and Bournemouth, where furnished rooms are let to tenants at the seaside for a few weeks. I make a last appeal to Her Majesty's Government to exclude furnished lettings from the purposes of this Bill, even though it is an emergency measure.
My Lords, in conclusion, let me say a word about agricultural tied cottages. I 314 understand the position to be that, technically speaking, under the Bill the occupant of a tied cottage may become a tenant, and in those circumstances the landlord has to go to the county court and satisfy that court that the efficient management of his land will be seriously prejudiced unless the premises are available for occupation by a person who is employed, or who is to be employed, by the owner. This is a case, quite clearly, where the drafters of the Act have no practical knowledge of the subject. Let me explain.
Suppose I am a farmer, and I breed sheep. At the beginning of the lambing season I have a dispute with my shepherd—I am not referring to the good "Shepherd" in your Lordships' House, but to a bad shepherd—and my shepherd bangs his staff on the ground and says, "I will finish on Saturday"; and does finish on Saturday. He no longer acts for me; but he stays in the house. In such a case I must go to the county court. Does the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Carlisle really imagine that county court proceedings come on the next day? County court proceedings may not come on for two or three months; and in the interval what happens to the lambs? I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, when he comes to reply, will tell me what happens to the lambs in those circumstances while the proceedings are pending in the county court.
§ 4.24 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF SOUTHWARK
My Lords, I cannot speak on behalf of the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Carlisle in regard to the question which has just been asked by the noble Lord opposite. Our experience of this sort of court is, perhaps, limited; but our Court is in permanent session and one day we shall all have to come before it. But I can well imagine the difficulty to which the noble Lord refers.
The Bill which is before us is a humanitarian one. It deals with the needs of people, with their security, and in no sphere is security more important than in the sphere of home. Whatever one's views may be about private property, or the rights of landlords or tenants, I am sure we all agree that it is desirable to eliminate as quickly as 315 possible, and as much as possible, the serious social consequences that follow unnecessary eviction. When a man is separated from his wife and has to walk the streets in search of a night's lodging; when children are separated from their parents; when husband and wife cannot live together, there opens up the road to the juvenile court, to the adult court and to the mental home.
What happens in this great city of London when a family is evicted and there is no satisfactory alternative? The women and the children go to reception centres, and the man probably has to fend for himself. In my diocese we are too familiar with the consequences of eviction. One of the things I find difficult about it is that, because it comes constantly to one's notice, one becomes hardened to it and almost forgets about it. But only this morning one of my workers in my diocese told me of four families who had been evicted, through no fault of their own. They are now in Camberwell and Newington Lodge. Those who run Newington Lodge have a difficult and delicate task to perform, and they have my respect and sympathy. But, for all their heroic labours, this centre is bound to have an adverse effect, in the long run, on family life. And, alas! the conditions in some instances continue not for just a few months but for many months.
We talk about the sanctity of family life, and about how important it is that children should be guarded against the deep sense of insecurity that gives rise to bad behaviour and an anti-social attitude; but when people are in their extremity, what do we do? That thing which is most precious to them, the family unit, is disrupted. I know that the London County Council desire to change this and that in other centres families are not broken up. But in Newington Lodge and in other places they are.
My Lords, when people are inadequate to face the strains of life, and so fall behind with the rent, or fail to maintain their premises and themselves in decent conditions, then they need such security as their families can give them. Eviction on to the streets solves no problem: it merely creates many others. But when eviction takes place, not for those 316 reasons such as I have mentioned, but simply in order that a landlord may let again at a higher rent, then indeed we are confronted with a grave social evil. It is against this evil that this Bill is specially designed.
I know that the problem with which this Bill deals is part of a much larger problem: the housing policy of the nation, the repeal of the Rent Act, the development of New Towns and industries. The Government have committed themselves on these matters, and we now await the legislation that has been promised and which no doubt will be coming in the next few months. Meanwhile, we have this Bill before us. It can be regarded, I think, as an urgent piece of ambulance work. It removes from many people the fear of eviction, and it restores to them a reasonable and proper security of tenure. It is for that reason that the Church and many of us in South London—and I feel sure I can speak for Christians of all denominations, because we have been working so closely together in this work of dealing with evicted families—give the warmest welcome to this Bill. We hope that it will be law before we keep the Festival for Him for whom there was no room in an inn.
§ 4.30 p.m.
VISCOUNT ST. DAVIDS
My Lords, I rise to support this Bill, and I hope that we shall see it through before Christmas. It is important, as I see it, because it will bring an immediate stop to what appears in some places to amount to a landslide of evictions. I feel sure that the professional landlord, owning big blocks of properly run properties, is by no means involved in pushing this landslide; but, on the other hand, there appear to be some types of landlord who, on the election of the new Government, set about deliberately throwing out every tenant they could possibly move.
I have an ear to the ground in one or two spots in London, and I have heard of single streets where there are as many as 30 or 40 evictions pending. Though this is not the case generally over the whole of London, the total of evictions now pending must be staggering, and it is essential that this landslide should be stopped at once. What is more, some of these evictions 317 are very far advanced by now, and if we do not pass this Bill before Christmas it is clear that anybody who delays us will carry the responsibility of the homelessness at Christmas, or shortly after, of quite a large number of people.
Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Meston, I am very pleased that furnished accommodation is covered by the Bill. The last Rent Act was passed on the argument that the amount of accommodation to let would be increased. We know now exactly what did happen: the amount of accommodation to let was not increased. It was not even held level. It was very considerably reduced. It is true that it was reduced partly by people buying their own houses. To some extent that is a good thing, but it has its disadvantages. It has the disadvantage that some people may have had to buy their houses and to take up large mortgages simply to keep roofs over their heads, paying out interest on mortgages when the money is needed more for the support and education of their family. It has the disadvantage of decreasing the mobility of labour, and has certainly decreased the density of accommodation. It was said by the Conservatives, when they were in office, that the Rent Act would increase the density of accommodation by making single persons and couples without children move out of large houses, where they have more space than they need, to make more room. It has not worked out that way. When people buy a house, they tend to live in it at a less density of habitation than it was lived in before. So, to some extent, this house purchasing has made the position worse. Nevertheless, on balance, house purchase by occupiers has been a good thing. But it has clearly reduced the amount of accommodation to let.
This has been altered in its quality also by the fact that a great many people who used to rent property unfurnished have deliberately furnished it and let it furnished in order to take it out of the Rent Acts. They have deliberately tried to get it into the unrestricted categories. The only way to protect the innumerable people who live in rented property, both furnished and unfurnished, is to follow those 318 properties and take in not only the unfurnished, but the furnished as well. There is an enormous shortage of every conceivable kind of property for rent at the moment and the position is extremely difficult. In the long run, it is true that probably the only thing we can do is to try to build enough. When on earth such a programme will ever get the better of the shortage, I just do not know.
So far as I can see, if this country is to become more prosperous, we shall have to face not only an enormous increase in the number of workers everywhere, including the overcrowded South-East, but also an enormous increase in the number of people coming in from abroad for every conceivable purpose. I am not one of those who believe that those who come to this country are doing us a disservice. I think they are doing us a very considerable service. The only real drawback to their coming in is that they increase the difficulty about renting property. However, we shall have to welcome many more people, partly because our industries will be gravely short of workers without them and partly because of the increasing number of students from abroad.
