§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY-SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCES (LORD MITCHISON)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Its main purpose, the first purpose in the Long Title, is to restore the right to retain possession of certain dwellings. To make the right effective one has also to deal with rents, otherwise a tenant would have to leave if his rent were raised to an unreasonable amount beyond his means. Like the long series of previous Rent Acts, this is not a Bill to provide more houses, and it is little concerned with local authority houses or with those occupied by their owners. Again, it is not a Bill about the general relations between landlord and tenant: on that broad subject my right honourable friend the Minister promised a further measure in due course.
Subject to one or two particular changes, the Bill leaves under existing control the tenancies which are still subject to it—that is to say, rather over two million tenancies in England and Wales. Before the 1957 Rent Act about 4½ million tenancies were controlled in England and Wales, and another half a million or more in Scotland. The effect of the Bill is to restore Rent Act control to the groups of tenancies which lost it as a result of the 1957 Act, but to do so with the important change that in those cases the rent limit will be a fair rent and not, as under previous Rent Acts, any particular figure. As I shall show in a moment, the groups to which rent regulation—that is to say, with a limit based on a fair rent—will apply will be smaller than the total number of houses decontrolled since the 1957 Act, because many of the decontrolled houses have passed into owner occupation or been taken over by local authorities, or, for instance, demolished in the process of slum clearance. My right honourable friend estimated that the number of households which will be subject to rent regulation as distinct from rent control will be about 800,000 in England and Wales, including 300,000 in Greater London. No 1451 doubt the great majority of those cases will be in London or the great conurbations, but others will be scattered in smaller numbers all over the country.
I will try to be sparing with statistics, but perhaps on two matters some figures may be useful by way of background. In the first place, since the 1957 Act there has naturally been a marked decrease of privately-rented houses, and there have been corresponding increases both of owner-occupied and of local authority houses. This has been a continuous process, the progress of which can be traced by surveys in 1956, 1958 and 1960, by the 1961 Census, and an estimate for 1964. Using percentages of the total number of households, 45 per cent. Were privately-rented in 1956, and only 25 per cent. in 1964. The 20 per cent. thus lost went as to 13 per cent. to owner-occupation and as to 7 per cent. to local authority housing. These figures support what I think most people know already, that a large number of people who would have preferred privately-rented houses have been driven to buy their own houses because of shortage and high rents. Before 1957 their rents were controlled, and it was the 1957 Act, as well as the general policy of successive Tory Governments, that drove so many of them to buy instead of renting. In London, for instance, the Milner Holland Report refers, on page 43, to the rise in rent levels since 1957 and comments:Many families who were content to remain tenants while they enjoyed a controlled rent appear to have decided to become owner-occupiers once they were faced with the alternative of paying full market rent without security of tenure, or leaving their old accommodation.In the second place, let us look at two of the effects of the 1957 Act. Before that Act, dwellings were controlled if under the rateable values of £100 in London, £90 in Scotland, and £75 elsewhere. The change under the 1957 Act, to rateable values of £40 in London and Scotland and £30 elsewhere, resulted in about 380,000 tenancies coming out of control in England and Wales, including 135,000 in Greater London, and another 40,000 in Scotland. Over the years, the effect of creeping decontrol has been greater than the direct effect of the change in valuation limits. Creeping decontrol, of course, means the decontrol arising out of the 1452 provision in the 1957 Act that new tenancies should be free of control. This has resulted directly in the decontrol of 830,000 houses in England and Wales, including 330,000 in Greater London, and another 55,000 in Scotland; and these are only the figures of houses re-let by private owners after decontrol and do not include houses which, after decontrol, have passed into owner-occupation or local authority management. That is to say, the direct effect of creeping decontrol up to date has been considerably more than double the effect of the change of valuation limits, both in Greater London and in England and Wales as a whole. In Scotland, too, it has been larger, but not by so much.
Before the 1957 Act control attached to the house. The house remained controlled, notwithstanding changes of ownership, if it was below the valuation limits. Creeping decontrol, however, confined control to the tenancies then in existence, so that the control related to those tenancies instead of to the property itself. The present Bill will restore control of the property by attaching to the house, according to its rateable value, whatever the date or origin of the tenancy, subject, of course, to a few special exceptions. It will apply to dwellings under a rateable value of £400 in London or £200 elsewhere, whether in Scotland or in parts of England and Wales outside Greater London. As I have already said, it will not be a control by fixing rents but by imposing a fair rent as a limit.
If noble Lords care to look at the Allen Report on the question of the increase in rateable values, they will see that the rateable value of £200 nowadays is the rough equivalent of the two rateable values I have mentioned as applicable before 1957. The £400 limit in Greater London is a little more than the equivalent of the pre-1957 £100. Perhaps the best way to judge these limits is to see what they leave out of rent regulation at the top of the valuation scale. The number of dwellings outside London which were excluded from pre-1957 control because of their high valuation, was 160,000 in England and Wales; and about the same number are excluded by the present figure of £200. In London, the pre-1957 figure was 30,000, and the present figure on a valuation of £400 is 1453 15,000; but these figures are of dwellings as a whole, whether privately rented or not, and your Lordships will remember that I mentioned the present proportion of privately-rented houses as 25 per cent. of the total stock; the proportion in the higher range may well be lower. In short, the effect of a reduction of the limit for rent regulation to £300, the figure last suggested by the Opposition in another place, would be small, and the London conditions are such that it is wise to start on the safe side. There is power in the Bill to lower the limit if need be. As to Scotland, I may perhaps add that the number of houses there excluded by reason of the high valuation was negligible before 1957, and will be negligible now.
I now turn to the machinery for regulating rents—that is to say, for arriving at a fair rent as a limit. The fair rent, once arrived at, by agreement or otherwise, will be registered; and Clause 3(2) of the Bill provides that nothing beyond it will be recoverable from the tenants. There will be an interval before that machinery for regulating rents can be set going—as short an interval as we can manage. During that interval, the rents of houses affected—that is to say, privately-rented houses not at present controlled but below the rateable value limits I have mentioned—will be "frozen", and in general no increase will be permissible. As soon as the appropriate machinery can be set up, there will be rent officers in each county, county borough and London borough. Their first duty will be to promote agreement as to a fair rent between landlord and tenant.
The Milner Holland Report, which of course covers only London, encourages us to hope that even in that most difficult of all areas agreement will be forthcoming in most cases, and that the rent so agreed will be registered as a fair rent. Failing a ready agreement, it will be the duty of the rent officer to act as a conciliator and try to reconcile the views of landlord and tenant. The fair rent may be agreed, perhaps at somewhere between the first demands on either side. Failing agreement, or in those exceptional cases where agreement might result in an unfair figure, it will be the duty of the rent officer to decide on a fair rent. I call such cases exceptional, because there will no longer be the possibility of the land- 1454 lord evicting the tenant who does not agree to the landlord's views of a proper rent.
The Bill provides, as did the Protection from Eviction Act, that there shall be no eviction without a court order, and it provides too that there shall be no Rachmanism, no harassment of the tenant in order to get him out. It is of course true that cases of harassment have been only a minority, but they have been a significant minority, and a blot on the record of a civilised society. In that matter the provisions of the Bill follow legislation which has been in force in New York, and was recommended to our attention by the Milner Holland Committee at pages 177 and 178 of their Report. These provisions are in Part III of the Bill and apply to local authority houses as well as to privately rented ones—not that I know of any Rachmans among councils.
The rent officer will be a person with considerable responsibility in practice. He will be appointed by the clerk of the local authority and paid by the local authority; but his pay will be refunded completely by my right honourable friend the Minister; and if there is a case for his dismissal the consent of my right honourable friend will be required. The local authority will have no power to give him directions as to his job.
From the decision of the rent officer as to what is a fair rent, there will be an appeal by either party to a rent assessment committee. The arrangements for these Committees are set out in Schedule 2 of the Bill, and at this stage I need say no more than that their members will be drawn from panels of persons appointed partly by the Minister and partly by the Lord Chancellor. The president of such a panel is to be nominated by the Minister from among the persons appointed to the panel by the Lord Chancellor, and he is to determine the number of committees to act for any area and their constitution. Each committee will normally be of two or three persons. There will be fifteen or so regional areas. The persons appointed to the rent assessment committees, particularly their presidents, will play an important part, both in determining some standard of fairness in the large region, and also, no doubt, by consultation between the presidents in co-ordinating such standards over the whole country.
1455 I now turn to the conception of a fair rent. It is to be found in Clause 26 of the Bill. In the first place, in determining a fair rent regard is to be had to all the circumstances other than personal circumstances, and in particular to age, character and locality of the dwelling-house and to its state of repair. But there follows a most important exception, directed to removing what may be called the scarcity factor in rents. It is to be assumed that the number of would-be tenants of similar dwelling-houses in the locality, on similar terms, is not substantially greater than the number of dwelling-houses available for letting in that locality.
This clause, with its conception of a fair rent, has of course been subjected to criticism—who would expect anything else?—for it represents an entirely new concept in the control or regulation of residential rents. Hitherto, as I pointed out earlier, there has always been a fixed figure, dependent, for instance in the 1957 Act, on a multiplier applied to the rateable value such as it was at the time. It is not only changes in rateable value that have affected the operation of such fixed limits; they have also been affected by differences existing and developing between one locality and another, differences which in fact do not get properly or swiftly deflected in rating valuations. I need not refer to some criticisms of particular valuations which are at present sub judice. It is enough, I suggest, to say that the judgment of experienced, informed and fair-minded men is likely to be a better guide in the diversity of rents and lettings than any fixed formula. The Bill accepts that; and the Bill, with its machinery and directions as to fairness, represents an endeavour to secure and apply such human judgment in what is, after all, a human question.
My Lords, I have picked out what I take to be the substance of the Bill without going through it clause by clause, and in mentioning, as I now propose to do, one or two clauses, I shall not repeat at any length what I have said about the main points. Clause 1 is concerned with the scope of the Bill, the maintenance by subsection (7) of existing control where it applies, and the field within which regulated tenancies, that is to say rents regulated by reference to fairness, are to 1456 apply. Clauses 2 and 3 start to apply regulation, and subsection (3) of Clause 3 provides for the period before a fair rent can be ascertained and registered. Clauses 4 to 8 provide for various adjustments, and Clause 9 deals with notices of increase. Clause 10 deals with the special case of houses which were formerly requisitioned. Clauses 11 and 12 are of general importance, since the former empowers the Minister to convert controlled tenancies in any area into regulated tenancies, and the latter empowers the Minister to release from regulation houses in any area above a given rateable value where he is satisfied that there are enough of them available. The exercise of each of the powers I have mentioned is subject to Affirmative Resolution. The result of converting controlled tenancies into regulated tenancies—that is to say, the exercise of the power under Clause 11—may in some cases be an increase in the rent, and to avoid too sudden an increase in arriving at a fair rent, no increase in any one year must exceed 15 per cent. of the original controlled rent.
Clause 13 is the only material alteration in existing control. At present there may be one transmission, perhaps from a husband to his widow, in a statutory tenancy, as it is commonly called, and this clause provides for a second transmission, still within the resident family. I may mention that there has been a similar provision in Northern Ireland for some time past.
Clauses 14 and 15 provide for two special cases. Clause 14 allows a landlord who requires a house in the future for his own residence, or that of someone in the family living with him, to give notice before letting the house and to recover it on the date on which he requires it. It deals, for instance, with the case of the officer going on service abroad, which your Lordships had in mind under the Protection from Eviction Act. Clause 15 provides for the recovery of houses held for occupation by a minister of religion for the purposes of his religious duties and temporarily let. The ordinary Anglican parsonage is protected by a provision in the Pluralities Act of 1838; but Clause 15 would no doubt cover some cases of curates, as it would cover the cases of ministers of other religious persuasions than the Anglican.
1457 I do not think that I need go at length into further clauses, many of which are more appropriate to consideration in Committee than on Second Reading. Part II of the Bill, that is to say, Clauses 20 to 28, deals with the machinery for the ascertainment and registration of fair rents which I have already described, and Part III with protection against harassment and against eviction without due process of law. In that Part an important clause is Clause 31, which gives further protection to agricultural workers by allowing the court a wide discretion to suspend the execution of the possession order on tied cottages. Subsection (5) enjoins the court to have regard to what I may summarise as alternative accommodation, efficient agricultural management, and questions of greater hardship. My right honourable friend in another place recognised that this was not a complete fulfilment of the promise, undoubtedly made, that no agricultural worker should lose his house unless alternative accommodation was available. It is a compromise, because my right honourable friend was impressed by the difficulty of allowing agricultural workers in effect to jump the queue of available houses to the detriment of other applicants.
Among the miscellaneous clauses in Part IV, perhaps at this stage I need only mention Clause 37, which relates to furnished houses. Broadly speaking, the Bill leaves arrangements for dealing with furnished lettings under the 1946 and 1949 Acts in their present form, except that rent tribunals may give security of tenure up to six months at a time.
Before I leave the text of the Bill, perhaps I may mention that Schedules 2, 3 and 4 require to be read in close conjunction with Part II of the Bill. They are brought in under Clauses 24 and 25, and I found it useful to refer to them at that stage by way of following the clauses in Part II.
My Lords, this is a complicated Bill, and necessarily so. The language, as well as the substance of it, has been criticised; and I would only say that it seems to me to be the best alternative to a different and much longer Bill which would reenact and perhaps modify the Rent Acts as a whole, and also bring in the provisions of this Bill. As it is, if we are to 1458 have the shorter Bill, my answer to many of these criticisms is that if you think it can be improved from what it is, have a try. Personally, I think it is an excellent piece of drafting for its purpose. If we had had to wait for a longer Bill, then a great many injustices and a great deal of hardship which at present calls urgently for a remedy would have had to wait on the protracted process of drafting and consideration. Rent Bills, after all, differ one from another. They originated in an emergency measure during the 1914–18 war. There followed one after another of them, each directed to changing circumstances and changing policies. But they had one thing in common: they all dealt with questions, rightly or wrongly, which were urgent questions at the time, and human ones.
I much regret that during recent years the most notable previous Rent Act was that of 1957. I took a part in opposing it at the time and trying to improve it. It was, I think, beyond any question of mere improvement. It was wrong in principle, where this Bill is right, if only because it tried to deal with arithmetical limits instead of limits imposed by fair and experienced judgment. It was wrong in practice, because those responsible for it expected to achieve results by way of improving the stock of houses to let, and those results they failed completely and conspicuously to achieve. I doubt even whether they foresaw the effect which creeping decontrol has had in the condiditions of London to-day. No one can prophesy that in any Rent Bill they have found the right answer for all time. All I can say about this one, in commending it to your Lordships, is that I think it is far more likely to lead to a solution of the main problem than any other Bill we have yet had, and that main problem is security of tenure, a man's right to stay in his own home. If the relations between landlord and tenant cannot be adjusted to cope with that problem, then the whole conception of tenancy, the idea of living in a housed owned by someone else, will have failed completely to meet the needs of the time.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask whether he could give a classical disquisition of Schedule 5, which deals with the payment of premiums? So far as I 1459 am concerned, it might have been published in Chinese so far as intelligibility is concerned.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I do not think I had better fall for this. There are a great many things in the Bill. We shall have to go through it in Committee clause by clause and Schedule by Schedule. I have tried to remember that there is soon going to be a debate on the length of speeches in this House, and to confine myself to what I thought were the main points. I am quite certain that the noble Lord will explain his difficulties and tell us what he has in mind by way of an alternative remedy. Is it not better at this stage to leave it as if is and to come back to this point, as to other points, in Committee? At any rate, I dare not reply, because if I yielded to that I might be asked half a dozen more questions. Even if I know the answer—and I do not always know it—it all takes time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Mitchison.)
