§ 3.24 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Mitchison.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The Lord Merthyr in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1:
§ Restriction on recovery of possession
§ 1.—(1) Where any premises have been let as a dwelling and on the termination, whether before or after the commencement of this Act, of the tenancy (in this Act referred to as the former tenancy) any of the following persons remains in occupation of the premises or part of them and in residence therein, that is to say,—
- (a) the tenant under the former tenancy;
- (b) any person to whom the premises or part thereof have been lawfully sublet as a dwelling;
- (c) the widow or widower of any such person as is mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) of this subsection residing with him at his death or, if that person leaves no such widow or widower, any member of his family residing with him at his death;
§ (6) For the purposes of this Act a person who, whilst employed in agriculture (as defined in section 17 (1) of the Agricultural Wages Act 1948 or section 17 of the Agricultural Wages (Scotland) Act 1949) occupied any premises or part thereof under the terms of his employment shall be deemed to have been a tenant and the expressions "let" and "tenancy" shall be construed accordingly.
LORD HASTINGS moved, in subsection (1), to add to paragraph (c):
who at the time of his death has no alternative accommodation; ".
§ The noble Lord said, I hope that noble Lords will not take it amiss if in moving this first Amendment I say a word or two by way of preliminary before we get down to considering details of our Amendments. Noble Lords will remember, that I had something to say about the fact that this Committee stage would be coming along only two days after the Second Reading, but I should like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, that the Amendments we have put down have been put down in no obstructive sense at all. They have been put down for a constructive purpose.
§ We do not intend to waste too much breath on debating the Amendments, but we wish to put them clearly and strongly, and we hope that some of them will commend themselves to the Government. There are two, I know, on which they will not agree with us, but we feel that the points raised need thorough discussion in your Lordships' House, and when we have had answers to them from the Government we shall have to decide what to do. But in respect of the others we feel that the Government have an opportunity to accept them, because they have been put down either for clarification or to improve the Bill.455
§ I would just point out to the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, that since this Committee stage has been taken earlier than usual, it gives the Government time to accept Amendments, so that they can be considered formally by another place before final approval of the Bill which the Government so much wish to have before Christmas. Therefore, I hope the Government are not going to approach this Committee stage in a purely formal sense, having already made up their mind that it is something to be got over and got rid of, because these Amendments have been put down with the idea of improving the Bill and that they should be accepted. Of such a nature, in fact, is the first Amendment to which I now turn, to discuss it in detail.
§ In another place one or two Amendments with somewhat the same effect were put down to this particular clause and to subsection (1), which provides that any member of the family residing with the tenant at the time of his death, will automatically be able to claim a right to that tenancy, however short a time that member had been living with the deceased. I believe I am right in saying that in various rent legislation there is a limitation of time: that is to say, a qualification period of six months, under which, if somebody has been residing less than that time in a controlled tenancy, for example, he or she will not be able to claim by right to succeed to that tenancy. By not writing the same provision into this temporary measure one feels that the Government intend perhaps to review that situation when they bring forward their major legislation; but we are not concerned with that at the present moment. Nevertheless, we are concerned very much with what may happen in this interim period, and it seems that by not putting any time limit in or any proviso at all as to the right to succeed to that tenancy in these conditions, some very serious abuses could arise which would be of unnecessary annoyance, not only to perfectly good landlords but also to the courts themselves.
§ An argument was put forward by the Government in another place that there could be cases of hardship where a relative had genuinely given up his former accommodation and had been living with the deceased for five-and-a-half months previous to his death, and 456 then would have nowhere to go, and they asked what we would do about a case like that. Therefore I have deliberately not put a time factor into this Amendment. There was the other leg of the argument about the particular member of the family who could claim the tenancy, because in Clause 2 (2) the courts have to decide, or are able to decide, on certain terms and conditions when the landlord and tenant come before them; therefore it would be necessary to have the court particularise which member of the family could have the tenancy. I have left that out of the reckoning, too, because I do not want to waste the time of the Committee on matters which have been argued so fully in another place.
§ It seemed to us on this side, when discussing this subject, that we should be meeting the main point made by Government spokesmen in another place by leaving out any time factor but at least making it clear that the person who had moved in to nurse a tenant who eventually died should not be in a position to abuse the particular situation in which he found himself. It seemed reasonable in the case of a person who had alternative accommodation—for example, a niece who had been living with her parents and went to nurse the dying uncle—that she should return home. What reason could there possibly be for her not going back to the parents from whom she came? That is the sort of case we had in mind. I am sure noble Lords can think of others. I do not know whether the wording is good enough or precise enough. I thought of "in possession of", but it seemed to be ambiguous legally, or "having the right to alternative accommodation". We decided to put it in simple language and leave it to noble Lords opposite to improve on it.
§ It seems wrong that a person who has moved in perhaps only a week before the person dies—perhaps with malice aforethought to get the tenancy, although I do not say that that is necessarily so—should be able to waste the time of the landlord and even the court; because the intention in this situation is that they should not need to go to the court at all. The situation should be clear. I think with this proviso the subsection we are discussing would be 457 improved and the intention behind this particular part of the clause would be clearer. Therefore I hope very much that the Government will be able to accept it. I beg to move.
Page 1, line 18, at end insert the said words.—(Lord Hastings.)