If this country is really going to lead the world, the way it will do so, beyond any other, is as a university country, to which our friends from abroad will flock to learn not only our superior techniques but also our ideas and ways of life. For all those purposes we shall need much greater numbers of rented properties. Anything which throws people out of rented properties, or tends to take rented properties out of the rented property market, is a bad thing. This Bill, which will at least hold the position until we can do something, is therefore one that we must welcome.
§ 4.40 p.m.
My Lords, I think I shall probably be going a little further than many noble Lords on this side of the House when I say that I welcome most of this Bill. I held that opinion when I sat on the other side of the House, and I have not altered it since I have come over here. But there are some features of the Bill which I think entirely spoil it as a temporary measure and a forerunner of permanent legislation. The only aspect that I want 319 to talk about now is that which affects Scottish farming. I must, of course, declare an interest, being a Scottish farmer and, therefore, vitally concerned in this measure.
Scottish farming is different from English farming, inasmuch as it depends a great deal more on tied cottages. Many of the farms are much remoter than those in England, and the climate makes it imperative for a man to live on the job for a large part of the year. Anyone who has heard a heifer having difficulty with her first calf, roaring for help, with no man there, will appreciate the sort of thing I mean. About three days ago we were snowed up for two days, and if men had not been living on the farm the beasts would not have been fed, because, although the main roads are ploughed out, the side roads are not. This is a common occurrence in Scotland, and it is one of the reasons why tied cottages are such a feature in Scottish farming.
On the other hand, the tied house saves the tenant the cost and time of travelling; it saves him rent, because the maximum rent you can charge for a tied cottage, provided it has four rooms or more and is fully modernised, is 11s. a week; and the rates are paid, not by the occupier, but by the owner. The man also has a large garden, and usually the right to keep livestock. None of these things applies in other houses; and, in any case, in the majority of cases no other houses are available.
The Scottish Farmers' Union are overwhelmingly in opposition to this Bill, although it has been improved by Amendments made in another place. There are about 26, 000 tied houses in Scotland, and 80 per cent. of the output of Scottish farming is in livestock products, which emphasises the point I made about the necessity of living on the job. There appears to me to be no need for protection against eviction in these cases, because the law to that effect already exists in Scotland. In the sheriff court of my county there have been in the last few years two such cases only. In both of those cases, so far as I know, the application was granted on the ground of farming necessity and the tenant had to find other 320 accommodation. That shows the frequency of cases as the law stands at the moment.
However, there is a point I must make here, and it is this. If I can put it in the fashionable parlance of the moment, this Administration has inherited from the Conservatives, who were in power for a certain length of time previously, a greatly increasing industry in Scotland, with many more jobs available. I am glad to say that farm servants' wages have been increased, and there are remarkably few farm servants in Scotland who are not motor car owners. In certain circumstances, there must be the temptation to take a new job in industry and drive from a comfortable house in a car which you already own. My plea, if it can be so described, has application to future legislation more than to this temporary measure.
As to the law at the moment, in the short time available I tried to get it accurately described by a procurator fiscal, because I wanted to know what actually happened in practice in Scotland to-day. Perhaps I may read this to your Lordships so that I do not get it wrong, and I hope this is the correct position.The position in Scotland is well defined by Sheriff Dobie in his book Sheriff Court Practice. The relevant paragraph is as follows:'Ejection of person without title. In the case of one holding subjects vi, clam, aut precario '"—whatever that means—'the appropriate remedy for the owner of the property is an action of ejection which proceeds as an ordinary cause but craves the summary ejection of defender. Such an action falls under the jurisdiction of the Sheriff at common law. and is not specially dealt with in the Act of 1907. To justify this form of process the defender must either never have had a title to occupy or any such title must have been legally terminated. If the defender has a title to occupy an action of ejection is not competent and an action of removing must be brought but it is not a valid objection to an action of removing that the defender has no title to occupy, and therefore an action of ejection would have been competent and appropriate.'A farm servant or other employee who occupies a dwellinghouse as part of his contract of service has no right to continue occupation whenever his contract of service has been legally terminated either by the conditions of his contract of service or been 321 given the appropriate notice terminating the service. Such a person is, therefore, when his service is terminated a 'person without title'. If he fails to leave the house an Action is raised in the Sheriff Court and is treated and dealt with as an ordinary Action, the procedure being as follows: 'The summons is drawn and a warrant is obtained from the Sheriff Clerk for service on the defender usually on an induciae of seven days. If the Action is to be defended the defender must lodge a notice of appearance within these seven days. The case is brought before the Court on the first Court day after the expiry of the seven days induciae. At this hearing an order is made by the Court on the defender to lodge his defences within seven days and the case continued for two weeks. This is to allow the pursuer to consider and if thought necessary answer the defences. If these defences are properly answered within the fortnight the case will be sent for proof (provided no question of competency or relevancy is raised in which case the case is sent to the Debate Roll first). Proof is heard at the Diet and in Scotland in a straightforward case a decision is come to almost immediately with a warrant to eject the defender. If the defender still refuses to leave the house the ejection is carried out in all cases by a Sheriff Officer.'It should be noted that a Diet for hearing the proof depends in every case on the state of the Rolls in the Sheriff Court. These, in recent times, particularly in the larger Courts, have become congested, principally owing to the large number of cases in the Criminal Court under the Road Traffic Acts many of which are sent for trial.The dale of this was December 4:For instance, if an ejection case were raised now in the Stonehaven Sheriff Court a diet of trial could not be fixed before the end of February since there is only one court day a week available for Proofs and trials. A certain amount of time may be saved where a defender does not defend the Action. In a recent case actually conducted and where no defences were stated the time schedule was as follows:—Now, the consequences of these actions.
- " (1) The action raised and warrant granted on 6th June, 1963.
- " (2) No defences being lodged the case called in Court on 17th June, 1963, when Decree to eject the defender was granted. A Decree can only be extracted after seven days. (In a defended action the time for extraction is fourteen days.)
- " (3) The Extract was obtained on 25th June, 1963, and the Sheriff Officer instructed the next day.
- " (4) The first available day when the Sheriff Officer could make arrangements to carry out the ejection was on 10th July, 1963, and this was done.
- " (5) The defender in this case should have vacated the house on 28th May and there was thus a period of 6 weeks and 2 days before the defender was ejected.
- " (6) This case is an example of the action being handled with the utmost expedition possible.