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I must apologise to those of your Lordships who, having studied the list of speakers, were expecting now to have the pleasure of listening to my noble friend Lord Hastings. Something seems to have gone wrong behind the scenes, but may I suggest that your Lordships should console yourselves with the knowledge that all bad things come to an end and that all good things are worth waiting for. For half a century in this country, the State—and I say the State because all Governments have been involved—has made it its business, for benevolent reasons, to see that there is no completely free market in rented accommodation. This object has been achieved mainly by subsidising privately owned houses at the expense of their owners and local authority houses at the expense of the community. The motive has been humanitarian, and although there has been much argument about it—almost endless argument—on the whole it has tended to be about the amount of interference with the market, rather than with the principal interference.
Subsidised housing in this country has become a British institution. Indeed, the 1460 subsidised tenant, whether private or council, is to-day a member of the Establishment, with a capital "E". Inevitably, however, down the years our benevolent distortion of a major item in the national economy has necessitated, as the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison explained to us, periodic bouts of remedial surgery; but the surgery has never been curative. Indeed, my Lords, to change the metaphor, the story of rent control in this country is like that of a team of gardeners perpetually labouring to keep down the weeds in a garden which is too big for them. All they can do is to clear a patch at a time. So it is not very surprising that there is on the Statute Book a great mass of highly complicated legislation dealing with landlords and tenants and rents.
This particular Bill, as Mr. Crossman himself has admitted, is particularly opaque, to use his own word, because so much of it is, notwithstanding the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, legislation by reference. This makes it difficult for laymen, such as myself, to be quite certain that we know what it is all about, but that only makes us perhaps even more grateful than we should otherwise have been to the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison for the trouble he took to explain the Bill to us, and I would congratulate him on the rapidity with which he managed to do it. I do not think it is necessary for me this afternoon to go into anything like as much detail as the noble Lord did. As he said, there will no doubt be opportunities later on for us to do that. What I should like to do is to confine myself to a few observations about the philosophy of rent control and the main principles of the Bill, and in so doing I will try, as hard as the noble Lord did, not to give any ammunition to my noble friend Lord Egremont, who, perhaps fortunately, is not here.
This is a subject to which I come with clean hands and, I hope, a pure heart. That is to say, my Lords, that I have never served in, or even answered for, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and to the best of my recollection this is the first occasion upon which, in either House of Parliament, I have ever made a speech about rents. Therefore, there is nothing on the record which can be brought up and used in 1461 evidence against me, and in this respect at least I fancy that I am more fortunate than the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison.
I suspect that the social historian of the future will be much puzzled by the fact that subsidised housing was allowed to become a national institution and remain one even in an era when the motor car, the television set, the washing machine, the refrigerator and all the rest were generally held to be necessities of life. He will probably compliment his earlier countrymen more upon their humanitarian instincts than upon their economic wisdom. He will agree—at least I presume he will agree—that adequate shelter is one of the three basic necessities of life, but he will note that, of the other two, clothing and food, clothing was not subsidised and food ceased to be subsidised before that particular interference with the market became an inviolable institution.
If he reads it, I fancy he will not agree with a statement in the third paragraph of the White Paper, Command 2622, entitled Rents and Security of Tenure: the Rent Bill, which was issued with the Rent Bill, the statement being this:Ever since World War 1, a long series of measures of rent restriction has been forced upon successive Governments. The cause has always been the same—the chronic shortage of rented housing.fancy that he will be much more likely to say that ever since World War I successive Governments forced upon themselves a long series of measures of rent restriction, and the consequence was always the same: a chronic shortage of rented housing. He will probably conclude that the policy of keeping down the rents that people had to pay raised the standard of living higher than it might otherwise have been, though not the standard of housing, but in the process had far-reaching effects upon the national economy as a whole. That is to say, it made a significant contribution towards the maintenance of permanent inflation in this country, artificially stimulated the growth of the hire purchase system and boosted the manufacture for home consumption of motor cars and all the articles of domestic or private equipment which make for a fuller and more comfortable life. "All very nice", he will probably say, "until you come back to the fact that there were never 1462 enough houses to put all those good things in".
I personally am sure that the institution of subsidised housing came into being more by accident than by design. As the White Paper points out, and I have just read out the relevant part of it, rent controls were adopted during the First World War as an expedient. After that war they were retained, but the intention and the belief were that it would be only temporarily, because it was confidently expected that all prices, including rents, would fall after quite a short time, and that money would return to its pre-war value. But it never did, and rent control never ceased to be thought necessary. And around it there grew up, as so often happens in the case of British institutions, a mythology peopled by characters like the characters in a mediæval pageant, who are always expected to play their well-loved or their well-loathed rôles: the poor but deserving tenant; the wicked landlord; the cruel bailiff; the enlightened local housing authority; the sympathetic politician, at both local and national level, and, in the background, the hard-hearted Minister and the mean Chancellor of the Exchequer. This mythology has been sustained by the very prevalent feeling, which is almost instinctive with some people, that there is something disreputable about privately letting a house for personal gain and that those who do so should be required to maintain their properties in a suitable state with little, or preferably no, reward for the services they provide. Surely this is a very odd attitude if one reflects that it has never, at any rate so far as I know, been held to be disreputable to manufacture and sell clothes and food for personal gain.
I personally believe (this is my own belief and I do not expect anybody necessarily to agree with me) that the big mistake, first made many years ago and with the best intentions, was to subsidise the house instead of subsidising the tenant. Of course, a policy of subsidising the tenant would have been highly controversial. But let us remember that for many years now rents have been subsidised by the National Assistance Board, with, I believe, general approval. The advantages of this policy of subsidising the tenant to my mind, would have been these. It would have 1463 been economically worthwhile for entrepreneurs to modernise and convert old properties, and build new ones to let, and therefore they would have done so. The poorer members of the community would have been decently housed, or at any rate much better housed than they have been down the years, and there would not have been for so long an acute shortage of houses to rent in many parts of the country.
I do not wish to appear to be "starry-eyed" about this matter. If such a policy had been pursued from 1918 or thereabouts I do not imagine that the extent of subsidy would have been such that my fictitious social historian of the future would necessarily have noticed those distortions of the economy which I attributed to him. The sophisticated modern comforts might not to-day be so widely enjoyed as they are, but I am quite certain in my own mind that the nation would have been better housed, and the sum total of human happiness might have been higher. All this is hypothesis, and your Lordships may not agree with a word of it. But, however that may be, do not let us forget that we have only ourselves to blame, and a long stream of past Governments to blame, for the fact that there is, and has been, a perpetual shortage of accommodation to rent. The fact is that, on the one hand, private enterprise has not provided enough because it has not been a good enough business proposition, and, on the other, the cost of indiscriminately subsidising council houses has inevitably limited the number of such houses that could be built.
Towards the end of his speech the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, made some observations about the 1957 Rent Act, although in rather more moderate terms than one might have anticipated. Whatever may be said about the 1957 Act, it was a brave attempt to dismantle the institution, to break out of the jungle; and so, to a lesser extent, is this Bill. To quote again from the White Paper, paragraph 5, it is said, truthfully, if a little patronisingly:By 1957, the comparison of the number of houses available with the number of households requiring separate homes suggested the comfortable conclusion that the housing shortage was well nigh overcome".1464 Whether or not that conclusion was comfortable, it was not startlingly novel. It had been foreshadowed as long ago as November, 1953, in a speech in another place by Mr. Aneurin Bevan.
Although there is much that I think is wrong in this Bill, it is, I think, the sort of Bill that any Government would have introduced at this time, following the Report of the Milner Holland Committee. If I may say so, I think that in many ways it is a courageous Bill for a Labour Government to have introduced. Mr. Crossman has been courageous in his advocacy of it, and I, for one, do not hold against him his occasional ritualistic obeisance to the mythology I have described. The Bill is courageous because it must have been a disappointment to all those who voted for the Labour Party nine months ago in the belief that the promise to repeal what was described as the "notorious Rent Act" meant a promise to restore the pre-1957 position, which of course the Bill does not begin to do. The noble Lord shakes his head, but if repeal means anything, I should have thought that it meant that.
§ LORD MITCHISON
Since I shake my head, perhaps I might say that I think that, in its effect and its action, this Bill does repeal the 1957 Act. True, it does not do so formally. But I do not think that people were expecting formal repeal. I disagree with the noble Lord in the suggestion that anybody really expected to go back to the position that existed before the devastation wrought by the 1957 Act.
§ LORD NEWTON
I am much obliged to the noble Lord for his view on what I am saying. I do not want to get into a long argument about the meaning of words, but I should have thought that, to the ordinary simple person, to announce that you would repeal something was likely to convey the intention to put things back where they were before. But the noble Lord does not agree.
This is a Bill which anybody who had read the proceedings in another place will realise has annoyed an important section of the Labour Party, and I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, who, as he reminded us in his own speech, led for the then Opposition in another place in 1956 and 1957, during the passage of the 1957 Act, and now to-day is in charge 1465 of this Bill in your Lordships' House, will agree with me that this Bill testifies to a marked change in Labour doctrine on rents. I have taken the precaution of reading up much of what the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, said in another place during the passage of the 1957 Act.
I personally welcome—and so, I imagine, do most people—the provisions in the Bill dealing with harassment and the enunciation of what I can perhaps describe as the general principle of "no eviction without a court order." As to security of tenure and rent control, it seems to me clearly right to restore them in London, and in other large cities where there is a great shortage of rented accommodation. But I cannot see that there is any case for restoring them over the whole country, and I venture to think that Mr. Crossman, the Minister, has, uncharacteristically, been most unconvincing in his defence of this particular provision in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, did not touch very much upon it this afternoon; and I do not blame him.
It really is not reasonable to ask us to accept that there is insufficient evidence to show that over large parts of the country there is no shortage of accommodation to rent. It may be, of course, that reimposition of blanket control over the whole country, which is what the Bill does, is the political price that Mr. Cross-man had to pay for other provisions in the Bill but that does not make it either right or sensible. It is control for control's sake. Where there is no scarcity it is ethically wrong, because inability to obtain possession of a house where there is no scarcity may be just as cruel to the owner in one case as in another case arbitrary eviction may be to a tenant. Moreover, in areas where there is no scarcity, to deny a landlord the right to strike a free bargain about rent is an act of injustice to him which is not mitigated by any advantage; unless, of course, favouritism of the tenant is considered to be mitigation. But apart from ethics, it seems to me that this blanket control is not sensible, inasmuch as it will lead to the wasteful setting up of unnecessary administrative machinery and add to the already existing discouragement to the private individual or firm to provide new accommodation for rent.
Another major weakness in the Bill is fixing too high the upper limits of rate- 1466 able value, the limits, as the noble Lord explained to us, up to which the control will apply. As I recall, the Milner Holland Committee found that there is plenty of good accommodation in London to let at rents of £400 and above; yet, as I understand it, the Government's proposals in the Bill will mean that rents in London up to about £900 per annum will be subject to rent regulation. I cannot see that there is any justification for this, but there is a very practical objection to it. I imagine everybody will agree with me that it is desirable that the most urgent cases of hardship should be dealt with first; but one way of ensuring that this will not happen is to fix the upper limits of rateable value too high, and therefore unnecessarily to add to the number of potential cases which will have to be dealt with by the rent officers and the rent assessment committees. In any event, I foresee a clogging up of the works; and I think that the Government will have to be prepared for virtually every tenant who is not protected by the 1957 Act, in London and in the conurbations where there is a shortage, applying for a rent reduction.
I do not think it is any good making comfortable assumptions about this on the basis of the fact that the Milner Holland Committee found that something like 60 per cent. of tenants in London were satisfied with the way in which their landlords treated them. It seems to me that tenants in London and in the conurbations where there is a definite shortage of accommodation will say to themselves that they agreed to the rent they are paying under conditions of scarcity, that the Bill expressly eliminates scarcity as a factor to be regarded when a fair rent is being fixed, and that consequently the current rent they are paying is too high; and so they will all apply for a reduction in rent. Certainly I would do so myself if I were a London tenant. This seems to me to be the strongest possible argument against control for control's sake, against fixing the upper limits of rateable value too high. I should be most grateful if, when he comes to reply, the noble Lord, Lord Champion, would give us the benefit of his observations on this argument.
Perhaps the biggest weakness of all in the Bill is the definition, or lack of definition, of a fair rent. There is no 1467 formula for application; there is no yardstick. I can, and I do, understand the Minister's reasons for rejecting reference to rateable value and for rejecting a formula related to the current level of rents prevailing in the area; and I can see, too, the theoretical attractions of having no yardstick at all, which is the position in the Bill. But what an appalling task is thereby inflicted on the rent officers and the members of the rent assessment committees, even if one assumes, which I do not, that they are all going to be as wise as Solomon!
I invite each of your Lordships to imagine for a moment or two that you are sitting for the first time as a member of a rent assessment committee, for the purpose of fixing a fair rent. What are your terms of reference? You are required by the Bill particularly to have regard to the age, character, locality and state of repair of the house. These are most helpful guides for the purpose of adding a little bit to or knocking a little off the norm, if you have a norm. But you have not got a norm. You are not allowed to use rateable value as a yardstick. You are not allowed to consider the prevailing level of rents in the locality because they have substantially been determined by scarcity, and indeed, you are required expressly to assume that there is no scarcity. As I understand it, you are not allowed to consider the means of the tenant or his ability to pay, or the capital outlay of the owner and his return on it. Nevertheless, you are permitted and required to consider all the circumstances, and whatever that is, it seems to be a non sequitur after all these exceptions which I have mentioned.
How, then, are you going to set about your task as a member of the assessment committee fixing a fair rent? One's mind boggles, does it not? I should just like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Champion, that of course my invitation to your Lordships to imagine yourselves to be sitting on a rent assessment committee naturally embraces him; and it would be nice if, when he speaks, he would tell us how he would set about his task if he found himself as a member of a rent assessment committee.
Is it right, I wonder, to eliminate scarcity as a fact altogether? Mr. Cross- 1468 man has said—he said it in another place—that the whole purpose of rent regulation is to protect the tenant from the market. Certainly, there should be substantial protection, sometimes very substantial protection. But is it really unfair for a tenant who chooses to live in a locality which is highly sought after to pay a higher rent than another tenant living in a similar house in another locality where there is little or no scarcity because it is not sought after? What about justice to the potential tenants who would like to live in the first locality, and who are prepared to pay a little more rent? However that may be, and whatever one decides as to the merits of the situation, I personally doubt whether, in practice, the committees will really be able to eliminate consideration of scarcity in making their decisions.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, may I just ask the noble Lord—I am sorry to interrupt him—to clarify this matter? Does not Clause 26 relate to locality as one of the criteria that must be taken into account, in regard to the fact that one area is more desirable than another?