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCES (LORD MITCHISON)
May I be allowed to accept with thanks the assurance of the noble Lord that these Amendments have all been carefully considered and are seriously intended to effect improvements in the Bill. I quite appreciate that there are inconveniences of timing in what we are doing, but what we are trying to do is to meet as immediately as we possibly can what we believe to be an emergency, and it is, I think, essential to keep this Bill simple for this purpose. It is only a temporary Bill. I would make it quite clear, as I do now—and I hope not to repeat it too often—that it does not at all follow that because we treat one type of tenancy or one question in one way in this Bill it would be treated in the same way in a Bill intended to have permanent effect and not simply to last one year.
Having said that, I would say that I appreciate on the one hand the intentions behind the noble Lord's Amendment; but on the other hand I must, I am afraid, reject it upon the ground that it is the wrong sort of provision for this kind of Bill to meet the point he has in mind. What we are considering is Clause 1, which is a penal clause and creates a form of crime, and it is necessary, when one is enacting criminal provisions, not only to make them definite but not to put citizens in the position of being unable to know whether they are breaking the law or not. This kind of point is a perfectly proper matter to bring before the county court. It is obviously one of the matters the county court will have to consider. I welcomed—I am sure all noble Lords did—the assurance of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor the other day that there would be expedition—if I may say so with respect, perhaps unusual expedition, but cer- 458 tainly expedition, in the hearings of these proceedings.
Turning to this particular clause, I would point out that if this Amendment were accepted a landlord seeking to get possession of a house which he owned—I really ought to call him the owner—would have to consider, among other things, whether or not the relative of the former tenant had or had not alternative accommodation at the time of the tenant's death. If, in fact, the relative had such alternative accommodation, then, this Amendment having been accepted, he could safely and properly evict him without undue violence and without going to the court. If, on the other hand, there was no alternative accommodation, he would be committing a crime and would find himself open to a penalty of £100. You cannot, I suggest, put that kind of thing into a penal provision. The right place for it is among the matters' that have to be considered by the county court, and undoubtedly it would be so considered. But all these other matters laid down in the Bill are matters which a landlord seeking possession could either know or very easily ascertain.
The question of whether a particular member of the family, who might not, in the case the noble Lord was putting to the Committee, have been there very long, had or had not alternative accommodation at the time of the tenant's death is something outside the knowledge of the landlord. He may happen to know, but it would be pure accident. I suggest to noble Lords that you cannot really put this provision into a penal clause, which involves proceedings against a landlord. If in fact you did, you would be putting owners in a position which would be terribly unfair to them, and this ought not to be done.
§ LORD AIREDALE
Does the Minister think he has really met the point the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, was seeking to make? Supposing a married daughter living in Manchester comes to London to nurse her father in his last lingering illness and he dies, unless there is an Amendment of this kind to this Bill the daughter who ought presumably, upon her father's death to go back to Manchester and resume living with her husband, will get a tenancy to her father's house in London. Is that really the sort 459 of situation that the Government wish to create in this Bill? I should have thought it clearly was not, and that an Amendment of this kind really was necessary.
§ LORD MITCHISON
I hope the Government have no more intent than has the noble Lord to induce married ladies in Manchester to desert their husbands and live in London. It seems to me a rather far-fetched instance, and I say that with respect to the noble Lord. When one is legislating about criminal matters one really cannot try to meet one possible hypothetical case by putting words into the Bill which will have the effect in the average ordinary case of making the owner quite uncertain as to whether or not he is going to commit a crime.
§ LORD MOLSON
This Amendment is intended to prevent this temporary measure, intended to deal with an emergency as the noble Lord said, from leading to what may be quite large-scale abuse. It would be quite possible for large numbers of members of a family to move in for a short time in order to look after the tenant in the last days of his or her illness, and to attempt to hold over, taking advantage of this Bill. If I understood the noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary aright, the Government have No 1ntention that this Bill should have that effect. His argument, however, was that he does not think that this is the clause where provision should be made for preventing an abuse of that kind. I am bound to say I think there is great force in his argument. He said it would be a matter for the court to consider under Clause 2 of this Bill. May we have an assurance that, when we come to Clause 2 of the Bill, the noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us whether in fact this abuse will be prevented by the wording of that clause, and, if not, whether he will accept an Amendment in order to ensure that this abuse does not arise?
§ LORD MITCHISON
I think I can answer both questions quite easily. The county court has to consider all the circumstances. This is clearly a relevant circumstance and, if the question arose, it would certainly have to consider it. That is the first answer. Then I was 460 asked, will I put in, or cause to be put in, some Amendment to that effect? No. The two cases which have been mentioned about the class of matters that the county court has to have regard to, have been most carefully chosen and put there for that purpose, to call the particular attention of the court to them.
Then there is supposed to be an abuse. I have yet to hear what the abuse is. The only instance I have been given is of the married lady of Manchester who came to attend on her father's last days in London, and then decided to leave her husband and live in London. I said before, and I say again, that I do not think there are sufficient married ladies in Manchester in these circumstances, and who are so disposed, to constitute an abuse. Lastly, the abuse, if there is one, will readily cure itself, because people in that position will find themselves in the county court and will have to pay the costs of being there. I cannot see what is the purpose of putting this kind of provision in a penal clause.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I think this is a convenient moment for the Statement to be made. I therefore beg to move that the House be resumed.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to: House resumed.