- " (7) The legal expenses payable by the pursuer or the landlord in this case with outlays amounted to £20 16s. 3d. The defender was found liable by the Court for judicial expenses of £10 7s. 0d. but no part was recovered from the defender, as happens in many of these cases."In Scotland, when a farm servant is engaged, the essential condition is that he gets occupation of the servant's cottage or cottarhouse. He is usually engaged some weeks prior to taking up his duties to enable him to give the appropriate notice of leaving to his present employer. If in the event his new employer fails to provide him with a house the employer has then broken his contract and the servant is entitled to resile from the agreement and to sue the employer for any loss. Loss may arise in this way. The servant's present employer may have engaged another servant. He is entitled to vacant possession of his cottarhouse to accommodate the new servant and the employee may find himself without a job and without a dwellinghouse by reason of the fact that this new employer has broken his contract through no fault of his own, by failing to provide his servant with the cottarhouse. It is easy to see that this process might go on throughout a whole series of employers where one employee has failed to vacate the dwellinghouse.'In the case of a defended action it is possible for an agent to put in defences which may ultimately be held to be without foundation but would be sufficient to keep the case in Court for many weeks and even months in a busy Court before the Proof could be heard, with consequent inconvenience and real hardship to the employer.The only difference, as I understand it, which this Bill makes to that is that the sheriff, who under Common Law has the option to extend the occupancy of the house for about a month (which is done sometimes), now has the discretion to extend it for up to a year. I think that is the only difference made by this Bill. That is how it stands at the moment. The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, said that you cannot ask for more than a fair deal. I should like to ask for a rapid deal as well, because I think a fair deal without a rapid deal is not much good.
The whole point is that it can be argued, and I think legitimately argued, that this has worked for many years in Scotland now. That is true. But conditions in Scotland are altering, and hardship can arise if people get it into their heads that they can get away with this. At the present moment they know they cannot get away with it, because no sheriff—except in such a case as where 99 per cent. of landlords would not chuck a man out, anyway—would allow 323 the chap to stay on. Therefore, while I am speaking largely for consideration of permanent legislation, I feel that even at this stage it might be possible to speed up the procedure of Scottish law. Quite how, I do not know.
If the tenant who wishes to stay on in the cottar-house was made to initiate the procedure, that might possibly deter him. I do not think the majority of farm servants, who are extremely hard working, and citizens we admire very much indeed, would ever dream of doing this sort of thing. They have not in the past, and I see no reason why they should in the future. As everywhere else, you get the "bad hat, "and these things can arise. I have never evicted anybody, but I have been put to some peculiar gymnastics to avoid it. I had a farm servant, and the unfortunate man died. I was left with his wife and children in the house. That was a difficult situation. But while, I am afraid, the Minister looked rather askance, I got over it by asking the widow whether she would become the housekeeper of a single man in the house. That appeared to work all right. The children finished their education, and when they had done so, the widow left and everybody was happy. That is the type of thing that goes on, and that is why I say that bringing in agricultural cottages is really an exercise which in a way is unworthy of this Bill. In any case, I think it is unreasonable.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ LORD WILLIS
My Lords, I do not think any excuses are needed for this Bill, or for the speed with which it has been brought in. I will, if I may, take up the point just made by the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven: that a fair deal must be a quick deal. I do not think anybody would deny that there are to-day hundreds of thousands of cases of people who urgently need a fair deal, and need this Bill quickly. I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, with a fine passion, criticise the Government for going too far with this Bill. At least we are going somewhere, and I think it is only fair to point out to the noble Lord and his colleagues that they had an opportunity for quite a long time to do something, and did very little. In fact, when I heard the 324 noble Lord, Lord Hastings, I was reminded of the headmaster's impatient instruction to his pupils: "Don't just do nothing. Stand still".
The case for the Bill was beautifully put in another place in the following terms:… for a long time there has been a need for some legislative or executive action to protect tenants from unreasonable eviction."—[Official Report, Commons, Vol. 702 (No. 15). Col. 497. November 18, 1964.]The speaker went on to say:It was certainly not for want of urging—and insistent urging—… upon the late Government …
§ LORD WILLIS
I am just going to tell the noble Lord that. I am quoting from Captain John Litchfield, the Member for Chelsea.
LORD ST. OSWALD
The noble Lord is determined to remain out of order. We cannot quote from Members in another place.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
May I interrupt, my Lords? It is quite permissible to quote, but one must not read the extract. One may quote or paraphrase it.
LORD ST. OSWALD
May I say that, as a Back-Bencher on the Government side, I was on one occasion taken up very strongly by a Member of the Opposition Front Bench for doing precisely that.
§ LORD DERWENT
With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, it is permissible only to paraphrase.
§ LORD WILLIS
I will get noble Lords out of the difficulty, and at the same time apologise, by not quoting. The honourable Member went on to say, roughly, that it was a matter of profound regret to him that it was a Socialist Government and not his own Party that had brought in this emergency measure.
325 It has also been suggested (it was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Hastings) that, in particular in dealing with tied cottages, the Labour Party are being dogmatic and doctrinaire. I think noble Lords ought to be a little fairer about this. This is a suggestion that has always been thrown at our Party: that we are full of dogma and dogmatic suggestions; and the implication behind this is that we are too rigid, and so on. But the fact is that there are two points of view to this: and not everybody is as good a landlord as the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven.
In another place—and again I cannot quote the actual words—the Labour Member for Woodford pointed out that the National Farmers' Union's document on this Bill was nonsense. He said that he had cases of hardship affecting agricultural workers in his constituency every week, and he described one in which people were thrown out on to the pavements by a farmer. I believe that hardship can grow up both for the farmer and for the agricultural worker. But I would point out that this Bill gives protection to both, because it does not suggest there must be a limit of twelve months before eviction: if a farmer can prove a good case, if the tenant can be proved to be a bad tenant for various reasons, the period of security is "up to twelve months" and not necessarily the whole period.
May I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment to point out that in Scotland it is three months before a case can even be brought into court?
§ LORD WILLIS
That may be so, but I am talking about the actual provision in this Bill, which says "up to twelve months."
I think, too, when we are talking about dogma, that we ought to remember that the situation which has been created, and which it is necessary for this Bill to resolve, arises from a little dogma on the part of the Conservatives. After all, the Rent Act, 1957, from which many, not all, of these evils stem, was in fact a classic example of Conservative dogma and thinking. The thinking behind it, as was clearly stated by Mr. Enoch Powell, was that if you gave the commercial forces, the landowners, landlords 326 and property companies, a free rein, without very much let or hindrance, they would be able to supply the need for housing by the natural law of supply and demand. That was the basis for the 1957 Rent Act. The intentions may have been good, but the effects were sordid and disastrous in the extreme. I do not think anybody would deny that.
I believe that this Bill will provide one key thing; that is, security: security for a short time until the main legislation is ready. In my view, it is a grave reflection on the state of civilisation we have reached in this country that such a Bill should be necessary. We know that the Government are preparing proper legislation, and that it. will be ready to put before the House in six months, or perhaps nine months. Yet we know our people, at least some of our villains, so well that we dare not even give them six or nine months before we bring in this measure to hold them in check. And believe me! there are some villains among them.
My Lords, I believe that this particular situation bears very hard on the old, because they are puzzled by solicitors' letters and by the other legal jargon which big property companies can inflict upon them. There is the case of the old lady whose landlord approached her in a very kindly way and suggested that he would reduce her rent by a couple of shillings if she would scrub the stairs. She accepted this, only to find a little later that by some miraculous legal means her controlled tenancy had been transformed thereby into a service tenancy, and she was given notice to quit. Then there is the case of the old couple whose "kindly" landlord approached them and suggested that they might like to move from an upstairs flat to one downstairs. They did so, only to find that their terms of tenancy had thereby changed from being controlled to decontrolled. It is not necessary to use Rachman tactics: these are the exceptions. A lot of these elderly people are terrified of a solicitor's letter or a phoney semi-official letter, because they just do not understand it and are terrified out of their wits by it.