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord. Of course that is so. It is the point to which I was about to come. I doubt whether the committees will, in practice, really be able to eliminate consideration of scarcity in making their decision about fair rents. As I said earlier, and as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has reminded us, the committees are required particularly to consider the locality as one of the factors. If that means anything, it means that the committees will have to assess the relative desirability of different localities. In other words, they will have to decide whether, for instance, houses North of Hyde Park are more or less desirable than houses South of Hyde Park. How on earth are they going to do that without having regard to the pressure of demand? Are they just to give effect to their own individual and personal preferences? Is it going to be the case that one member of the committee will say, "Well, I prefer the North side"; a second member will say, "I do not agree: I prefer the South" and the third member, if there is a third member, will have the casting vote? What happens if there are only two 1469 members?—and Lord Mitchison said that there might in fact be only two. If this is how the local assessment committees are going to decide that one locality is more attractive than another, then it seems to me that, before very long, many strange anomalies will appear on the registers of the rent officers. I am sorry to have gone on so long, but it seems to me that those are the main defects of the Bill.
In conclusion, I would mention two unfortunate consequences which I think will follow from the Bill. The first is that there is bound to be a further drop in the stock of rented accommodation. There is every inducement in the Bill for owners to sell at the first opportunity, and there is active discouragement of new building and conversion of large properties. It seems fairly evident that the Government realise this but do not particularly care. They appear to be content that in future the provision of new accommodation for letting should be left to the local housing authorities. But that attitude is flying in the face of the views of the Milner Holland Committee. Secondly, it seems to me that the Bill is likely to increase the shortage of all types of housing in London. It is the magnetic pull of London which has created the present acute shortage of houses to let in London, and the present high level of rents. Yet it is of the essence of the Bill, as I understand it, that regulated rents in London shall not reflect the scarcity which the magnetic pull of London has created. The pull in future will be even greater than it is now, and so will be the shortage of accommodation in relation to the demand. On the other hand, I believe it to be the policy of the present Government, as indeed it was of the last, somehow to reduce the pull of London, somehow to check the invasion. So what it amounts to is that the Government are pursuing two contradictory policies at one and the same time.
As I said earlier, I consider that in many ways this Bill is a courageous one. There are things in it that are good and sensible, and others that are bad and foolish. Recently The Times described it as being "as much an act of faith as an Act of Parliament" and in another place some of my honourable and right honourable friends have described it as "a 1470 curate's egg". With both those judgments I concur.
§ 4.53 p.m.
My Lords, this is a very important Bill, but it is not easy to understand. For example, Clause 1(2) reads as follows:The Rent Acts shall not by virtue of this section apply to a tenancy of a dwelling-house unless they would, if amended in accordance with Part I of Schedule 1 to this Act, apply to that tenancy but for one or more of the following…."—
§ THE MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO (LORD CHAMPION)
My Lords, might I interrupt the noble Lord? Would he kindly help me by moving a little nearer to the microphone? I am afraid that I cannot hear what he is saying.
Clause 1(2) of the Bill, which I read out, contains four negatives, and I hope that some genius (and I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, took a Double First at Oxford and Cambridge) will be able to explain precisely what is meant by those four negatives. In other parts of the Bill there are many examples of legislation by reference.
I am very glad to hear that. I hope that the noble Lord was at Balliol—that would be all right.
There are in other clauses of the Bill examples of legislation by reference. I hope that some equal genius will be able to explain those.
On general grounds, in my own personal opinion this Bill is a mistake. I am not suggesting that there should be any further orders under the Rent Act, 1957, extending decontrol, but that the situation should be left where it stands for the moment. There should be no further extension of rent restriction, by whatever name it is called. The extension of rent control will militate against development and will certainly militate against the building of houses for letting. 1471 Incidentally, I see that the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill says that it is unlikely that in the initial period the total annual cost will exceed, in England and Wales, £1,250,000. So that throughout the years several million pounds will be spent on administration—money which, in my view, would be far better spent in erecting accommodation, even temporary accommodation, so as to assist in defeating the situation which exists in London, rather than on administration. At the same time I, like most people, am in favour of Clause 29 which renders harassment of occupiers a criminal offence. I have nothing to say in favour of landlords who harass their tenants. They should be in the magistrates' court within 24 hours. However, it is gratifying to know that the majority of landlords are reasonable people and act in a reasonable manner and, in view of the cost of carrying out repairs, under considerable difficulties.
Let us see how the Bill is going to work. Those tenants controlled under the 1957 Act enjoy the same protection as before. I am not daylight-clear in my own mind whether they are going to be statutory tenants or regulated tenants. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Champion, will explain when they pass from one category to the other. I understand that the rents of these old controlled tenancies cannot be reviewed until after the rents of decontrolled tenants have been reviewed. It may take about six months to establish rent assessment committees, which will be virtually flooded with hundreds of thousands of applications for determination of fair rent. Then, eventually, the rent assessment committees will be able to deal with any applications which come before them from what one can describe as the old controlled tenancies. Am I correct in suggesting to the noble Lord that probably a year, or even longer, will elapse before the attention of the rent assessment committees will be directed towards the old controlled properties?
One then has the tenancies of dwelling-houses which were decontrolled by the 1957 Rent Act or which have become decontrolled by the process of creeping decontrol. I understand that those are regulated tenancies and will be the first category of tenancies whose rents can 1472 be reviewed by the rent assessment committees. There are also certain free tenancies of dwelling-houses which have never been controlled by the Rent Acts. It may be that they were always above the rateable value of the Rent Acts, but of course if they now come within Clause 1 of the present Bill they will be regulated. Apart from Clause 14, which contains special provisions for the recovery of possession of owner-occupied houses, how will security of tenure operate in the future? At present, if a controlled tenant is protected by the Rent Acts, so long as he pays his rent and performs the other obligations of his tenancy he can continue to remain in possession. There are certain grounds on which a landlord can obtain possession in the county court. Broadly speaking, these involve the landlord in finding alternative accommodation or proving greater hardship. Is that going to be the position in future in connection with the millions of regulated tenancies throughout the country? I am only asking for information on the subject.
By way of criticism, I think it would be unfortunate if, after the 1965 Bill comes into operation, newly-constructed properties should be affected by the Rent Acts in any way. I know it will be said that in the same area you may have two types of properties; one controlled by the Rent Acts and the other free from control. But that is really an artificial objection. The main object is to encourage development and, in particular, to build houses for letting. Likewise, I think it unfortunate that the conversion of existing houses should be affected by the 1965 Bill. I know that there are various types and degrees of conversions. You may have a very elementary type of conversion, by simply dividing rooms and passages by boarding. On the other hand, you may have a really substantial conversion whereby a large dwelling-house is converted into two or more flats, with the necessary offices in each flat. That makes a most valuable contribution to the amount of housing accommodation in the country.
I appreciate that under Schedule 4 of the Rent Bill, a person intending to provide a dwelling-house by erection or conversion of any premises may apply to the rent officer and, if necessary, to the rent assessment committee for a certificate of 1473 fair rent before he starts the work of erection or conversion. That looks sound on paper, but in practice what developer or builder can go through the business of applying for a fair rent, at the same time arranging workmen and materials for doing the work, in the hope that a certificate of fair rent will be promptly granted and will be adequate in the sense of making it worth his while to start doing the work? All these matters would be interesting if only we had some Members of your Lordships' House who were actually in the building trade. In my view, there is far too much theory adumbrated in Parliament, and adumbrated by people who will never have to carry out the work which will be required.
In conclusion, I can only say that this Bill is a very interesting one on paper. It will give a lot of work to a certain unmentionable profession, but as for providing any houses for the people of this country the answer is—Nothing.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I rise to extend a very cordial welcome to this Bill. I regard it as possibly the most important measure that this Government will be introducing in the course of its life, affecting the welfare of a very large number of families in this country. I particularly welcome it because it does not in terms repeal the 1957 Act but takes away all the evil which that Act introduced.
Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Newton, I have taken an active part in every housing debate in this House since 1950, and, in particular, I followed in 1957 the then Minister who introduced this Bill in this House. I refreshed my memory as to what I said about the 1957 Bill, and perhaps I may be allowed to quote it:…this is a thoroughly bad Bill. It is ill-considered, unjust, abrupt and harsh. It will inflict grave hardship on many families least able to sustain the changes effected by the Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 203, cols. 22–23, April 16, 1957.]On consideration of those words, I would not retract one word of them. In fact, I think I was much too kind to the Bill, because I did not realise all the evil effects which that Bill would bring about: for instance, thousands of families rendered homeless, very large numbers of families having their rents increased to such a point as to inflict the gravest pos- 1474 sible hardship on their standard of living, and so on.
I was very interested in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Newton, and I want to congratulate him on his first effort in the field of housing. I thought he made a most interesting speech and I have no complaint about the terms of it, except that in the main I disagree with every word he said. But he is entitled to say it. He talked about the philosophy of housing, and I do not want to take him up too much on that. He talked of the fact that housing, of all services—and housing is a service—has been subsidised for forty years or thereabouts. That is perfectly true. He referred to the fact that of the three essential necessities of life, housing was the only one which was being subsidised in one form or another.
§ LORD SILKIN
That is quite so. That is what he said. But I think it is a mistake to compare the provision of food and clothing with housing. There is no shortage of food; there is no shortage of clothing. Both of them are in plentiful supply, and their prices are regulated in the way in which the noble Lord wishes them to be regulated—by free competition.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, may I just point out this?—this is really my argument but the noble Lord is putting it the other way around. The trend of my argument was that there is plenty of food and plenty of clothing, because they have not been subsidised for about half a century.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, that is of course a non sequitur. The noble Lord has failed to establish that housing is in short supply because it has been subsidised. That is not necessarily the case. The noble Lord did not go on to establish that. He merely said that of the three essentials of life, housing was the only one which was being subsidised; and I am trying to show that the comparison is wrong. You cannot compare clothing or food with housing.
Housing has remained in short supply for over forty years, and to-day is still in short supply. In fact, the amount of housing that is available for rent is less to-day than it was when the 1957 Act was 1475 passed. One of the arguments for the 1957 Act was that it would make available much more accommodation for renting than was the case at that time, but that has not happened. The amount of accommodation available to-day for rent is 1¼, million dwellings less than it was when the 1957 Act was passed. It is true that the noble Lord did not attach any political implication to his philosophy. He admitted that all Governments have thought it necessary to retain control, and I hope that they will continue to do so as long as the scarcity of houses continues. The noble Lord congratulated the Government on their courage. He thought that the Bill was good in parts and referred to certain parts that were not good, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Meston, who had not a good word to say for it.
I want to deal very briefly with some of the criticisms which the noble Lord made on the Bill. I agree with him in one respect, and that is that this is a very difficult Bill to follow. With all respect to my noble friends—and I think that, in part, the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, agreed with this—it is one of the worst cases of legislation by reference that I have come across. Indeed, unless one has a complete law library at one's disposal, so that one can refer to the very many Acts of Parliament that are mentioned in the Bill, one is almost at a complete loss to understand many of the provisions. I am very glad indeed that the Minister in another place has promised that there will be a statement in simple language available to the general public so that they may understand the terms of this measure. Without that, they might just as well be reading a Bill in Greek or Latin: with it, I hope that the Bill will be understood by most of the members of the public, because it is one which vitally affects them.
We shall, I hope, have a fairly extensive Committee stage, when I hope it will be possible to deal with most of the points that have been and will be raised in this debate, but I should like to deal very briefly with some of the more important criticisms that have been levelled against the Bill. The first, I think, is not one of principle but is one of detail—that is, that the limits of the Bill, the 1476 rateable values, are too wide. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, does not criticise the introduction into this Bill of the conception of rateable values limiting the scope of the Bill, but he says that the rateable values of £400 a year for London and £200 outside are too high. My Lords, are they? These are the recent rateable values—which, as noble Lords will know, have been increased in some cases twofold and, in extreme cases, even more than that, as compared with the earlier rateable values.
I do not altogether agree with the noble Lord that the rateable value of £400 in London, which is the extreme case, represents a rent of £900 a year. I would say that it represents, rather, a rent of something of the order of £700 to £750 a year. But, be that as it may—and, in Committee, we can all, possibly, fortify our views with actual examples—I would not agree, even in spite of the authority of the admirable Milner Holland Report, that there is no scarcity in London of houses to rent at £700, £750 or £800 a year. There is an extreme scarcity, and people seeking accommodation will appreciate that there is. Of course, this is the upper limit, but I believe that people prepared to pay even that amount of rent are entitled to protection against eviction; and I do not myself agree that it will necessarily clog the machine. In the country, the limit is £200 a year and the equivalent rent would therefore be something like between £300 and £400 a year. I would certainly agree that there is a need, in the conurbations and in other parts of the country, for protection against eviction.
Whether the limits are too high is a matter which we can thrash out in Committee, but, of course, the Bill provides that if, eventually, it is found that those limits are too high, then the Minister has power to reduce them. I think it would be a mistake to put the limits too low in the first instance and compel the Minister to come to Parliament and ask for an increase in them. I think the limits are right; but if it should turn out that they are not right, or if, in due course, circumstances lead us to believe that they can be lowered, then there is provision in the Bill for lowering them. The same sort of thing applies to places in the country, where it is alleged that 1477 there is no scarcity of housing of the kind we are talking about. I noticed that a former Minister of Housing and Local Government gave examples of the kind of areas where there is no scarcity—Anglesey, Radnor, Merioneth and certain restricted areas in other parts of the country; in Norfolk, I think he said. But there is no large area with an extensive population where that is the case.
Moreover, his criterion was that there are more houses than families; but that is not proof that houses of the character we are dealing with in this Bill are in plentiful supply. It may be a different type of house altogether which is in plentiful supply, and there may still be a shortage of the kind of house we are dealing with in this Bill. I would respectfully suggest that it is much wiser to include them in the Bill and to find out definitely where there are extensive areas—not small areas, but extensive areas—in which the Bill can be relaxed, possibly in the first instance by lowering the rateable value limits. Indeed, that is provided for in the Bill. The Minister, if he is satisfied that the scarcity has been dealt with or that there is no scarcity can (under, I think it is, Clause 11) reduce the rateable value limits in any particular region. I think that is the right way to do it.
The other main criticism of the Bill has been in relation to the test of what is a proper rent; and the noble Lord, Lord Newton, would wish to eliminate that provision which says that, in considering what is a proper rent, there should be no reference to scarcity. The noble Lord shakes his head, but, if he did not say that, then I must say that, in spite of his usual clarity, I failed to understand what was the point of his criticism.
§ LORD NEWTON
The point, my Lords, I think, is whether the factor of scarcity should be completely eliminated. What I said was that, of course, there is a case for giving substantial protection—sometimes very substantial protection—against the rigors of the free market, but what I questioned was whether it is right or wise to eliminate completely the factor of scarcity.
§ LORD SILKIN
I do not know whether we are really disagreeing as much as the 1478 noble Lord would wish us to. I thought that was what he said. In fact, he was arguing that the mere reference in the Bill to locality as a factor to be taken into account is not enough, and that you have to take account also of the desirability of the locality, the number of people who want to live there, and so on. I should have thought myself that the reference to locality as one of the criteria to be taken into account was sufficient to enable a tribunal to come to the conclusion that one area was more desirable than another, not because of scarcity but because it is a better place to live in. Though judgments may differ as to whether South of the Thames is better than North of the Thames, or vice versa, nevertheless sensible people will come to the conclusion as to which is more desirable. I think we should all agree that proximity to one of the main parks of London is a factor but that whether there is a scarcity of houses of that kind is not a factor in determining what is a proper rent. I think the Minister was right to eliminate the test of scarcity. That has to be eliminated.