I had a letter the other day from a woman whose family had occupied the same house in Tottenham for 44 years. 327 I made some inquiries and was shown a letter which was couched in such a way as to suggest, without actually saying so, that it came from a solicitor and that the full weight of the law was on the side of the landlord. This legal, or semi-legal, jargon had frightened the wits out of this old lady, and it was just a barefaced attempt to frighten her out of possession.
This is the sort of thing one has to control. It has even become a business. In the Estates Gazette one can find an advertisement like this:Controlled tenancies: vacant possession obtained by expert staff specialising in this field.We are told that this is a properly constituted firm, using legal methods, and that they often help tenants. I cannot help thinking that there must be cleaner ways of earning a living, and that, while we penalise very heavily people who rob graves, we do not seem to penalise quite so heavily the people who rob the living. It is on the old people that this quiet terror mainly rests, and it is here that this Bill is so vital and so necessary that we have to give legal force to a moral principle.
As I say, there are good and bad landlords. When I was a small boy my mother had one slogan: "Never trust a landlord or a money lender." Since then I have met some good landlords but have never met a good money lender. The fact is that the days when you knew a landlord as an individual have to some extent gone, and we now have these great faceless property companies who have no human relationship between themselves and the tenants. These are the people who, sometimes quite legally, use their power and resources against small individual families and are able to frighten them. For these reasons I believe that this Bill is an urgent necessity and I hope that it will pass without very much amendment.
My Lords, I want to make just one final point to my noble friend on this side. When we are talking about modernisation, I hope that we can have a little modernisation in the publicity which the Government put out from time 328 to time. As I have already said, this Bill affects a great number of very simple people who do not understand solicitors' letters, and certainly do not understand the usual Government leaflet which is put on the corner of a post office counter, among several hundred others. Therefore, would it not be possible, since we are all agreed that this is an urgent matter, to have publicity about its terms in the simplest possible way, on television and on posters, so that all these people may know that they now have the necessary legal protection until our fuller measure comes into effect?
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ LORD ROYLE
My Lords, the illustrations which my noble friend Lord Willis has given to the House this evening have, I feel, been sufficient argument and justification for the introduction of the Bill. In the course of our debate to-day the principle has been dealt with very fully indeed, but I am impelled to take part for just a few minutes this evening for the reason that until very recent days I had the privilege of representing an urban industrial constituency which was, and is, almost completely built-up and where a tremendous housing problem exists. Therefore I know something of the further hardships which were imposed upon my people there by the enactment of the 1957 Rent Act. While things were very difficult indeed for many people before the passage of the Act, an increased threat came to be held over the heads of very many tenants, and my experience was that I never held one advice bureau without someone coming along to pour out his problems arising from the 1957 Act.
That Act was fought with a great deal of vigour, line by line, in both your Lordships' House and in another place. Whilst the action that I now refer to may not have found approval and favour of your Lordships' eyes, I recall that not a single member of the Labour Party in another place came to your Lordships' House when the Royal Assent was given to the 1957 Act. That was probably an unprecedented act in the whole history of the Royal Assent, and it was intended to be the strongest possible protest against the measure, so strongly did the Labour Members of Parliament feel about the Rent Act.
329 There is little doubt that the fears that were then expressed in your Lordships' House and in another place have proved to be very well-founded indeed, and greater hardship has ensued as a result of that legislation. Eviction orders grew in the whole country from 13, 647 in 1957 to 18, 019 in 1963. London alone showed an increase of 50 per cent. in that period. There is little doubt that that Act was a contributory factor, to say the least, in the increase of homelessness which took place in those years. When the family service units in London made a survey in 1962 they visited 78 estate agents in London and found that practically no accommodation at all was available at less than £6 a week for a family consisting of a man and wife and three children. This is just one example of what transpired at that time; and I am sure that all noble: Lords know that that position applies to-day.
Accordingly, I am more delighted than I can say that Her Majesty's Government have decided that the pledges which were given during the course of the Election campaign shall be kept and that the 1957 Act will be repealed, and that in its stead there must be legislation which will protect the average tenant from the threats contained in the existing Act. Creeping decontrol I believe must be eliminated where tenants are vulnerable. Security must be re-established and a system must be introduced for the fixing of fair rents. Of course I know—we all know and accept—that the old Acts of Parliament before the 1957 Act had defects and a new orientation is necessary. I believe that there are many good owners of that kind of property; of course there are; men who take a great pride in keeping their property up to standard. And it perhaps had to be accepted that before 1957, because of very low rents they were not able to keep those houses in the good repair they desired.
That problem has to be attended to, and I have sufficient faith in Her Majesty's Government to feel that difficulties of that kind will be approached in the right spirit; and I believe that the good owner of property will welcome legislation which will be fair to the tenant and the owner together. I would say that the evils of Rachmanism are 330 far from being the general rule; I agree with noble Lords who have said this. A majority of investment property owners have pride in their ownership. Accordingly the proposals of Her Majesty's Government must be welcomed when the time comes. But everything cannot be done in a day, not even in 100 days, and the main legislation will come along in due course in 1965.
Meanwhile, I feel that the threats of eviction would remain and the temporary protection contained in this measure is right and proper to protect tenants from the unscrupulous landlords who exist. So I welcome this as a holding measure. There are many examples where owners are trying to gain possession before the new controls can be applied, and a stop must be put to that. There are various ways by which at present possession can be obtained, giving the courts no option at all; therefore the tenant is full of uncertainty. Periods of grace differ, and with the housing shortage there is little or no time to find alternative accommodation.
This Bill has been fully explained by my noble friend Lord Mitchison and it is unnecessary for me at this hour to go into any details at all. As I say, it is a holding measure with a short life and will save many families from being exposed to great hardship pending full legislation. I regard it as a wonderful Christmas present to hundreds of such families, because the anxiety of losing their homes will be lifted from their shoulders at this time of good will. The right reverend Prelate referred to there being "no room at the inn" I would say that no room at the inn is bad enough, but no home in the land is even worse.
I would say just a final word. Noble Lords opposite have, in speech after speech, shown that their deep concern is in regard to the provisions relating to agricultural tied cottages. I have a deep sympathy for the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, in the problems which he told us about in the course of his speech. Because of our association in another capacity, I have the utmost confidence in him, and I am quite sure that there could be no more humane landlord. Therefore, I think we have to understand these problems which he has met. 331 But this is not really the moment to do it. I believe that this question must be tackled when we come to the main measure. Meanwhile, I am pleased that the present provision is being made in this Bill as a temporary measure.
I would only say to my noble friend Lord Mitchison that I find a certain amount of disappointment that the Government cannot tackle the other type of tied cottage as well. Probably there are more tied cottages under the nationalised industries than there are in agriculture; and surely there must be less reason to have tied cottages, say for the transport industry, than there is for the agricultural industry. Therefore I should have hoped that there would be a provision for the time being to protect the occupier of the tied cottage in spheres other than in agriculture. I hope that that will be tackled courageously, together with the agricultural tied cottage, when we come to the main Bill.
I believe it is a fine thing that in this interim period the protection which is now being given to tenants should go on. I believe that this is the temporary solution, and I sincerely hope that having discussed this matter for decade after decade we shall reach a solution with regard to what we call tied cottages. It is in the light of all those considerations, and in that spirit, that I welcome the present Bill.
§ 5.22 p.m.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, I should like to say first that my small interruption of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Willis, was most amiably intended. He was interrupted rather less tersely than I was on the occasion I mentioned. I am certainly not a Parliamentary lawyer, and I will not attempt to explain to him the reason for this Rule—one of the few that we have in this House. But it is a matter on which both Houses insist, and I hope that he did not take it amiss that I should interrupt his speech on those grounds. I certainly did not want to interfere with what he was saying.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, as befits a former, and fairly recent. Agricul- 332 tural Minister, not to mention an active farmer, I am bound to be concerned with the good of farming and therefore with the tied-cottage aspect of this Bill. The Government's proposal to include these cottages under rent control, to which this Bill is a preparatory measure, has been brought in, as other noble Lords have said, without warning, either in the Manifesto or in the gracious Speech. I shall be addressing my remarks exclusively to this issue, and any strictures that I may utter will be related to this aspect, and not to the wider aspects of the Bill, even to those with which I may also disagree. But as noble Lords opposite know, the Government have obtained the co-operation of the Opposition in getting this Bill through as quickly as possible for the sake of the good that is in it. I shall be making a somewhat unbalanced speech, but I hope that noble Lords will read into it the fact that I realise consciously that I am making an unbalanced speech upon one aspect only.
LORD ST. OSWALD
Having said that, I must say that the more one looks at this proposal the "battier" it appears. At first sight, to anyone with a knowledge of farming in Britain to-day the intention contained in this proposal must seem either mad or malevolent. Knowing noble Lords opposite, or at least the majority of them well, it is, of course, easier and happier to try to believe that the authors are gormless rather than venomous. This should be a good thing, in more ways than one, since I hope that it is more possible to inject sense into a human being than to draw poison. I am sure that there is little poison, if any, detectable in any noble Lord opposite.
Regrettably, I think, the present Government have not thought it necessary to provide your Lordships with an Agricultural Minister—that is to say, an Agricultural Minister with an office in the Department itself and also a seat on the Government Front Bench in this House. This is the first time since 1935 that this omission has been perpetrated.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, may I point out that Agriculture is most strongly represented on our Front Bench by the Deputy Leader of 333 the House. I do not suppose that Agriculture was ever so strongly represented in this House as it is at this moment.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, I was going to make reference to that. What I am saying at the moment is that this House is not represented in the Ministry of Agriculture. I was going to say that on the occasion that I have mentioned, in 1935, for eight months my late Department had no representative in your Lordships' House. I have calculated that during this period there were approximately 60 sitting days. At the present rate of activity and application in your Lordships' House I have also calculated that we shall pass that point well before the Easter Recess; and if that is the sort of target which the Government wish to hit, then I am happy to have done some homework for those overworked men.
But in doing without an Agricultural Minister, a Departmental Minister, here the Government will have proved something to themselves, without, I think, giving much satisfaction to anyone else. As the noble Earl the Leader of the House has already said, it is certainly not lack of talent that has required the Government to make the omission. They have one of the ablest (and largest) farmers in the country to call upon, in the person of the noble Lord, Lord Walston. So he has been sent to the Foreign Office. They have an experienced former Member of Parliament for an agricultural constituency, in the person of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. So he has been sent to the Home Office.
I am far from suggesting—and noble Lords would not read this into my remarks—that these are among the most bewildering appointments in the present Administration—indeed, the reverse. I have no doubt whatsover that these two noble Lords whom we know and respect will acquit themselves illustriously in their offices, gathering experience as they go and applying common sense to the unwanted policies that they will be required to prosecute. What I am saying is that either one of them might have been more useful at the Ministry of Agriculture, in which case this Bill might have been a great deal more acceptable to the farming community and threatened a good deal less harm.
334 We also have, as the noble Earl has said, the noble Lord, Lord Champion, who has enough charm to charm even the flintiest-hearted Opposition spokesman off his Bench, and who also helped to wind up the Socialist administration of agriculture during 1951. But the noble Lord's charm is not being employed today. We have the charm of the noble Lord who opened the debate and that of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. To the best of my knowledge, neither of them has any close connection with agriculture; and it is only in this sort of debate that they are any the worse off for that.
Listening to some noble Lords opposite—and I except one particular speech, that of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin—and reading speeches from another place, it has appeared to me that the Government, to justify their purpose here, have had to describe a situation totally unrelated to the facts. The measure represented by Clause 2 (4) (d) could be warranted only if relations between farmer and farmworker were frankly and consistently bad. My own experience, both as a farmer and as an Agricultural Minister, has convinced me that they are excellent. Indeed, this point has not been denied but has been made by certain noble Lords opposite. I find the situation implied by the Government to excuse this measure utterly unrecognisable. What I fear, and what the noble Lords opposite should fear just as much as I, is that such a needless, irrelevant, discriminatory and doctrinal measure—and I insist that it is doctrinal—as ham-fisted as anything the Government have so far attempted, may create bad blood between farmer and farmworker, where an enviable harmony has existed heretofore. It will breed suspicion of intention, and it will encourage bad faith; it will make bad faith profitable, in a way that it has not been profitable before.
Let us look at the present situation. Under a bona fide tied cottage licence, a proportion of the farm worker's wages is deducted on account of the house he lives in. The sum may vary from 6s. to 20s., so far as England is concerned. If no longer working for the farmer, no wages can be deducted, which means that the former worker can continue to live rent-free in a cottage for which the farmer is receiving no return in cash or 335 in kind, and upon which he depends for the efficient working of his farm. In fact, the working of the farm may depend critically upon the availability of this asset, in the form of a farm dwelling-Moreover, the better the cottage, the more reluctant the former worker may be to leave it; and, conversely, it is likely to represent a greater capital value to the farmer who has either improved, extended or possibly built it for this specific purpose, perhaps with assistance from the bank to which he is still indebted. The temptation to the former farm worker who has, for instance, sought employment in industry, stares one in the face. Having given notice to the farmer, he could find himself occupying rent-free and rate-free a cottage within easy distance of his new work; whereas removal to the town in which he is now working might demand a rent of £2 10s. or even more.
I should like to say that I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, took amiss my use of the word "excuse" when referring to the Government's efforts to explain this, to us, very surprising clause. I can see that the word "excuse" could have somewhat bellicose connotations, but no bellicosity was intended. But, as he saw, my noble friend Lord Hastings, if possible an even gentler creature than myself, also considered that the Government needed to excuse themselves, or, if the noble Lord prefers, justify themselves, for this particular measure. However, it may also be that I misunderstood the exact context in which he was referring to the amount of consultation carried out with the farmers' representatives. Consultation with the N.F.U. appears to have been very late in the day, and, so far as I know, there has been no consultation with the C.L.A. whose members are also affected.