The argument that it would be difficult to work out what is a fair rent is, I agree, something that we can understand. Tribunals do not always agree; neither do Judges. We all know that Judges of first instance are very often upset by the Court of Appeal and finally by the House of Lords. That is part of our institution. But the fact remains that criteria sufficient to enable a fair rent to be decided upon are clearly laid down in the Bill. I think they are sufficient in the majority of cases to enable sensible people to arrive at a fair conclusion. This Bill is not intended to discourage landlords from providing houses to let. It will enable them to get a fair rent on their outlay; it will not enable them to get excessive rents due to scarcity of housing in a particular locality. That is something we want to avoid; and I am glad that this Government in this Bill has introduced provisions that in future will prevent tenants from being exploited by landlords.
I want to say in conclusion—because we shall have many opportunities of discussing these subjects in the Committee stage and possibly at Report stage—that, speaking for myself, I think the main 1479 advantage of this Bill is not so much the regulation of rents as security of tenure. I do not think that in his heart of hearts even the noble Lord, Lord Newton, would justify landlords being able to charge rents due to scarcity or, in other words, monopoly rents.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I hope the noble Lord is not suggesting that I said anything that would faintly suggest that. I hope I did not say anything which could lead the noble Lord even remotely to think that I was suggesting such a thing as that.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I am glad to hear that. I must repeat that if the noble Lord meant anything, I thought he was being rather critical of omitting the taking into account of the scarcity factor in assessing rents. That is what I understood his speech to mean in part. What I am saying now is what he has just said: that in his heart of hearts he does not really mean that. He cannot mean that landlords should be entitled to charge a rent in which the scarcity factor is taken into account.
In my view, the main justification for this Bill is that it will provide tenants with security of tenure so long as they are well-behaved and so long as there is a shortage of accommodation. As regards the rents, I myself have always taken the view that many of the controlled rents provided under the Rent Act were unfair to the landlords. I took that view when we were discussing the 1957 Act. If we could have devised something which would have provided a landlord with a fair rent but which would have given the tenant security of tenure, then there would not have been the same opposition to the 1957 Bill as there was; and the probability is that this Bill would not have had such a high priority in a Labour Government's programme as it has to-day. As it is, I am glad this Bill has been introduced; I welcome it cordially, and I hope that it will go through in, substantially, its present form.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ LORD MOLSON
My Lords, if this is the Bill to redeem the pledge given by the Socialist Party to repeal the 1957 Act, I think it will prove very disappointing to many of their supporters in the 1480 country. But I am bound to say that it is a very much better Bill than I had expected to see. So far as the repeal of the Act of 1957 is concerned, Schedule 7, in a very convincing form, sets out how much of it is repealed. There is so little of it repealed that I shall not be taking up very much of your Lordships' time when I say that the Schedule says that of the 1957 Act this Bill would repeal: in Section 11(3), in Section 12, in Schedule 4, paragraph 1, a few words; in Schedule 5, a few words; and in Schedule 6, a few words. So it is very far from being a repeal of the 1957 Act.
However, I agree with my noble friend Lord Newton that the Minister of Housing and Local Government has shown very considerable political courage in not attempting to return to the rigid controls that existed before 1957. If I did not think that he took a certain perverse and intellectual pleasure in demolishing the arguments of his faithful supporters, I should have an even greater admiration for his courage than I have. But certainly he has learned many lessons from the Milner Holland Report. What he says in his various speeches on this Bill about the undesirability of rigid controls and rents being too far below the economic level is, I think, very creditable to him and very encouraging for the future.
So far as this Bill is based on the recommendations of the Milner Holland Report, it is a good Bill. It seems to contain four main features. The first is the prohibition of harassment and intimidation of tenants, of what we might call "Rachmanism". I am sure we should all welcome that. There were a number of my noble friends on this side of the House who pressed upon the Conservative Government regarding their last Bill that more drastic steps should be taken, even in advance of the publication of the Milner Holland Report, to deal with this admitted evil. That is all contained in Clause 29 and I am convinced that that will be entirely non-controversial and universally welcomed by your Lordships.
The second point is the repetition in this permanent legislation of the prohibition of the eviction of tenants without recourse to the courts. It may be that in places where accommodation is very 1481 plentiful that may not be entirely necessary, but, speaking broadly, I think we should all agree that the eviction of tenants without recourse to law, which has for so long been unlawful in Scotland, should be prohibited in this country.
The third point is security of tenure. This may be necessary when shortage exists, although there is no need for it. where there is a plentiful supply of houses. We should aim at mobility for tenants to enable them to move from one house to another. The effect of the old rigid control of rents was to make tenants unwilling to move because if they stayed in their accommodation they were likely to have a lower rent than if they moved. I welcome the provision in this Bill which means that a tenant who moves takes with him the right to a regulated rent.
We come to the matter of fair rents. In principle, I am not against this. Indeed, I well remember that in 1952 I urged on Mr. Harold Macmillan, when he was Minister of Housing and Local Government, that the radical amendment of the Rent Restriction Acts was necessary as I believed was the case. I suggested to him something in the nature of tribunals to determine fair rents and quoted the example of the nineteenth century tribunals of this kind which were set up in Ireland to deal with agricultural rents.
Clause 26 is extremely vague and I doubt very much whether it is right to legislate in such vague terms. It will be nothing more than the opinion, or the "hunch", of a rent officer or a rent assessment committee which will determine what is a fair rent. In the first place there is to be a standstill on uncontrolled rents subject to review by rent officers and the rent assessment committees. That is given priority by the Government in the terms of this Bill. I think it extremely important that we should make sure that it does not result in rents, even though they be unduly high at present, being reduced to an unduly low level. During the Committee stage we shall have to go into the matter very carefully.
I welcome unreservedly that the Minister of Housing and Local Government said that the same machinery was to be used at a later stage for reviewing 1482 controlled rents with a view to their being raised. Broadly, these controlled rents stand at present at twice the gross annual value of 1959, as provided by the 1957 Act. The cost of repairs has gone up to something like four times what it was in 1959. If houses are to be maintained in a proper state of repair, it is essential that in fixing the fair rents provided for in the Bill account should be taken of the increase in building and house repairs costs which has taken place since the existing rents were fixed. I am very much encouraged to think that Amendments which we may put down to try to give effect to this would be sufficiently in line with what the Minister said in another place for them to receive at any rate sympathetic consideration from the Government.
There were a number of Labour Members of Parliament in another place who objected to the very idea of any increase in rents, which is what will result from rent regulation. On June 29 the Minister was very frank and straightforward about this. He said:I think that rent regulation, for the tenant as well as for the landlord, will produce great advantages. It will improve the chances of having a house repaired and improved in conditions which would be quite impossible under control."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 715 (No. 142), col. 435.]That is an expression of opinion which would be quite unexceptional if it came from a Tory Minister of Housing and Local Government. In order to leave his friends in no doubt of how this is expected to work when the provisions in the Bill come into operation Mr. Crossman said:Nevertheless, it would be quite unrealistic to deny that this will imply change. A great many people are on controlled tenancies; their rents have been frozen and costs have risen steadily. Of course, there will be increases."—[ibid.]My Lords, if we have rent regulation which takes into account the immense increase in building costs and the need for landlords to have sufficient money to maintain their houses in a proper state of repair, then certainly the rent regulation provided for in the Bill will be far less harmful than the rent restriction which has applied in the past. Even if we amend the clause so as to give clearer directions and guidance to the rent officers and assessment committees, it will be still of the utmost importance that they 1483 should be fair-minded and reasonable people with some knowledge of property management.
One of the clauses which I especially welcome is Clause 12. Here we are looking to the future and giving to the Minister the power by Order to release from rent regulation areas in England and Wales or in Scotland where he is of opinion that the number of applicants for houses is not substantially greater than the number of such dwelling houses. This is an admirable clause. Its provisions contemplate the time when it will be possible progressively to do away not only with rent restriction but also with rent regulation. It looks forward to the time, in a way which I hardly expected to find in a Bill promoted by a Socialist Government, when there will be the restoration of free negotiation between tenant and landlord. The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, skated over this clause rather lightly. I cannot feel that it is approved by the noble Lord. I think he regards this as a clause for which he would rather not be responsible.
§ LORD MOLSON
Of course, the views of the noble Lord may have changed since he was speaking on a similar matter during the discussions on the Bill which became the 1957 Act. The two clauses are not identical, but they are extremely similar, as was pointed out in another place by some of his honourable friends. The clause to which the noble Lord took such exception in 1957 enabled the Minister, by Order, subject to Affirmative Resolution by both Houses of Parliament, to extend decontrol. Speaking on Committee stage, Lord Mitchison expressed his strong disapproval of that. He regarded this safeguard of the Affirmative Resolution as quite inadequate. He said this:An Affirmative Resolution comes before the House and is subject to what is, in effect, a Second Reading discussion only. There is no opportunity whatever for detailed discussion, there is no opportunity for any Amendment, and there are, of course, no Committee proceedings. What happens is that it goes through Parliament without the people in the country affected realising what is happening until it is too late".1484 He went on:…I call both the subsection itself and the use which it is proposed to be made of it"—and I leave out two or three words—an abuse of the power of the Ministry as against Parliament, an abuse of the power of the Government as against the country and an inroad into the liberties of the people in a matter which, I repeat, vitally and directly concerns them.
§ LORD MOLSON
The quotation is too good to be interrupted. It goes on:I hope and pray that no Labour Government will ever sink to depths of oppression and duplicity which this clause and the use of it represents "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Standing Committee A, col. 957–60. February 26, 1957.]
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I think that it was a very good speech and I am glad the noble Lord has read out the whole extract. The differences are these: it was a different clause, the circumstances were different and, above all, the Minister was different.
§ LORD MOLSON
My Lords, one of the points which the noble Lord has made on many occasions, and which can well be made on this occasion, is that this is a Statute. Ministers may change and the powers incorporated in this Bill when on the Statute Book will be exercised by other Ministers than the present one.
I welcome this clause. I regard it as one of the best in the Bill, and I am glad to know that the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, will not be in any way embarrassed when we come to consider it in Committee stage. If then, as is indicated by this clause, decontrol of housing is the ultimate object of this Bill, it seems to be unreasonable that the regulation of rents is being applied to such a large proportion of houses in the country, including houses and dwellings of such annual value that there is in fact, as was found by the Milner Holland Committee, no shortage of them at all. In 1964–65, of the domestic properties in this country, 83.5 per cent. were found to be of £100 or less in value, 14.8 per cent. of £101 to £200 in value, and only 1.7 per cent. were of more than £200 value. If we desire this Bill to prove workable when it is on the Statute Book 1485 and if the Government desire it to work speedily and effectively, I think it will be essential for your Lordships to reduce very substantially the level at which it is to apply.
In Clause 4(5) there is a repetition of what has been contained in a number of Conservative measures—that is that the value of improvements added to controlled rents is to be restricted to 12½ per cent. per annum. I pressed upon Conservative Ministers that this 12½ per cent. is an inadequate inducement to landlords to carry out improvements, particularly in the case of small men of limited means. It is eight years before they get back in rents the cost of such improvements as putting in a bathroom, internal sanitation or hot water. I pressed this on Conservative Governments in the past and I hope that I may press it more successfully on this Government. If they gave something like 20 per cent. of the cost of an improvement in rent it would have a remarkable effect in encouraging the improvement of unsatisfactory houses. The Times in its leading article said that this Bill would not encourage improvement of houses. I believe a fairly small change of this kind would greatly encourage landlords to improve them.
I come to the case of tied cottages. I think it is unreasonable that, whereas all tied houses except agricultural ones should be dealt with under Clause 30(2), by which an employer who desires to obtain possession of the house occupied by a dismissed employee can obtain possession, there is discrimination against agricultural tied houses and various conditions applied by Clause 31.
I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Champion, comes to reply he will repeat what I think was a promise made by the Minister in another place, that this complicated measure of legislation by reference will in the very near future be the subject of consolidation. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, referred to the publication of some popular explanation of the Bill. That is useful for the layman, but it does not meet the need of the lawyer and of the expert who at the present time has to go over legislation extending back so far as 1922 in order to find what the law is on this complicated and difficult subject. I hope, as 1486 the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is so anxious that the law should be simple and intelligible, that priority will be given to the consolidation of all Rent Acts now on the Statute Book.
This is not a bad Bill. Some parts of it are extremely good. I believe that if it is substantially amended in your Lordships' House it may turn out to be a very good Bill indeed and one which holds out great prospects for the provision of private housing to let in this country in the future.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ LORD LLOYD OF HAMPSTEAD
My Lords, I should like to welcome this Bill most warmly, first, because it implements a vital measure of social justice and, secondly, because it initiates a new and, I think, extremely constructive approach to the whole problem of rent control. This could lead to a new era in the relations between landlords and tenants, hitherto the hapless victims of either rigid control or haphazard decontrol.
The 1957 Act can now be seen for what it was—a doctrinaire piece of laissez-faire thinking. If I may, I will quote one sentence from page 186 of the Milner Holland Report:The prime cause of most of the hardship, misery and anxiety which we have described is the absence of any adequate security of tenure in the situation which prevails in London of a grave shortage of accommodation for rent at the lower end of the rental scale, and the absence of any provision for the regulation of rents at levels which will do justice both to the landlord and to the tenant".This Bill effectively cures both these defects. By conferring immediate security of tenure, broadly speaking, on all that class of tenants who lost it under the 1957 Act, it removes at a blow the haunting fear for the loss of their homes which has since afflicted countless families. By the same stroke it puts tenants in a situation where they can bargain on a basis of real equality with their landlords—not the doctrinaire equality of the market, which is so utterly unrealistic in conditions of scarcity.
All the same, we all know that security of tenure is worthless without rent control. A tenant has no genuine security if a landlord is free to impose upon him any level of rents he thinks or knows 1487 the traffic can bear. The Milner Holland Report rightly condemned any rigid system of rent control. Instead of that, we have a flexible scheme of rent regulation. This scheme contains a number of novel features which are likely to prove extremely valuable. The principal novelty is the two-tier structure of rent officers and rent assessment committees. The main aim here is to introduce a climate of conciliation. This approach, it is fair to say, has been welcomed by all sections of the legal profession. There is good reason to believe that when both tenants and landlords understand that they can bargain freely as to what is a fair rent, without the tenant being subject to the fear of immediate eviction, and when the bargain is subject to the approval of an independent arbitrator—the rent officer, a man familiar with the area and close to the problems of ordinary people—there will be little difficulty, in the majority of cases, in settling the rent by agreement. But if agreement proves unattainable, as it will in many cases, then the new rent assessment committees seem to be the best and most appropriate machinery for resolving the dispute.
Of course, the success of this machinery must depend, like any other human process, on those who operate it. The Minister has been reproached in some quarters for putting his faith in people rather than in rigid or mathematical formulae. But I venture to think that the public in general will applaud his adherence to the tradition of sturdy British common sense as a means of resolving these problems. Where are we to find, the critics ask, all these paragons needed to man this service? The answer, surely, is that we need not be so pessimistic regarding the resources of our people as to suppose that there is not available, out of a population of more than 50 million, a considerable pool of people, without specialist knowledge but able to size up sensibly a practical problem, who will admirably fill the rôle of rent conciliation officers. As to the personnel of rent assessment committees, these will need to be of real quality to inspire public confidence, which is so important in a matter of this kind. But there seems little doubt that there are considerable numbers of people 1488 with experience in many walks of life relevant to this task who will be ready and able to participate in a full-time or a part-time capacity. Naturally, in these days, you have to pay the rate for the job, and if you want first-rate people you have to offer adequate remuneration. But this will be money extremely well spent, and will be a trifle in the context of the national economy as a whole.