Yet the Government have thought it right to single out agricultural tied cottages from among all tied cottages for reasons which must appear, I insist, doctrinal and Party political, in default of some explanation more persuasive than that given to me, with the greatest courtesy, by the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison. His reply did not persuade me or my noble friend Lord Hastings, and I think it very doubtful that it could 336 persuade any working farmer with a tied cottage on his farm. In this context I might say—and I believe this was referred to by one of the noble Lords opposite during my absence—that it is the smaller farmer, with only one or perhaps two farm tied cottages, who will be most grievously affected. A larger farmer, with more cottages, will have greater flexibility and is more likely, however little likely, to have spare accommodation. One effect may be that any farmer with a spare cottage will tend to keep it spare against the sort of emergency he might now foresee, and in which the Government are determined to inhibit his solution. This will have the effect, however small, of reducing the amount of accommodation generally available.
This would be serious, I think, even if the measure in question could be more easily justified and accepted. In this case there is the greatest difficulty in either justifying or accepting it. The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, did his best but in much of what he said it seemed to me that he was digging himself deeper. He said that only a limited group of people were affected by the whole Bill. What we ask is why farmers are among that limited number. He said, and here I think I can quote him directly, "After all, this is a temporary Bill … for application only where hardship is likely." We say that hardship is no more likely in the case of tied cottages in agriculture than in the case of other tied cottages. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Royle, for drawing attention to this. I thought that he made a fair point, and certainly a non-doctrinal point, in his closing remarks. We say indeed that it will more probably impose hardship than prevent hardship.
The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, in justification of reprieving other tied cottage owners from this measure, said that very few cottages in other occupations would be likely to be affected. I wonder how he is so sure, and what his argument rests on. What evidence is there that there will be any fewer than those in the case of agricultural tied cottages—or, put the other way round, are farmers any harder-hearted than officers of nationalised industries, for instance? The noble Lord also said to me, quite reasonably, that it had not been possible to go to the owners of 337 every building which employed a night watchman or a caretaker; but I should have thought that it would be quite possible to go to the Coal Board, the education authorities, and the joint committee of local authorities—I forget their precise title; the noble Lord will know the body to which I refer.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I think that I ought to make it quite clear that we have a very strong feeling that we ought to keep a promise. The promise was made in relation to agricultural workers only. In this temporary Bill that is the reason why we wish to include them and to include the tied cottages, the service cottages, as well as those which are strictly tenancies.
LORD ST. OSWALD
I am grateful indeed to the noble Lord for falling back on this last remaining argument. This is really the only reason. I am delighted to see that he has had more honesty than any of his right honourable or honourable friends in another place. He has said in fact that this was purely doctrinal and nothing else. If that is so, I can cut out a great part of my speech because in fact that is what I was seeking to prove and the noble Lord has already given me the point.
But once I have obtained that point I must say, for descriptive accuracy, that this whole Clause 2 (4) (d) together with its overture in Clause 1 (6), should have been removed from the present Bill and placed in a far larger measure, covering a great part of the present Government's threatened legislation, entitled "The Frustration of Efficiency Bill" Or, if they were in a great hurry, as they appear to be, to do something for which, on the best evidence, there is no requirement except in the reckoning of the Labour leaders, then a smaller, more self-contained measure would be the "Impediment to Agriculture Bill"
My Lords, just before we finish, could the noble Lord tell me whether the promise related to Northern Ireland, and, if not, why not?
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD GARDINER)
My Lords, it is a pleasure to conclude a Second Reading debate on which there has been such a wide 338 measure of agreement. One or two comments have been made about tied cottages but, as a whole, the Bill has been welcomed. This is particularly encouraging, of course, in your Lordships' House, which I suppose includes nearly all the large hereditary land owners of England, Wales and Scotland. That will show everybody that this is not an anti-landlord Bill, as indeed it is not; it is simply an anti-bad-landlord Bill.
Its object, as your Lordships know, is to guard against the danger of unscrupulous landlords in the period between the election of a Labour Government pledged to repeal the Rent Act and the passing of the measures required to fulfil that pledge. If I may say so, I personally was glad that before the discussion was concluded my noble friend Lord Willis, and my noble friend Lord Royle, brought us back to what really we were talking about. It is quite clear, at least from the experience of Members of another place—because your Lordships are, perhaps, rather less in touch with ordinary people than those who have constituencies—that there has been a substantial increase in forcible evictions since the General Election.
May I come to the very few criticisms which have been made of the Bill as a whole? The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, thought it a pity that there was a limit of £400 rateable value. He would have Liked three different limits: one for London, a second one for major towns—though exactly how they were to be defined was not clear—and a third for the country. There are perhaps many things in the Bill which might have required further consideration if it were to be a permanent measure, but the great thing, I suggest, about a Bill which is literally intended to last for only a few months is that it should be kept simple. Once you have three different limits then you have to define your terms like "large towns ", and there might be difficult cases which are on both sides of the line. The sensible thing here was to keep the limit to one figure, and the figure thought to be convenient was that of the limit of the court which was going to try the cases.
The only criticism I had anticipated on this point was perhaps criticism that there was any limit at all; because why should a man be entitled to use violence, or to use force, to throw somebody out of premises? Why should he not always 339 have to go to the court, whatever the limit of the rateable value? This is really a sort of survival of feudalism. The only occasions ordinarily on which people are entitled to use force at all are in self-defence, or in relation to young people who are in one's care, and, I suppose, this branch of the law, where a landlord may put a tenant out using no more force than is reasonably necessary. That is the law. But, of course, that in itself contemplates some force. This is really a survival which many of us think should no longer exist in our law at all, just as it has not existed for a long time in Scotland—to be quite accurate, since 1555, which, like 1066, is a memorable date.
The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, also asked whether the court would have power to suspend orders which had already been made but not executed, whether made in the county court or in the High Court, and the answer is, Yes, under the Bill the court will have power to do both. If the tenant has left, if the eviction has taken place, then the court is given no power to try to put the tenant back. But if an order has been made but the tenant is still there, whether the order has been made in the county court or in the High Court, the county court will have power to act upon it.
I think that the rest of the observations which were made by noble Lords related only to two matters. The first was the seaside accommodation, which seems to have also caused a lot of trouble in another place, and the second was the tied cottages. As to the seaside accommodation, I would frankly say, with all respect to the advice which my noble friend Lord Mitchison has received, that I am not sure that the word "residence" will really cure this problem. The position I think is this. The ordinary seaside accommodation is rooms or lodgings, and of course the Bill does not touch, them at all, because the Bill relates only to tenancies. But I quite agree that there might be a man who, because he lives, by the seaside, lets his flat for the summer holiday and goes away himself; and if it is a self-contained flat it is a tenancy and, of course, the Act will apply.