I should also like to congratulate the Minister on standing firm against imposing any rigid formula for the assessment of the level of rents. The past history of rent control in this country provides dismal enough evidence of the consequences of attempting to fix rents by any such formulae, which either are arbitrary from their inception, or speedily become so. Take, for instance, the suggestion of adopting gross rateable value as the yardstick. This not only is out of date before you start, but will manifestly lead to absurd discrepancies, as the Milner Holland Report showed beyond question. It is significant that the critics seem far readier to denounce the flexible approach of the Bill than to commit themselves to what they regard as a viable formula. On the morning of the Second Reading in another place The Times tried to put forward a formula of sorts. The Minister, in one short paragraph of his speech, disposed of this, and, as one would expect, it immediately sank without trace. The other day, the same newspaper returned to its theme, but this time was cautious enough not to suggest a specific formula. The reason for this is simple: there is none that is workable.
However, a day or two ago a correspondent in The Times made the attempt. I am very glad that he did, because his effort exposes so clearly the fallacy of this kind of thinking. A so-called formula is put forward which contains a whole series of individual judgments built into it; for instance, as to how property is, or can be, classified and the exact weight to be given to a variety of factors. This is then to be applied mechanically to every property. Those who argue in this way have mesmerised themselves into accepting their own subjective judgments, simply because those judgments are dressed up in a soi-disant mathematical equation. If I may say so, it is 1489 rather like the old Russian story of the mechanical chess player. An inventor produced a large machine which played chess with great effect. Inside a man was concealed, but everyone was happy because it all seemed to be done by science. By refusing to face up to the need for individual judgment, you are to get the worst of both worlds: a rigid and artificial result in every case, based on arbitrary assumptions, but without the possibility of adjusting individual rents fairly to the particular circumstances.
If I may attempt to clear up one misconception of which, if I may say so, the noble Lord, Lord Newton, seemed to be guilty, it is quite wrong to say that under this Bill the tribunals or the rent officers are prevented from taking into account such matters as rateable value, capital value or anything of that sort. They have a free hand in the matter. It is entirely open to them to give these matters such weight and significance as they think proper in arriving at a fair rent. What this Bill precludes them from doing is regarding themselves as tied to a rigid mathematical formula which necessarily involves them in basing themselves on something like rateable value, capital value or whatever it may be. So that it is incorrect to say that there are no yardsticks available to the tribunal. The tribunal, by being entitled under the Bill to take all relevant circumstances into account, except that it is bound to exclude scarcity value, is fully entitled—and one can expect that it will—to give appropriate weight to such matters, though without being technically tied to them.
It is difficult to see what advantage is to be gained by writing into the Bill specific fetters on the discretion of the committee: for instance, saying that they shall take into account gross rateable value. The only benefit in doing this would be to the legal profession, since this would open up the prospect of endless litigation as to whether a committee had or had not performed its legal duty. The Times, again, has taken the Minister to task for trying to avoid what he called a "lawyers' paradise".Litigation".says The Times,is tiresome, but it is the safeguard against arbitrary interference.1490 Perhaps inspired by the recent celebrations; The Times has seemingly been studying Magna Carta. But surely there is a remarkable lack of realism in the suggestion that it is a greater evil to risk the committees' occasionally ignoring a relevant factor in fixing a rent than to impose the enormous burden on tenants and landlords of the prospect of litigating on a registered rent through court after court, until they may even arrive at this House in another capacity. The whole object of this Bill is to dispel the atmosphere of forensic dispute; but here we are urged to restore it for no real gain to anyone but lawyers.
Perhaps I may be allowed to say a brief word about two further particular criticisms which are levelled against the Bill. It is now apparently conceded, even by noble Lords opposite, that there is an overwhelming case for control in London and other great urban centres, but as for the rest of the country it is said that the Bill either should not be applied at all or should be applied only if scarcity is proved in a particular area. This may be plausible at first blush, but there is, I suggest, a simple answer. Not only is there no detailed, or very little detailed, information available as to the precise situation regarding rented dwellings in different parts of the country, but, quite apart from this, it is easy, as my noble friend Lord Silkin pointed out, to have scarcity of a particular class of dwelling, even if there is an overall surplus of dwellings. There is ample provision in the Bill for a gradual release from control by areas as the situation becomes clearer. But in the meantime in, say, Devonshire, tenants are to enjoy, and are entitled to enjoy, equal protection from exploitation as those in London, even if the problem in that area proves much less intractable than in the great urban centres.
Secondly, it is said that the new limits of £400 in London and £200 elsewhere are too high. The real reason for choosing this level—which substantially, at present valuations, restores the pre-1957 levels—has been clearly explained and justified by the Minister. It is that by fixing the limits at a relatively high level so as to include at least some rents which are hardly or not at all affected by scarcity, you will provide a valuable 1491 yardstick for the rent officers and committees to assess fair levels of rent lower down the scale where the real bite of scarcity is felt. Frankly, all this anxiety expressed about the situation at the top of the scale seems a bit overdone. Perhaps there may be few cases of exploitation at that level, though many of those with experience in these matters think otherwise. And if it turns out eventually that there are very few cases which need to be reassessed at this level, then so much the better.
Lastly, my Lords, I should like to commend this Bill for establishing a new and permanent principle in our law. This is its recognition that no person should suffer eviction from his home—I emphasise the word "home"—without an order of the court. Self-help remedies belong to a primitive age where each man had to enforce the law as best he could. They are wholly inappropriate in a civilised society, and above all in relation to a person's home. For the first time the slogan "An Englishman's home is his castle" is given some legal reality. Moreover, something is at last being done to protect a tenant, not only from eviction without a court order but, almost more important, from being driven out during the currency of his tenancy as a result of a course of deliberate persecution. Not everything that comes from America these days is likely to earn your Lordships' approval, but I am sure we shall all applaud the wisdom of the Minister in adopting the provisions of the New York statute relating to the harassment of tenants as a permanent feature of our landlord and tenant law.
One thing we still have not got, as has been pointed out by several noble Lords this afternoon, is a code of rent control, and, even less, a codified law of landlord and tenant. This Bill, however, provides, I suggest, some of the basic philosophy which could, and one hopes will, lead to such a code presenting a reasonable balance between the rights of both landlords and tenants over the whole field. Perhaps, in concluding, I may express the hope that our new Law Commission may soon be able to give its urgent and highly expert attention to this vital task.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ LORD ST. HELENS
My Lords, I should like to say that my general 1492 approach to this Bill is that I do not for a moment deny the need for a considerable measure of rent control and security in London, and in the country as a whole, but particularly in the large conurbations. Indeed, this was brought out in the Milner Holland Report, and has been agreed by many of your Lordships and by many Members on both sides in another place. The question, however, that I think one needs to ask about this Bill is a question of degree: Does the Bill meet the needs of the country at the moment? I should like to look at the Bill from two aspects. First of all, I would look at it in isolation, and ask whether it is workable: is it possible to administer this Bill efficiently? And, secondly, I would look at it in general to see how it fits in and affects the general housing situation throughout the country as a whole.
Looking at the Bill in outline, I agree immediately with my noble friends, Lord Newton and Lord Molson, and others who have said that the scope of the Bill is far too wide. Basically, the Minister, in drawing up this Bill, has been in conflict with the Milner Holland Report; and basically, for London at any rate, he has set his target at twice the level which the Milner Holland Report recommended. That, I think, is a mistake, and for this reason. I can see no object at all in introducing controls unless there is a definite known scarcity. The Milner Holland Report, which on both sides of this House and in another place was given tremendous commendation, said quite frankly that it saw little scarcity in London (it dealt mainly with London) above the figure of £400 to £500 a year rent. This Bill imposes rent control up to a rent of between £800 and £900. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, expressed it somewhat differently: he saw a lower figure. But, by and large, in the debate in another place the general figure which was accepted was about twice the rateable value, which came to about £800 or £900. This was not "slammed down" in another place when the point was made forcibly by Mr. Boyd-Carpenter and others, both during Second Reading and on Committee stage.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord does not wish to make a false point. In fact the rents in London and in the rest of the country are rather lower than the rateable value. I can 1493 give the percentages, but perhaps that is not necessary.
§ LORD ST. HELENS
My Lords, I will gladly come up against the noble Lord again on the Committee stage on this point, and I have no doubt that we shall hammer this point out at great length. All I can say is that it did not seem to me, in reading through the Hansards, that this point was effectively made in another place. So, my Lords, my first contention is that the blanket is much too wide and affects far too high a level of rents throughout the country.
There are other points which I think will be extremely difficult to administer. First of all, there is the question of the rent officers. A great many rent officers will be needed—I believe somewhere in the region of 170 or 180. Where are they coming from, and what sort of people will they be? We have not had any explanation of this. Again, how is the "fair rent" to be decided? My noble friend Lord Newton made this point very strongly, and it was made time and time again in another place in all the stages of the Bill. But no one has yet told us how the "fair rent" will be decided. I think that an extremely significant point arose the other day when the Minister was quoted as saying that a quarter of the existing rateable values were unfair. Those rateable values were arrived at by professional valuers. So far as I can see, under the terms of this Bill the valuations will be made by people who are more or less amateurs, and certainly not as professional as the valuers who work to decide the rateable value.
Then, how is the locality distinction to be decided? The question of how one is to distinguish between one locality and another has already been raised this afternoon. I can quite see that it will be possible to distinguish between Park Lane and Pimlico but not, as my noble friend Lord Newton said, between one side of the park and the other. Unless uniformity is obtained under the terms of this Bill, it will make an immense amount of trouble throughout the country, and, indeed, in individual localities. Another point is that of the private landlords. The Minister has admitted a natural prejudice against private landlords, but the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in his speech, said that the Bill did not mean to dis- 1494 courage private landlords. That is a pretty negative statement, if I may say so, when one compares it with what was said in the Milner Holland Report. That Report emphasised at great length the part that private landlords have to play; and it even went so far as to quote examples not only in this country but in Germany, Sweden and other countries.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I was dealing with the criticism of the Bill by the noble Lord, Lord Newton, who was saying that it would discourage private landlords and reduce the amount of accommodation. I was trying to answer that point: I was not attempting to make a positive case.
§ LORD ST. HELENS
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation, because I thought it was very faint praise with which to damn the noble landlord—
§ LORD ST. HELENS
—the private landlord in the country. Certainly, if they are not discouraged—one can say this for all classes of private landlord—they have no encouragement whatsoever in the Bill. Therefore, there is a real chance that this Bill will create a shortage in the private sector of housing.
With regard to the owner-occupier, I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, who said the owner-occupier represented something like 45 per cent. of all the households in the country, but he has no security under this Bill in the short term. Of course, in the long term he has. If he is a member of the Diplomatic Service or in some other position where he has to travel abroad, it may be that he lets his house under a short, fixed contract and later returns to this country, but the tenant does not get out. He then has to go to a court of law, and how long will that take? What guarantee has he that he will get priority in the court of law? Who will cover the expenses of himself and his family going into lodgings, or whatever it may be, while this court case is heard? Again, it seems to me that if the private landlord can possibly avoid letting his house while he is away, he will do so, thus again imposing an artificial scarcity on the market.
So on the question of whether this Bill is workable, it does not stand up 1495 extremely well. I think it will create something like a log jam in the courts; it will be difficult to get adequately trained staff; it is likely that there will be unco-ordinated assessments within an area even as relatively compact as London, and I believe the private landlord will be deterred from investing in rented property.
One final point. I notice that the Minister said—I think on Second Reading that the whole purpose of rent regulation was to protect the tenant from the market. It seems to me that if this is the whole purpose of the Bill it must result in an increasing bill for subsidies to be met by the unfortunate ratepayer, and I believe this is the basis of the dialectical clash which took place between my noble friend Lord Newton and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. I believe that the Socialist policy of subsidising things is the wrong policy.
The Socialist Party likes to subsidise things, and a very good example of that is London itself. The London County Council subsidised its housing estates irrespective of whether or not the people living in those houses could afford to pay the full economic rent. The Conservative Party believes in subsidising, not things, but people who are in need of help, and thereby one has a far less wide blanket to cover and there is more money to be spent where it is most needed. Obviously again, referring to the example I gave in London where the London County Council used to subsidise the whole of their estates, in other Socialist-controlled areas apart from the London County Council there was a system of rent rebate under which nobody who could not afford to pay the full economic rent was prevented from having a house and, on the other hand, those who could afford the full rent paid it and thereby saved the ratepayer an additional burden.
Briefly, to come to the wider concept, I ask myself: What contribution to the housing shortage as a whole does this Bill make? The answer is, no contribution whatsoever. This of course is intended by the Government, because both the Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland, who opened and wound up in the Second Reading debate in the other place, emphasised that the 1496 Bill did nothing whatever about the shortage of accommodation, and they went on to say that it was not intended to do so.
I believe this is an error. I believe this to be fundamentally wrong because by this very wide blanket we are simply storing up for ourselves great trouble in the future in the sphere of housing. Those of your Lordships who read, a year or so ago, the South-East Study will have gained a pretty fair idea of the increase in population which will come to the South-East of England, and indeed to London; and your Lordships will also remember that in the forecast of the increase of population the planners said that if the Channel Tunnel were in fact to be built in the fairly near future, with the influx of population into the South of England the total increase could hardly be foreseen. At any rate, the South-East Study envisaged something like an additional 3 million people in the South-East of England and London. I believe that every single measure in the field of housing must be taken in accordance with some long-term plan. I believe that every single housing measure must be designed to steer the population into predetermined channels.
I would make one or two broad assumptions—they are never popular assumptions to make. I believe our big cities and conurbations must be planned to house, first of all, the working population, the productive population, those people actually at work in the cities, and, secondly, those who do not cause a burden on the ratepayer. This, I believe, should be the long-term view—the productive population, and those who do not cause a burden on the ratepayer. And I believe that other people should be encouraged to move elsewhere. Retired people should be encouraged to retire outside the working part of the city. People will say this imposes great hardship on the old, but one is apt to overlook the hardship that already exists on the working population. As a Member of Parliament, I saw just as many working people who came to see me with housing problems as elderly people who were worried about being able to obtain accommodation on retirement, and the former cases were just as heartbreaking, too—the couple split up; they had not been together for a long 1497 time; the man was forced to live in a certain place because of his job, while the wife and two or three children were living with the mother-in-law, the wife threatening to divorce her husband.
Then there is the point to remember of under-population of accommodation by elderly people in the great cities such as London. People will say that this involves rationing by the purse and it is a very bad argument to pursue. I fundamentally believe that we shall be driven to adopt a policy like this in the next twenty years simply because of the vast increase of population in large cities, particularly London. I think we shall come to regret this Bill in the years that lie ahead mainly because of this unnecessarily large blanket cover which has been composed throughout the country as a whole. The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, gave the figure of 800,000 houses. Under this Bill, in spite of the laws of supply and demand—and I wholly agree with protecting the weak—800,000 householders are going to be encouraged to stay put. I believe this will immensely complicate the future pattern of our housing problems.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ LORD COHEN OF BRIGHTON
My Lords, I suppose that I have had a fair amount of experience in housing, as a member of a housing committee and generally throughout many years. I am one of those who welcome this Bill as one of the most courageous and most valuable Bills that has been placed before Parliament. I have been in your Lordships' House a very short time. I have listened to a few debates, but I believe that the subject which we are debating today, and which we shall discuss in more detail when we come to the Committee stage of the Bill, may be one of the most important matters that we shall debate in this Session, I am encouraged to say that because of an experience which I will relate to your Lordships. I have been one of those curious political animals who have fought many Parliamentary elections, and one of the general ideas of Members of Parliament and their opponents is to run a surgery; and to these surgeries come a great many people with a great many problems. Any of your Lordships who has run a surgery will know that of the hundreds of people who come to you with domestic prob- 1498 lems, with every kind of problem, difficulties with the children, difficulties with husbands and wives, 80 per cent. come because of some problem of housing; and, as has been said, many of these problems are very sad indeed.
This Bill, in my opinion, in an imaginative way endeavours to deal with the problem of housing from two points of view. One point of view, obviously, is security of tenure—and can there be anyone here who does not agree that there should be security of tenure, so that families who live in their homes will know that they are not going to be turned out simply because the owner wants to sell? But the important part of this Bill is that not only is it imaginative in that connection, but it also gives the landlord the opportunity of increasing his rent. The rent officer will recommend what he considers a fair rent, and the tenant will pay an increase of 15 per cent. per annum, and no more, year by year, to bring the rent up to a fair amount. Thus the tenant will have, when the Bill becomes law, security of tenure and—what noble Lords on the other side have frequently asked for—the landlord will have a fair crack of the whip, in obtaining a bigger return for his money than was possible previously.
I have listened to the noble Lord, Lord St. Helens, and it has been said that we should subsidise people and not houses. Just consider for a moment what that means. Is it suggested that the State should subsidise people? Are you going to add the 3 million rented houses to be dealt with by means of subsidies from the State? Is it not much better to do it in the way this Bill does by giving security to the tenant, and a slight increase in rent so far as the landlord is concerned?
§ LORD ST. HELENS
If I may intervene, many local authorities are already subsidising people under rent rebate schemes.
§ LORD COHEN OF BRIGHTON
I know that very well, of course, being a member of a local authority, and having dealt with that problem for many years. But I am not suggesting that all the private rented houses—which apparently the noble Lord is suggesting—should come under the same direction. We, on this side, are not suggesting, and I do not 1499 think that it has been suggested on that side, that all those 3 million houses are going to come under local authorities; and if you are not suggesting it, the proposal does not seem to me particularly wise. If I may say so; it has no merit at all. You have, of course, to give these people security of tenure, and you have to see that the landlord has a reasonable crack of the whip.
May I deal with the matters dealt with by the noble Lord St. Helens, so far as the rent officers are concerned? I am not going to say that I am an expert on everything, but I do see some hundreds of valuations every week, and so far as valuation is concerned it is not necessarily only a question of professional training. The examinations of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and of the auctioneers' organisations, for instance, cover many more things than the technical side. The valuation of property needs good common sense; it needs common sense to realise what is the value of that property in the open market, disregarding scarcity value. Many of your Lordships will know that an Amendment was moved in another place suggesting that only those who had had five years experience should be rent officers, and it was pointed out that if that were insisted on, the Bill would not work. But I believe—and I say that the tribunals for furnished house rentals show—that if you get sensible people who know the neighbourhood, who know something of the value of properties, you get just as good valuation as would be obtained if you took up the impossible position of asking for experts who are not available because there is too much demand for them at the moment. I believe that the rent officer, by and large—because it has got to be rough justice; and this Bill must give rough justice—will give a fair rental, a rental that can be agreed.
The suggestion was made that, because of this Bill, the landlords would not let their houses but would sell them. That is a complete non sequitur, because the tenants are protected. Landlords are not going to be able to sell their houses with possession. That is what this Bill, when it becomes an Act, will prevent. It will mean that the landlords will have to sell their houses, if 1500 they do sell, as an investment. So the tenant will not be turned out by the landlord who wants to make additional profit, as happened in the past, particularly under the 1957 Act. The landlord will not be able to get a quick profit; he will have to allow the tenant to remain, and therefore he will not be so anxious to sell the property.
So far as the question of the free market is concerned, about which we have learnt so much, I should like to remind the House of what happened in 1957. We were told in another place that the market was open and that there were plenty of houses; and so there was de-control in regard to a large proportion of the rented houses of this country. And if any noble Lord knows anything about the position of housing, he will know that the landlords seized on that opportunity; they gave their tenants notice, and the houses were sold with possession. Some of the tenants could afford to buy the houses; but some of them could not, and these had to move out. They had the terrible problem of having to find somewhere to go. If I may refer to the surgery that I held in those days, if your Lordships had seen the people who came to me with notices from their landlords that they had to get out because their house was no longer protected (and it was no good their going to the county court, because the county court judge would not do anything) you would realise how vitally necessary it is to bring back into control those particular houses which were decontrolled by the 1957 Act.
I think we know that what is going to happen is that the Minister is going to deal with the first 800,000 houses which were decontrolled. That is his first duty under this Bill. The first 800,000 houses are coming under the Bill, and will be dealt with by the rent officers with security of tenure for the tenants. That is the important point, and it is one that I cannot stress too strongly. Thereafter—and this will take some time—the 2¼ million other houses in the country will be dealt with. The Minister is going to divide the country into sixteen areas and, area by area, particularly in the areas of greater scarcity, the country will be dealt with. But the Minister has taken powers under the Bill to vary, if he so wishes, the areas having regard to the variations that may 1501 take place. The point was frequently made in the earlier debate that there may be areas in this country where there is no shortage at all; that there is no need for the Bill when the matter can well be dealt with by the Minister, under his powers to exclude an area from the operation of the Bill, and that there is no reason why that cannot be done.
Another clause which I think is very important, and to which I particularly want to draw attention, is that concerning statutory tenants and other members of the family. Prior to this Bill it was possible to transfer the statutory tenancy to one member of the family, so that if the husband died the wife had the benefit of the statutory tenancy. Now it can be moved on to other members of the family. I am particularly impressed by that change because of a case which came to my notice a short time ago. Two nice old ladies came to see me. They had been living in a house for some forty years. Their father had died and the tenancy had been then transferred to the mother. The mother had died, and that was the end of the transfer of the tenancy; there was no longer any protection. So these two women, who had lived there for so many years, were told by the landlord that they had to get out. They said, "What is going to happen to us? We are used to this house. We have no money." Now, thank Heaven! this situation is stopped, and it is possible to extend the protection over to other members of the family. I think that is a most valuable clause, and one which will make a great deal of difference to many people who would otherwise have been turned out.
I am also particularly pleased—I am afraid I am going to say something that may not give rise to any great enthusiasm in some people's hearts—to know that, once the Minister has appointed a day, local authorities are no longer to have the power to deal with tenants under the Small Tenements Recovery Act, 1838. I do not know whether noble Lords know this, but local authorities can go to the magistrates' court and, for any reason that they think right, can obtain possession. The majority of local authorities act in a judicious and proper manner, but sometimes a local authority does not act quite so wisely. Sometimes an ambitious chairman wants to show that there are 1502 no arrears at all on a particular estate, or has some other reason.
I have had experience of local authorities using this power to turn out tenants who get in arrear with the rent, but who could probably, given sympathetic consideration, be able to get over their difficulties. These tenants are evicted. They may have three or four children. These children have got to be taken into care, at great expense to the local authority, and the family is broken up. In order to do that the local authority had to go to the magistrates' court. Now, as soon as the Minister has decided on the day, they will have to go to the county court if they want possession. A county court judge is able to defer action for perhaps six months or nine months or to say that if the tenants pay their arrears they can stay on. But the magistrates had no option but to make an order for possession.
Having said that, I am a little sorry that this Bill does not deal with the whole of the rented properties in the country. I should wish, if we were dealing with the question of rents and properties, that we should deal with the whole of them, including local authority housing. I say that because, as I have said before in your Lordships' House, there is great need to deal with the question of the rents of local authorities. Only last week I was in Aberdeen where the local authority tenants pay 13s. 6d. a week for their houses. The local authority runs a deficit of £900,000 a year, and the rents have been increased by only 2s. in the last ten years. I should like the whole question of local authority housing as well brought into the purview of the Minister, so that that problem can be considered, because I believe that it is wrong that we should be giving help to one class of tenant and not to others. But that is purely my own individual point of view, and it is one that may or may not find sympathy in certain parts of this House.
Finally, housing can be divided into two parts. First, there are the new houses that can be built. So far as that matter is concerned, the noble Lord, Lord St. Helens, dealt with the South-East Study, but 99 per cent. of that plan is concerned with new houses, not houses coming within the ambit of this Bill. I disagree vehemently with his suggested 1503 idea of how one should plan a New Town. I consider that it has nothing to do with the Bill which we are discussing to-day. That matter will have to be dealt with partly by the provision of New Towns and the provision of houses by the New Towns authorities, partly by the local authorities providing more houses, and partly by additional land that will be available for the private developer. But it has nothing at all to do with this Bill and we should disregard it now.
So far as new houses are concerned, despite anything that Milner Holland has to say I do not think you can hope to get a great deal of help from the private developer in building new houses to let I do not think there is much hope of that. Many of your Lordships may know that the Ministry has said that the price of building new local authority houses to-day is an average of £2,350, and it is going up. The average price of the land is between £800 and £1,000. and if you work on those figures you find that, no matter whether the houses are built by the traditional method or the factory method, the ordinary private developer cannot build houses to let at less than £5 or £6 a week plus rates, and that is not going to help deal with this problem of housing.
So far as houses to let are concerned, that matter has to be dealt with by the State and by the local authority, and I hope it will be done in such a way that a fair rent is charged for local authority houses. So far as the creation of new houses is concerned, I foresee that those in the lower income group will be dealt with by the local authority or the New Towns authority, while those in the higher income group will be dealt with by private enterprise.
When this Bill becomes an Act it will give complete protection to 3 million people up and down the country, a number of whom have been very fearful about what is going to happen to them in the future. It will mean that the landlord will receive an increase in his rent. In regard to controlled houses it will not be a large increase. We have been told that the increase could be, at the most, six shillings a week in London and four shillings in the country, but it is an increase. Those houses will be 1504 controlled, and gradually, as the position gets easier, the Minister will have the power to reduce the areas in the country which come under control.
This Bill is a wise measure from that point of view. It will not be a strict piece of legislation, for it does not envelop the whole country as one particular entity but deals with the sixteen parts of the country. It gives a certain amount of room for manœuvre, and that is most important in an Act of Parliament which deals with a problem such as this. It does something which ought to have been done many years ago: it gives protection so that one will be able to say that an Englishman's home is his castle and not a place where he is scared that at any moment something may happen to turn him out.
There is the further, very important, point that the Bill makes so clear the right of the tenant that he will not be so frightened in the future as he has been in the past. The majority of tenants do not understand anything about the law. When they get a letter from a landlord, which is followed up by a letter from a solicitor, telling them that an order for possession is to be sought in the county court, the tenants get in a fearful "tizzy", if I may use that word. Not only does the man of the house get very worried, but his wife becomes most upset. Frequently people vacate their premises when they need not do so. The Bill makes quite clear the tenant's rights in the matter. I hope that knowledge of the Bill will be widespread throughout the country, so that tenants will understand their rights, will know that they cannot be evicted, and will realise that if the landlord endeavours in any way to use unlawful methods in order to evict them there are stern penalties in the Bill to meet the situation.
I was rather sorry that an Amendment was moved in another place to substitute for a term of imprisonment in relation to people who endeavour to harass their tenants a heavy fine. I wish that imprisonment had remained in the Bill as a deterrent. This is a valuable piece of legislation, which will do more for the happiness, health and welfare of our people than any other Bill which your Lordships will consider. I hope that when we reach the Committee stage we 1505 shall have no need to worry about wrecking Amendments, and I trust that the Bill will go through with the full approval of this House.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Cohen of Brighton, spoke vigorously and well, but even recognising his vast experience I must say that I cannot agree with a good deal of what he said. Anybody who has to grapple with the law of landlord and tenant would agree that this new Rent Bill beats all its predecessors both in its complexity and in its drafting.
§ LORD COHEN OF BRIGHTON
My Lords, may I beg your Lordships' pardon if I now leave the Chamber? I have taking place in my garden a party for the Spastics. I am chairman of the organisation, and must go along there to make an appeal. Therefore, I hope your Lordships will excuse my leaving at this moment.
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL
My Lords, I was saying that I believe this Rent Bill will beat all its predecessors in its complexity and its drafting. I was most relieved to hear that the Ministry of Housing are to produce a translation of the Bill, clause by clause, into layman's English.
I do not believe that there is anybody in the House who does not support the main principle of the Bill, the principle of giving security of tenure to certain types of tenancies without fear of harassment and at a fair rent. Anybody who has read the Milner Holland Report cannot fail to recognise that there was an urgent social need for such protection. But there are other groups of tenants and tenancies, and in many ways for those people the pendulum swings, with each successive piece of legislation, one way or the other. I believe that this Bill goes too far in favour of the tenant. It has already been argued by earlier speakers that the Bill in its present form goes far too wide in regard to the range of property taken under its wing. This applies particularly to the country areas, where there is no particular social or practical need for rents to be controlled. It may come as a shock to many people to know that in Scotland alone this 1506 Bill will have the effect of virtually controlling all rented accommodation, from castles down to bachelor flats. This I believe, in the long run, will have an adverse effect on such accommodation, particularly in rural areas. I hope that the Government will take another look at the high rateable value limit which they have imposed on the Provinces. Would it not be better to separate parts of Scotland from the Provinces, and reduce the rateable limit from £200 to, say, £150, in view of the fact that properties in Scotland appear generally to have a much lower rateable value than elsewhere in the country?
Perhaps the most controversial part of the Bill comes under Clause 26—the determination of a fair rent. The term "fair rent" sounds, on first hearing, perfectly reasonable, until one asks oneself "What is the definition of a fair rent?" Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Champion, will try to give such a definition when he comes to reply. Is a "fair rent" a rent that is in the interests of both landlord and tenant? I believe that there is no real definition of a "fair rent", and that rent officers and rent assessment committees will be entitled to judge or interpret a "fair rent" as they wish. Surely a more practical approach would be to decide what would be a "fair market rent", and then to deduct scarcity value and the other considerations. At least by this method the valuers would start off principally with the same figure, even if their final rental figure were at variance. I hope that the matter will be discussed further when we reach the Committee stage. There is also the question of scarcity value under the clause, and it is not at all clear how it will be measured, both as to degree and as to value.
It was stated in another place on Third Reading that although the Bill had been discussed in that House for over three months, and although it had been considerably amended and improved, there was still room for future improvement. One of these improvements, I hope, will be under Clause 15, which deals with recovery of possession by a minister of religion. The right of recovery under this clause is at present limited to Anglican parsons. I should like to quote from what was said by the Minister of Housing on Third Reading in the other place. The Minister, when 1507 replying to a query by the right honourable Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, said:I will not waste time on the small subject about which the right honourable Member for Kingston-upon-Thames is tickled—the problem of the manse and the Catholic Church—except to say that the slight advantage of the Church of England which has existed for several hundred years still exists in this Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Commons), Vol. 716 (No. 146), cols. 1197–98; July 5, 1965.]If this is so, I do not feel that there are any real grounds for having any difference between the various denominations.
Another distinction to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention is the case of the railwayman's cottage and the manager's flat. As I understand it, neither of these two tenants will be given the same protection as the occupier of an agricultural tied cottage. Once again, the reason given was that there was a long outstanding feud over agricultural tied cottages, and therefore they received preferential treatment. I do not believe that this reason is in itself enough to require us to treat such similar properties in a different way.