But what I venture to think has perhaps not been understood is the real 340 difference which the Bill makes. If today you live by the sea and in the summer you go away yourself and have your holiday somewhere else, and you reckon to make a bit by letting your flat, but when you come back the tenant refuses to leave at the end of the time for which he has taken the flat, this is obviously a maddening thing to happen. What happens now under the law as it is? You go to your solicitor and say, "I came back to-day. This man is supposed to be out, and he will not go. You must do something about it at once." He says, "It will take a little time. If I go to the High Court and he puts in any sort of defence it will take months, but in the county court we can get it on in six weeks." Then you say, "But what is going to happen to me? If I have to go to a hotel in the meanwhite, how do I pay for that?" The solicitor replies, "This man ought to pay for it, but whether you will get the money out of him is very doubtful. But that is all you can do. We will take proceedings at once, and in six weeks, or earlier, if we are lucky we shall get him out."
You may then say to your solicitor, "I have been told—or is this wrong?—that a landlord is entitled to turn a trespasser out. Is this man not a trespasser, because his tenancy has come to an end?" Any solicitor, barrister or lawyer will tell you, as most of us have had to tell clients from time to time, that that is quite right; that is the law. You are not bound to go to court. You can turn him out yourself, using no more force than is reasonably necessary. We go on to implore clients not to think of doing anything of the kind. The reason is this. The ordinary client, of course, does not contemplate going to throw the person out himself. He contemplates hiring the Corps of Commissionaires, or the county court bailiff in his spare time, to go along and do it, usually taking a policeman to see that there is fair play.
But, naturally enough, if this is done there is usually a struggle, and, as any solicitor will tell you in advising you not on any account to do this, the next thing that happens is that you get a writ for assault and for damages to the plaintiff's goods. Any solicitor will tell you that while judges, of course, are always impartial, in such a case judges do tend to evince a dislike for people who have 341 taken the law into their own hands instead of relying on the courts. It is very easy for a judge to find that more force was used than was reasonably necessary, because very often there is a fight.
If I may be forgiven a reminiscence at this hour of the night, even if the judge finds that no more force was used than was reasonably necessary, it does not always work out well. I remember a young man whose father was a county court registrar. The father could not afford to bring all the sons up to the professions, although the elder brother was so brought up. But this young man, had always had a particular passion to be a doctor, and because his father just could not afford that, he became the next best thing, which was a pharmacist. Having trained with a very good and well-known firm of pharmacists with the money he had saved (because he never went to the cinema or took anybody out, or did anything; he was devoted to his profession), he bought an empty shop and started his chemist's shop there and did extremely well.
Then, during the war, he got his chance under special conditions of becoming a doctor. He passed all his examinations except the last one, for which he had to go into hospital for the last year; so he sold his business and the goodwill on the terms that he was to be paid so much a month. And he intended to live on this money while he became a doctor. Unfortunately, the man to whom he sold his business never paid, so this young man had no money. He asked a friend, who was a lawyer—but not professionally—whether he could go and throw this man out. The lawyer said, "Well, you are entitled to. The judge may not like it but, strictly speaking, you are entitled to." So he took a policeman and he did.
The action, being defended, took about a year to come on, in the High Court, because it was outside the county court limit; and the judge did eventually find, after considerable trouble, that the young man had used no more force than was necessary. The other man then appealed to the Court of Appeal, and, on the way to the Court of Appeal, filed his petition in bankruptcy. The result was that the chemist, after about two years, had to pay all the costs of the action himself. 342 So, even if you are successful, it is wiser, probably, to let your solicitor do it through the courts than try to throw people out yourself.
Now what will the difference be if this Bill is passed? The only difference Will be that you will have to take the advice which you would have taken anyhow—that is to say, you will not be able to throw the man out by force. None of your Lordships would; and no decent landlord would: you would go to your lawyers and let them do it for you. That, in substance, is the only difference which the Bill is going to make. In Scotland, the difference will be virtually none, because in Scotland, even now, you cannot throw out a tenant.
As to tied cottages or seaside flats, the only real difference, so far as Scotland is concerned, is, first, that whereas, previously, if somebody wrongfully used force your only remedy in Scottish law Would be an action for damages against him (and, if he is a Rachmanite type, who disappears, that might not be much good), the provisions of the Bill will now apply to make it a criminal offence; and, secondly, whereas Scottish law relates only to force, the Bill, of course, also Covers landlords who obtain possession in effect by trick, and not only by force.
Then there is the question of time, but perhaps I ought to deal later with time. So far as tied cottages are concerned, this is a matter which can no doubt receive further consideration at the Committee stage. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, said that the Government had shown great ignorance in this matter. Of course I do not know how many Conservative Peers have lived in tied cottages, but I would have suggested that perhaps more experience of what it means to live in a tied cottage was to be found on the Government side, than on the Opposition side.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, I Wonder whether I might interrupt for one moment. Does the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor mean that any member of the present Government has been evicted from a tied cottage?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, it may be, but it is much more likely, I should have thought, in the case of the present Government than in the 343 case of the Opposition. But I should have thought that the agricultural workers' union probably know something about it; and, for that matter, the National Farmers' Union, who have approved of the present wording.
§ LORD HASTINGS
They did, I must admit, but only under very great protest. The National Farmers' Union were not consulted at all before the Bill was originally drafted. The Minister was obliged to consult them afterwards, and they accepted it very reluctantly indeed.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
What the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, says is quite true. They had not been consulted originally, but when they were consulted they said that, provided Clause 2 (4) (d) was put in, they were content.
The position with regard to tied cottages is really this. As your Lordships know, some of them are tenancies, but most of them are licences. Therefore, those who were considering the contents of this Bill had a choice between three different courses. If they said nothing about tied cottages, then, of course, those which were tenancies would be included, because the Bill applies to all tenancies, with certain exceptions which are specified. So, if they said nothing about tied cottages, then those cases where there were tenancies would be included. That was one alternative. The second alternative was, while including the tenancies, to exclude the licences; and the third was to include both. It would have been necessary to have a special clause to exclude tied cottages which were tenancies, because, as your Lordships see, the Bill itself applies to tenancies save only with certain exceptions. So the three alternatives were, first, to have a clause specially excluding tied cottage tenancies; second, to include tenancies but to exclude licences; and, third, to include both.
It seemed to the Government that there was no justice about making a special exclusion for tied cottage tenancies when nearly all other tenancies of all kinds were included. It was possible, of course, to take the view that while tenancies in the case of tied cottages should be included, licences should be excluded; and it has been said (and one appreciates it) that there are other licences which are 344 not included—those of the National Coal Board, the Railway Executive, and so on. It seemed to the Government that there were two answers to that. One is that these other licences relate to cases where the landlord is a reputable body with public responsibility, like the Railway Executive. The second is that there have been a great many decisions in the courts, none of them very easy to follow, and none of them very successful, to try to decide exactly where the dividing line is between the tied cottage which is a tenancy and the tied cottage which is a licence. There are a great many cases in which you can argue about this for a long time in the courts. It did not seem to the Government sensible, in this very temporary measure, which is intended only for months, to start on a round of that kind of thing.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, I hope the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor does not think it discourteous of me to interrupt him, but the point is that this is, to all of us on this Bench, an entirely new argument. It was not, I think, used in another place. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor says that it was behind the thinking of the Government at the time, but it rather looks as if perhaps it was thought of afterwards. Perhaps if he could correct me on that, it would be helpful.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
If I may say so with due respect, I know about this, and in another place my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, I am quite sure—and I must not quote it—said, in effect, the same thing. He explained that you have these alternatives. He explained that if you said nothing, then tied cottages, like all other tenancies, would be in; and he explained that it would seem very odd to pick out tied cottage tenants and exclude them from a protection which everybody else was having. He said that there would have been a case for including the tenancies but excluding the licences; but then, of course, it is a very technical, lawyer-like difference from the human point of view, the man's point of view, and it would have led to a great many disputes in the courts as to whether a man had a tenancy or a licence.