To summarise, my Lords, I believe that as the Bill now stands it will have the effect of considerably reducing the market of rented accommodation available from private landlords. More and more of these properties on becoming vacant will be offered for sale. At present, the number of private landlords owning accommodation totals over 3¾ million persons, which represents a considerable section of the housing market. The Milner Holland Report itself claimed that this section plays a very important rôle. It could well be that the level of maintenance, repairs and improvements to such properties will go down if the "fair rent" that is to be applied is not economic.
The long-term result of this Bill could be more and more pressure on the housing lists of local councils, and longer and longer delays. The time may well come when, in order to rent a house from the council, the motto will be, "Put people down on the list at birth." If one couples the future shortage of rented accommodation with the fact that fewer and fewer houses are being built at the moment, and the fact that the mortgage interest rates still stand out as the most embarrassing pledge of this Government, the general 1508 outlook for housing, I would suggest, appears most unsettled.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ LORD HILTON OF UPTON
My Lords, I am certain, as some of my colleagues from this side of the House have already said, that, generally speaking, this is a good Bill. I am sure it will give security of tenure to many more people and will, in many respects, benefit the best type of landlord in the country. I think sufficient has been made of those points, but I want briefly to address the House on the parts of the Bill which deal in particular with the tied cottage in agriculture.
I make no apology at all for referring to this because I have an interest, though not a personal one, in that I am Acting President of the National Union of Agricultural Workers, and for over fifty years we have pledged ourselves to abolish the tied cottage in agriculture. As an infant, I was a victim of the tied cottage system, in that my mother and father, with seven youngsters—and I was the youngest—were evicted from a farm tied cottage. In recent years, as an officer in Norfolk of the National Union of Agricultural Workers, it has been my very unpleasant job to witness farm workers being turned out of farm tied cottages. This is a most unpleasant experience. So I feel very strongly on this particular point.
Earlier this week, in another place, on the Third Reading of this Bill, Mr. Boyd-Carpenter posed a question to my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter asked:Why treat the agricultural worker differently from other occupiers of tied cottages? Is it because of the foolish pledge which the First Secretary of State"—Mr. Brown—gave at Swaffham, which the Minister himself said it would be impractical to carry out?".—[OFFICIAL REPORT. Commons, VO1. 715 (No. 146), col. 1151, July 5. 1965.]I honestly do not regard that speech made at Swaffham, my home town, by my right honourable friend, as a foolish statement. I believe that what my right honourable friend was saying at that time—and I was chairman of the meeting—was that he intended to do his best to give justice to farm workers so far 1509 as the tied cottage was concerned. So I certainly do not regard that part of his speech as foolish.
But let me remind this House of what was the real promise of my own Party, the Labour Party, on the tied cottage before the last General Election. It promised that a Labour Government would introduce legislation to make it impossible for farm workers to be evicted from a tied cottage until suitable alternative accommodation was available. This is not foolish, in my opinion, but is a promise of justice which is long overdue for British farm workers. Unfortunately, the proposals in the Bill, as the Minister of Housing and Local Government made quite plain, do not honour the pledge given by my Party in this connection. So for this reason my own union cannot fully support my right honourable friend's proposals in this Bill regarding the tied cottage in agriculture.
However, we realise that the Bill is a great improvement on the past situation, so we do not at this stage intend to oppose it. But I should like to remind my noble friend who will wind up this debate that we intend to watch this situation very closely. I know the Minister is convinced that his proposals will go a long way to meet the pledge given to farm workers. I only hope that this will prove so, because, from personal experience since this Bill was introduced in another place, I can assure this House that farm workers all over the country have been very disappointed that the pledge given on the tied cottage is not being implemented in this Bill, and they feel very strongly about it.
There is just one other point I want to raise on the Bill. I do not support the part of the Bill which refers to a farmer's being able to let a tied cottage to a tenant other than a farm worker, and then to get the cottage back again if the farmer's circumstances change so that the house is again needed for a farm worker. I know it can truthfully be argued that many more houses which at present stand empty in the countryside can be made available if this part of the Bill is agreed to. But although I cannot support such restrictive tendencies, I certainly would not oppose them, so long as the tenant has not previously been employed by the farmer who wants to let his cottage on a restricted tenancy, is not now employed 1510 by him, or is not going to be employed by him in the future.
If in winding up my noble friend can give an assurance on these points, I think it can be a very good Bill. As I said at the beginning, it will give greater security of tenure to very many more people in this country, and I believe it will be a good thing for the majority of the best landlords. So, with those reservations, I can join my noble friends in supporting the Bill.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, if I were a Back Bencher at this moment I should withdraw my name, on the ground that there is nothing new to be said. But as I have the duty of representing the Opposition on the Front Bench on this subject, in conjunction with my noble friend Lord Newton, I am afraid that I cannot get out of it quite so easily as that. However, for the Record, and in anticipation of the Motion to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Egremont, next week, "That speeches in this House should be shorter," I would inform your Lordships that, during this Session, my average has been between 18 and 19 minutes, and that on this occasion I intend to be substantially shorter.
Perhaps I should also follow the example of the noble Lord who has just resumed his seat, and declare my interest in the terms given to us so felicitously by my noble friend Lord St. Helens, for I am not only a noble Lord but a noble landlord as well, but in the sense that I am not a professional because I am an agricultural landlord—the sort that particularly interests the noble Lord, Lord Hilton of Upton. And, just as my noble friend Lord Newton claimed clean hands and a pure heart in the field of housing, I can also claim those attributes in the field of agricultural landlordship, if that is the correct term.
My noble friend Lord Newton did not introduce this debate, but, for the first time in such a debate as this, he spoke first for the Opposition, and I should like to add my welcome to him for his assistance in this field, and to congratulate him, following upon what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, on his speech. Whether his clean hands and pure heart lent themselves naturally to an increased power of intellect, I know not, but I am 1511 sure that nobody will deny that his intellectual approach to this whole subject was extremely interesting and infinitely refreshing. Even the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who disagreed with every word, enjoyed the speech. The only comment I would make on that is that I think the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, misunderstood one of the main arguments put forward by my noble friend. Lord Silkin objected to his equating the provision of houses with the provision of food and clothing. On the other hand, my noble friend was really arguing that if housing had not been continuously subsidised for something like fifty years, there would have been a great deal more housing now than there is, and we should not be faced with this chronic shortage in the field of housing for rent. The equation was with the provision of food and clothing without subsidy; but I need not continue on that general argument.
My noble friend Lord Newton, and also my noble friend Lord Molson, described this as a courageous Bill for a Socialist Government, and I would thoroughly endorse that description. In the first place, of course, it is not the repeal of the 1957 Act which it was perhaps set out to be at the time of the last General Election. I need not rub that in—enough has been made of that point. But the Bill is courageous in that it has made it quite clear that controlled dwellings, presently known as statutory tenancies, will in due course come into the field of regulated dwellings at a fair rent—and, as the Minister himself pointed out recently, that means that, in the majority of cases, the rents will inevitably go up. That is certainly courageous and, in our opinion, the correct thing to do. We shall have more to say about that at Committee stage, because the time when this is to happen has, of course, been left very open. It is in the hands of the Minister to decide, when he thinks fit.
My Lords, I have mentioned two significant things about this Bill—that it is not the repeal of the Act of 1957, and that it brings in these controlled statutory tenancies—and the third great thing, of course, is the regulation of rents throughout the whole field of housing. Here, I have one or two small points to put to the noble Lord, Lord Champion, because I think that we were rather con- 1512 fused with figures by the noble Lord. Lord Mitchison. Now we understand that, as a result of this new, regulated rent control, some 800,000 or 900,000 houses, all told, which have been decontrolled since the Act of 1957, will come back under control.
§ LORD HASTINGS
I beg your Lordships' pardon; under regulation—a form of control, a regulated rent. But that is surely not the end of it, because this is a question of 2¼ million houses which now have statutory tenancies, on the one hand, and, on the other, 900,000 houses which have been decontrolled since 1957 coming back under regulation. But that still leaves several million houses. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Champion, will tell us how many houses there are in this country. I think the total is something like 15 million, and, if 45 per cent. of them are owner-occupied, the rest are presumably in the rentable field. Therefore we are not dealing just with 900,000 houses that are to come back under some form of regulation, but with a great many more which have never been regulated or controlled—and that is really the complaint we are making about this Bill.
Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Champion, will be able to give us some figures to show how many houses can be affected. I cannot understand it when the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, says that before 1957 only 160,000 houses lay outside the field of control, and that after this Bill becomes law the same number will still lie outside. That belies the figure of only 900,000 houses coming under regulation. There must be many more; and I would point out that since 1957 something like 2 million new houses must have been built. Therefore, a far larger number will come under regulation than have ever been under it before. I do not know whether the noble Lord would like to answer that point now.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I think that perhaps we ought to deal with this point in Committee (it is rather complicated to be dealt with in a Second Reading debate), but the total of privately rented houses in England and Wales is about 4¼ million. Out of those, there were, by way of loss from the 1957 controlled sector (I hope I am making myself clear) about 2 million. Some of those 1513 were the 800,000, and the remainder are accounted for by owner-occupation, by purchases by local authorities, by demolitions and by "vacants" as they call them. These figures are very difficult to get right, and I hope that the noble Lord will take it from me that I can give them more fully at the Committee stage.
§ LORD HASTINGS
I am grateful to the noble Lord for clearing up that point, to a certain extent, immediately; but it does prove my point that we are not discussing just 900,000 houses, but a great many more.
§ LORD MITCHISON
If I may take the simplest case, we are not discussing the house which has been demolished: it is no longer there. We are restoring control to a number of groups of houses which existed in 1957 and which have gone, as it were, in different directions. Some have been demolished; some have gone into owner-occupation; some have gone into the hands of local authorities, and about 800,000 are still privately rented houses—the direct loss, as I called it when speaking for the first time. I assure the noble Lord that I am not trying to lead him or anybody else "up the garden path" over this matter. But those are the figures.
§ LORD HASTINGS
We shall have to go into it more completely at the Committee stage. But owner-occupied houses will also come into the field of regulation if at any time they are rented; and so they will if anybody wants to put in a single lodger. That brings up the numbers very considerably, and that is where we come to the main argument, which we shall develop on Committee, about the necessity for covering the whole of the country, England, Wales and Scotland, at the same time, and for dealing also with the limit of rateable value. Here again, the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, made some remarks that I will take up on Committee stage; but we shall have to argue those two points on Clause I thoroughly.
I now come to the question of fair rents. I do not want to go into that; we 1514 have had thorough discussions on it. I listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Hampstead, opposite. I could give all the arguments against his discourse and will do so on the Committee stage. But really this question of fair rents is tied up with the rateable value and the limitations of £400 and £200. One of my great objections to these limits, arguing that they are much too high and because they cover the whole country at once, is that they are going to foul up the machinery. And it would be, in our estimation, an essential improvement to the Bill if we could bring about rather a more limited field within which fair rents shall operate. We base our objections upon the question of administration.
There are one or two individual points that I will mention briefly. The noble Lord, Lord Hilton of Upton, took up the question of tied cottages in detail. He was the only speaker to do so. He drew attention to the Minister's words on the Third Reading, which I shall quote:It is of the greatest importance that we should have inserted in another place a clause which enables a farmer to let a tied cottage to somebody other than an agricultural worker and to get it back."—[OFFICIAL RFPORT. Commons, Vol. 715 (No. 146), col. 1198, July 5, 1965.]That is the thing we shall hope to do. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Champion, can tell us whether the Government intend to introduce an Amendment to that effect; because, if not, I think we shall certainly wish to do so. There is a question of discrimination in respect of some tied cottages as compared with other tied cottages such as those mentioned by my noble friend Lord Kinnoull. I thought he had it the wrong way round. As I read the Bill, the discrimination is in favour of the tenants of those other tied houses—the railways, the Coal Board managers and so on, and the discrimination is against the owner of agricultural cottages because the court will have the power to give an indefinite suspension which it will not have in the case of the other tied cottages. I think I am right in that; but it is a matter that we shall wish to pursue on the Committee stage.
There was also the question mentioned by my noble friend Lord St. Helens about the recovery and possession of owner-occupied houses and the situation of the man who has served overseas, in 1515 the Services or in the Foreign Service, as the case may be, who cannot get possession of his house when he comes back without recourse to the courts. I realise that Clause 14 was a new clause which was put in at the Report stage by the Minister as the result of pressure from the Opposition during Committee stage. Therefore it is an improvement: but it is still, in our opinion, not enough. This, too, is a matter that we shall discuss further on the Committee stage.
There is yet another question, equally important, which so far has not found a place in the Bill at all: the question of people who wish to buy houses for their retirement, particularly people who have to live in tied houses during most of their career because their work enforces that upon them. Policemen are obvious examples of this. There is no provision for them to be enabled to buy a house prior to their retirement to safeguard their own position and that of their wives, in particular, should they die before they finish their career or are able to retire. That is a matter that the Minister himself had great sympathy towards. He even invited my right honourable friend Mr. Boyd Carpenter, in another place, to get his colleagues here to try to phrase some clause which would be acceptable to cover this situation. I hope that we shall be able between us to do just that.
Finally there is the point referred to by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary in another place, Mr. MacColl, as to the great importance of the courts functioning rapidly in the most urgent cases. He referred to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and to the action that he was taking in that respect. We had a good many words during the Protection from Eviction Bill debates on this particular point, and the noble and learned Lord gave certain undertakings as to the things he would do. Whereas I invite no answer at the present moment, I think at Committee stage that we shall want to have further elucidation on these points to make sure of what has been done and that it is going to be effective. I understand from my colleagues in another place that there is some doubt upon this matter.
I do not think I need to refer to anything else except the drafting of the 1516 Bill. It is a horrible Bill. After reading all the proceedings in another place, I consider that even there the honourable Members on all sides did not fully understand it. I certainly do not claim to understand it myself. I hope we shall begin to comprehend it better as we go through the Committee stage. Certainly the Minister was right to say that he is going to produce a complete "Intelligent Man's Guide to the Rent Act" in layman's language.
My Lords, I shall conclude by saying that we agree with the principles of the Bill: namely, security of tenure where there is shortage—and the argument will rest in the fields of where there is a shortage. We agree with protection against eviction for all without recourse to the courts. I have no objection to that protection extending beyond the rateable limits in this Bill and bringing in everybody. I think that people at that level of income can look after themselves, whether they be landlords or tenants, and there cannot really be any great hurry to change a tenancy of that nature. Therefore, I see no reason why protection should not be extended and that court procedure function in that limited field as well as throughout the other field of rented houses. We agree with the principles of the penalty, including imprisonment, for harassment, which is really closing the gap which was left after we passed the Housing Act, 1964. Again, we agree to the principle of fair rents for all properties regulated. We shall have to argue what is a "fair rent" and how we can apply it.
I shall merely say as a final sentence that the objective of the Bill, in the words of my noble friend Lord Molson, appears to be eventual decontrol after regulation and after, admittedly, shortage is cleared up. Of course, in the big cities this will not be in the foreseeable future. But the objective—and we think this is the correct objective—is eventual decontrol. Therefore, we believe that the Bill is a courageous Bill; there is much good in it. We can nevertheless improve it out of all recognition, and we hope to assist noble Lords opposite to do just that.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I must confess that I feel as did the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, when he rose to speak. 1517 He said that there seemed nothing left to be said. After listening to the excellent speeches of my noble friends I feel that I have no case to answer; it has been answered by them. Like the noble Lord, however, I have a duty to perform, which is to get up and to say something, and it is my purpose to fulfil that duty.