§ LORD MOLSON
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble and learned Lord, may I say that I read the speech of the Minister in another place very carefully, and, if the noble and learned Lord will allow me to say so, my noble friend is quite right: the Minister never made the point that there had been difficulty in the courts in drawing a distinction between tenancies and licences. What he said, it is perfectly true, is that he thought it undesirable to do so, but he never made the point that there was any difficulty, from the legal point of view, in drawing a distinction between a tenancy and a licence. I would also respectfully point out that, as this was a Government statement, there is nothing to preclude the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor from quoting what the Minister said on this point.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
If we have the pleasure of discussing this matter further on Committee stage, we can go into this point with further references. I have read the whole of what was said in another place, and my recollection certainly is that the point was mentioned. It was certainly in the Government's mind. But those were the alternatives; and, on the whole, in this Bill, which was intended to last only for a few months, it was felt that the simplest thing to do, as one could not very well exclude tied cottage tenants, was to include both.
My Lords, I will refer now to what the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven said, with regard to the question of time. This is a point which I think is of importance. If I may I will start with England, which I know a good deal more about. In England, in the county courts it ordinarily takes about six weeks; in some places five to seven weeks, and in some places six to eight weeks. It is very important that proceedings under this Bill should reach the county court quickly; and there are various ways of doing this. I am proposing by administrative directions to see, first, that any undefended case is taken at the earliest date and is put first in the list and in front of anything else that may be in the list. When I say "undefended" case, I include all the cases in which the tenant will be asking for an extension of time—the landlord is saying: "If you are going to extend the time then you ought to increase 346 the rent."For example, there are tied cottages where no rent is paid. But, under this clause, the county court judge would be able to say, for example, "If your wife is going to have a baby and you are going to stay there, you should certainly pay a reasonable rent for it."
A defended case is one in which the defendant says, "I am still a tenant and I have never been given notice to quit." He has a complete defence to any eviction order. Of course, a man in that position must have a reasonable time to put his case forward. But in any case where it is merely an argument about how long the occupier is to stay on and on what terms, then such a case, I hope, ought to be before the county court within say, fourteen to 21 days—and, I should hope, fourteen. A county court judge would have power to transfer cases from his court to another if there is another more convenient court which is meeting earlier. Under the Bill, the Registrar will have jurisdiction, as well as the judge himself, to hear cases. Under the existing county court rules, while a defendant has a certain time before which he has to deliver his defence, the judge has power in any case, where there is a real matter of urgency, to abridge the time. If anything further is needed then more rules can be made.
I shall have to obtain further information with regard to the position in Scotland, although I am quite sure that my right honourable friend, the Secretary of State for Scotland, will be as anxious as I am to see such cases are dealt with expeditiously. The reason why I am not better informed about Scotland is that in another place Scotland was held up as an example which England should follow. It was said that you can get before a sheriff in two days. I gather from what the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, has said that this is not so. If I may, I will go further into that before Committee stage and will try to find what further assistance my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland can give.
My Lords, my authority for saying this is a procurator fiscal, and the sheriff court in question is the one in my own county town of Stonehaven. The facts I gave 347 are the tacts as given to me. I believe them to be accurate, but of course I am not learned in law.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I have no reason to think they are not accurate. How far they are representative of conditions generally in sheriff courts, I will ascertain. So far as England and Wales are concerned, it is very important that any applications under the Bill should be heard at an early date.
My Lords, I do not want to conclude on any note of dissidence. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, did rather indicate that he thought that in some way the Government were treating the Opposition rather hardly in having the Committee stage on Wednesday. But I would only say, first, that I understood it was agreed; and, second, I am sure that noble Lords opposite will bear in mind what the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Carlisle and the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Southwark said as to the desirability of this passing into law by Christmas. Great offence seemed to be taken at the fact. It was said that this is putting us to inconvenience. I must frankly say that I think the choice is obvious if it is one between people not being put into the streets over Christmas and a little inconvenience on the part of Conservative Peers. This Bill received its Third Reading in another place on November 28, and it is a week since it passed its last stage there. It is possible, I should have thought, to put down an Amendment in time for consideration on Wednesday, and it is not unreasonable for the Government to express the hope that we shall be able to stop these evictions over Christmas. If one has to set against that the inconvenience to some Members of the Opposition, well, they may say so and the public will—
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, I quite understand what the noble and learned Lord is saying, but can he indicate whether this kind of situation is likely to happen very often in the future?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
It will not. This is a special case in the sense that one wants to stop people from being evicted over Christmas. I am 348 sure that everybody on all sides of the House would like to do this. If it has caused any inconvenience I am sorry; but I am sure that those who have spoken would not on reflection wish to put their own convenience before the object that we all have in mind.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, I hope the noble and learned Lord will not mind my saying this. He has rather taken me to task over this, but he has completely misunderstood the position. It was not the convenience of Conservative Peers to which I was referring; I really cannot stand that interpretation. I am talking about the whole House, the House of Lords. It has a constitutional rôle to perform as a part of Parliament. We had arguments when we were on the other side of the House on this matter, and if we had dared to have a Committee stage within two days we should never have heard the end of it. We had enough trouble when the Committee stage was held within a week of Second Reading. It has nothing to do with Conservative Peers; it is to do with the House of Lords. We feel that the House of Lords is not being treated properly in this regard by the Government. We are not trying to hold up this Bill. All we wanted was decent time in which to discuss it properly. We hope that the Bill will go through by Christmas. But I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor does not believe that Conservative Peers are worried about their personal inconvenience. What we are worried about is the standing and position of the House of Lords, and we do not want this sort of thing to appear in the future.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I hope that we shall conclude on an amicable note. I have not heard any complaints from anywhere except from the Conservative Benches. But the First and Second Readings were introduced into this House as quickly as possible, and Christmas cannot be moved. It is quite natural, in those circumstances, for the Government to express the hope—
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, may I make one more interjection?—I will not do so again. What we are saying is that there are controversial points in this Bill. Taking the Lord Chancellor's own touchstone, he said that this type of 349 Bill should be simple. He could have made it far simpler by leaving out the controversial matters, such as furnished lettings and tied cottages. After all, even this Administration have not undertaken to do everything which their Party has ever promised to do, even in its wildest moments, and to do it all by Christmas.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, we shall no doubt consider these 350 matters further on Wednesday. But, as a whole, I can express gratitude that the principles of the Bill have been so well received.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ House adjourned at nine minutes past six o'clock.