I say straight away to the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, that if, by any chance, there still remains some confusion, after the explanation by my noble friend Lord Mitchison, I will write to the noble Lord, or clear it up during the Committee stage proceedings. In the course of clearing up these points the difficulties about figures often seem to result in confusion getting worse confounded. I am sure that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will at some time during the Committee stage proceedings make clear what he is proposing with reference to the hastening of court procedure, where that is necessary. The noble Lord will remember that my noble and learned friend made a specific statement about this and gave an undertaking which I am sure he will carry out.
I cannot complain about the tone of this debate; it has been reasonably friendly to the Bill. Most of the complaints have been about points which may be cleared up during the Committee stage rather than in discussion on the general principles of the Bill. This measure has received a general sort of welcome. Indeed, it has been described as a courageous Bill, and I think that the Government have been courageous in bringing it to the House. It contains something which was contained in no previous Rent Bill: it sets out to provide not only justice for the tenant, but justice for the landlord in the long run. We think this right, and I welcome the words which have been used in this connection. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, said that he took some pride in coming to this subject with clean hands and a pure heart.
§ LORD CHAMPION
I thought the noble Lord took pride in that. Like him, I have not spoken in either House on matters relating to Bills which have become Rent Acts, and that is rather 1518 strange, because when I was a member of a local council I took great interest in the whole business of rents. Not having said anything in either House, I have the advantage that no one can quote my words against me, as often happens. The noble Lord, Lord Molson, quoted something against my noble friend Lord Mitchison.
The noble Lord, Lord Newton, spoke of the history and said something about the philosophy of this matter. I do not know what future historians may say about this period; I do know what I feel about the whole business of rent restriction. It is clear to me that since the passing of the first Rent Act the limited return on the capital employed in the building of houses for lower-paid workers has made the further provision of such capital quite out of the question. Once you embark on rent restriction you take out of this field that injection of private capital, and after nearly half-a-century of rent restriction I see no way back to the conditions which obtained prior to the passing of the first Rent Act. I do not think there is any way back. The only money which will find its way into building will be that employed in providing luxury building, not houses for people in the lower-paid groups.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, I think the Minister himself admitted that the middle-income group, which, after all, is substantial and very important, would come into the field of private housing. May I suggest to the noble Lord that if his Party follows out the recommendations of the Milner Holland Report, that will meet certainly part of the case, and would be a most valuable contribution?
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I cannot see any private developer coming back to this field except in respect of luxury groups. It will amaze me if it does happen.
§ LORD CHAMPION
There has been some criticism of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord St. Helens, and certainly the noble Lord, Lord Meston, criticised the Bill on the grounds that it will not provide a single additional house. We freely admit that. No Rent Act ever did provide a single additional house. I do not 1519 think anyone would claim that a Rent Bill could. I am sure that no one responsible for the 1957 Act would claim that it did anything at all to provide a single additional house for the people of this country. The noble Lord, Lord Meston, my noble friend Lord Silkin and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, all complained about the drafting of the Bill and the difficulty of reading it. I agree with them absolutely. It is difficult for the expert, never mind the ordinary man who may attempt to read it. Noble Lords who have complained about the drafting of the Bill are in very good company, because, as noble Lords will remember, my noble and learned friend who sits on the Woolsack said this of the Bill:… the Rent Bill—which we are before long, I hope, to have the opportunity to consider—is itself one in which the first clause is as bad a piece of legislation by reference as I have seen, and we all know how appalling the Rent Restriction Acts have been."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 264 (No. 57), col. 873, March 29, 1965.]Of course, my noble and learned friend went on to explain the circumstances in which it was necessary to introduce a Bill. What was the problem facing us? It was an urgent problem. The Report of the Milner Holland Committee highlighted part of that problem, and the Government were determined to deal with that part of the matter and also to reverse what we regarded as the mistaken decision contained in the Act of 1957. That Act was forced through against the opposition of people who knew something about housing, including my noble friend Lord Silkin, who so strongly opposed it. The situation which the Parliamentary draftsmen were asked to face was one in which, between 1920 and 1961, there had been no fewer than 58 Acts dealing with rent restriction and about 40 Statutory Rules and Orders dealing with the same subject. In addition, there was a mass of case law during that period.
What is needed, and I agree with all the noble Lords who have said so, is a new and clear restatement of the whole law of landlord and tenant. Time did not permit of this. Such inquiries as I have been able to make lead me to believe that the Parliamentary draftsmen would need up to two years to consolidate the rent legislation, Statutory Rules and Orders and case law, and so on, into a single Act of Parliament.
1520 I am told by people best able to judge of these matters that Clause 1 of this Bill is something of a masterpiece of drafting. My right honourable friend, the Minister of Housing and Local Government, rhapsodised about this clause. He said:I am told that this Bill is an absolutely brilliant piece of draftsmanship. … Those who have really a taste for this caviar assure me it is the highest grade of legal caviar and that there has never been a Clause like Clause one in the history of legal clauses, for those who can appreciate the finer points of legal draftSManShip:'—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 715 (No. 146), col. 1195–6, July 5, 1965.]My Lords, this is not my sort of legal caviar. But I hope that he is correct in this: that it is legal drafting of the highest and finest class.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I was going to ask the noble Lord what comfort that is for those of us who do not like caviar at all.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, this Bill is part of the caviar about which my right honourable friend was talking. I am prepared to take my right honourable friend's word for this, but, for myself, I look forward keenly to the day when we pass through this House a completely new and clear restatement of the whole law of landlord and tenant, and not merely a consolidation of the Rent Acts. All I can say about this business of consolidation, if I am pressed too heavily, is that Tory Administrations had thirteen years in which to consolidate, but never did so, and it is hardly fair to accuse us of not consolidating during the short time we have been in Government. I sincerely hope that by the end of our thirteen years in Government, we shall have not only consolidated but introduced a Bill covering the whole landlord and tenant relationship.
My right honourable friend has promised an explanatory paper in simple language. I hope he will achieve this. I must admit that there are dangers in it. I remember that during the period when I was a member of a local council I often used to advise on rent and housing problems under the Rent Restriction Acts. On one occasion, I advised two old people that they were perfectly safe in their house, on words which appeared in a White Paper issued by the Government of the day and certain pamphlets on the question. Eventually, it appeared that 1521 there was a case somewhere which made it look as though my advice had been faulty, and the old couple were taken to court. I have never had so many steepness nights in my life as I had during that period, between the time I knew the case was going to court and the time it eventually appeared there. Fortunately, a solicitor friend of mine found another case exactly parallel, and for me the day was saved. I went home on the night that that county court came to a decision and slept. I am pointing to the difficulty of producing in simple language an explanation which will be safe for anyone to use.
Whilst on this topic of explanation, may I be permitted to call attention to the fact that this is the first Bill reaching your Lordships' House for something like a century, perhaps more, complete with a paragraph in the Explanatory Memorandum telling us what the financial provisions of the Bill are? Those noble Lords who sat through the Committee stage of the Airports Bill will remember that the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, called attention to the nonsense of omitting the financial provisions from the Explanatory Memorandum when the Bill reached your Lordships' House. I am glad that they have been included in this Bill.
So far as I can see, the only difference between the Explanatory Memorandum for this House and that for another place is that the paragraph is not headed, "Financial Provisions". I can attribute this omission only to the unfathomable workings of an inscrutable Treasury, who thought that these words must be left out. But I am glad that at last a Government has recognised that your Lordships have at least reached the stage where you can reckon that twice one are two and that financial explanations are useful to us. That, of course, is by the way.
One of the main criticisms of this Bill has been about the fixing of the figure of rateable value at £400 in London and £200 outside. My noble friend Lord Mitchison and my noble friend Lord Silkin, out of his quite exceptional knowledge, devoted large parts of their speeches to a justification of the figures that had been selected, pointing, of course to the fact that these figures are roughly equivalent to the pre-1957 £100 1522 in London and £75 in England and Wales. As the noble Lord, Lord Newton, said, the Milner Holland Committee calculated that there were plenty of houses available at rents between £400 and £500 a year, but experts consulted by my right honourable friend doubt very much the accuracy of the assertion contained in the Milner Holland Report. In any case, it seemed to us to be wise to retain the same figures here as Parliament accepted in the Protection from Eviction Act.
It certainly seems to me, at any rate, to be right, if a mistake is to be made about this, to err on the side of a high margin of safety rather than of a too low one. I believe it is right that we should take a too high figure, rather than a too low figure and miss a number of tenants whom we ought to catch within the provisions of this Bill, always remembering, as has been pointed out, that the Minister is taking power under Clause 12 to take classes of dwelling-houses out of regulated tenancy groups if it is found that such regulation is no longer necessary.
It does not seem to me to be a good case to say that putting them in will clog the machinery. Noble Lords opposite have said that there are few of them, in any case. If there are so few who come within this clause, how are they going to clog the machinery? I cannot see that they will do so. Indeed, most of these, as the result of negotiations between landlord and tenant, have arrived at a rent which I believe they will regard as fair, and they will not be going to the rent assessment committees at all.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, perhaps I did not make myself clear. What I said was that in any event, whether or not the upper limit is reached, it is anticipated that the machinery will clog. And the reason I gave was that tenants in London and the conurbations who might have agreed originally the rent which they are now paying will say, when the Bill is enacted, that, because the Bill removes the element of scarcity from the considerations to be taken into account when a fair rent is fixed, they must surely be paying too high a rent, and will apply for a reduction.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, only experience will tell us. It may prove that the noble Lord is right or that I am right. I think that we have selected the right figures.
So far as the rest of the country outside London is concerned, we are short of real information about the exact needs. Indeed, we should have known very little about London itself if it had not been for the Milner Holland Report. And I certainly do not accept what I have read about counties like Merionethshire, where they appear to have a 12 per cent. excess of dwellings over households. I do not believe that there do not exist parts of that county where it is right that a form of control should exist and continue to exist. You can get these pockets even in an area where you find, as in the case of Merionethshire, that there has been a large departure of people from the rural parts of the county, leaving houses or cottages vacant that nobody will live in: indeed, some of them get bought for a song to be used as weekend cottages. I am not asking noble Lords to rush down there and buy them, because I may have a little interest in one myself eventually.
The "fair rent" clause is one which we shall have to consider carefully in Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Molson, has told us that he may be putting down Amendments on this. It is a difficult clause. The Times has called it "flexible nonsense". The noble Lord, Lord Newton, criticised it. I have carefully read the proceedings in another place and have found nowhere there any suggestion for fixing a fair rent that could in any way approach the commonsense method contained in Clause 26. I have not heard a suggestion to-day. I may, as I am threatened with it, hear something about this when we reach the Committee stage. But it was amazing to me that the Opposition in the other place were unable to find a suitable clause that would stand up to examination. I believe it to be a lot of nonsense to suggest that rent officers—local men with a knowledge of the area in which they are to assist landlords and tenants—will not be competent to advise on a fair rent for the houses in the area of their operation. Here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cohen of Brighton. I believe that the rent assessment com- 1524 mittees, composed as they will be of a lawyer, a valuer and a layman, will, upon appeal from the rent officer, be able to consider the rent question from a wider angle than the rent officer, who naturally will be tremendously concerned with his own immediate locality.
I have some experience in the industrial field, and I like the idea of a rent officer acting in the same sort of capacity here as do the officers of the Ministry of Labour: acting as conciliators; getting the parties together; settling, if possible, and, if not, advising how to go to arbitration—in this case, of course, advising how to go to the rent assessment committees.
There has been a suggestion that we shall see wide disparities of rents over the country; and that is quite possible. But it will be the function of the presidents appointed by my right honourable friend, after recommendation by the Lord Chancellor, to get together from time to time and try to ensure that there is a reasonable degree of equality over the whole country for similar types of houses. The considerations which will apply here will, I think, be sensible ones. I believe, with my noble friend Lord Lloyd of Hampstead, that the Minister has done the best that human fallibility allows: and, with my noble friend, I see no reason here to share the gloomy forebodings about the outcome of the proposals.
The noble Lord, Lord Newton, challenged me and said: how would I act as a rent officer or a member of a committee. If I were appointed as a rent officer in my local town and district, I should start with a local knowledge of that town and district. I know the existing rents, both controlled and decontrolled, in the area; I know the town sufficiently well to know which part of the town I would rather live in and would be prepared to pay more rent to do so than I would pay to live in another part of the town. I would have the necessary local knowledge. I do not think that for one moment that I should have any tremendous difficulty about settling the rents for the town of Pontypridd in South Wales, with the knowledge that i at present possess; and I am sure that the people who will be appointed as rent officers will be at least as intelligent as I am, if not much more so. Therefore, I do not fear this at all.
1525 The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, asked: is this Bill fair for landlord and tenant? I can only claim that it is the fairest rent Bill to both landlord and tenant that has ever been introduced in this country; and this goes back for a very long time.
On the agricultural tenancies, the noble Lord, Lord Molson, criticised them from one side—rather from the side of the farmer—and my noble friend Lord Hilton of Upton criticised them from the other side, that of the farm worker. Frankly, this is a compromise clause. My association with the agricultural industry has made me aware of the longstanding feud in the countryside about this matter. The agricultural workers and their unions have for many years fought for the abolition of the tied cottage, and fought against the right of the farmer to evict an occupant of a tied cottage when he happens to leave his service. My noble friend Lord. Hilton of Upton told us of his personal experience as a young man. I must say, such is my knowledge of this industry, that I have a tremendous sympathy with both points of view, and, despite our Election promises to the agricultural worker, I feel that we have arrived at a fair compromise. It is a fair compromise, and one, I believe, which on examination will commend itself to both sides when they have had some experience of its working and have really tried to understand the other man's point of view.
I perhaps should insert here, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, that we are hoping to do something—I cannot promise what form it will take—about the letting of a tied cottage to somebody who is not an agricultural worker for the period in between losing a worker who occupied a tied cottage and the eventual employment of another. It is our intention to try to ensure that this is cleared up. I understand that there is some slight ambiguity about the succession to tied cottages, and in this connection, too, we are looking at the matter.
There was also the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, about the formula that we hope to include in the Bill to cover a man who buys a house for retirement.—There was a specific 1526 pledge given on this by the Attorney General, and this will be found in column 372 of the Hansard report of the Report stage in another place, on June 29. Certainly it is our intention to carry out that pledge.
We confidently believe that, within a few years, this Bill will bring about an entirely new and a fairer relationship between landlord and tenant. I think this Bill constitutes something of a breakthrough in the circumstances which for so long have bedevilled these relationships by control and decontrol, Rent Acts and all that sort of legislation with which we have been faced over such a long period. There are streets of houses which I know perfectly well, in which rents vary for the same type of dwellings; rents that are much too low in the case of the continuously controlled house, to rents charged on a scarcity level, because they have been overtaken by creeping decontrol. These variations apply to neighbours living next door to one another, and they are obviously unfair, on the one hand to the tenant and, on the other hand, to the landlord. I believe that in the process of time the rent-fixing clauses will bring about a situation in which landlords and tenants will confidently approach rent officers and, where necessary, seek a final decision from the rent assessment committees.
We are seeking to establish a reasonable degree of security for the tenant, with a reasonable rent for both landlord and tenant—a rent which will enable the landlord to get a sufficient return upon his money to enable him to keep his property in a good state of repair and to make the necessary improvements. And how badly this is needed in some of these houses! How badly they need bathrooms; how badly they need some of the modern amenities which could be provided by the landlord, provided that he really was assured of a reasonable rent! If it does all that, some good will have flowed from Rachmanism and some of the evils of the 1957 Act. I strongly commend this Bill to your Lordships.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.