§ Operation of Part II
§ 20.—(1) This part of this Act shall come into operation on such date as the Minister may by order appoint, and different days may be so appointed for different registration areas.
§ 9.10 p.m.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS moved to add to subsection (1):
Provided that the date so appointed shall not he later than nine months from the date on which this Act is passed; and this Act shall cease to have effect thereafter in any registration area in respect of which no such date has been appointed.
The noble Viscount said: I hope the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, does not really think that my noble friend Lord Kinnoull and myself are in partnership with highwaymen, or, indeed, that we belong to the same profession. In fact, we do not. We now come on to Part II of the Bill and the registration of rents. It has been quite clear that one of the underlying principles that the Government are determined upon, so far as this Bill is concerned, is that there shall be a nationwide system of regulation. Equally, this will take a certain length of time to set up. In another place, I
gather that the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Housing and Local Government said in Standing Committee:
I should say that the period would be well within twelve months for the completion of England and Wales.
He said that he thought six months would do for Scotland. On the other hand, there is nothing in the Bill at all to suggest that there is any urgency.
§ I know various statements have been made by noble Lords opposite, and by the Government in another place, that they are getting on with this, but I have put down this Amendment really in order to see how far the matter has gone. I know that when we were dealing with the Law Commissioners the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor had done a great deal of sounding out of the ground while the legislation was in process, and in fact selected, as it proved, those whom my noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne rightly thought he had selected. In fact, my noble and learned friend was quite right in the names he mentioned in your Lordships' House. Similarly, I imagine in this case that the noble and learned Lord is cooperating with the Minister, and that in setting up the machinery under this Bill he has done quite a bit of spade work in order to get the right people selected and the committees more or less formed, ready to go into action. Patently, the places that would be tackled first are London and the conurbations. On the other hand, there will be a large number of country districts where, quite honestly, at the moment there is no problem in this respect at all, and little incentive to get on at any speed with the setting up of the committees, the rent officers, and all the other things required under this Bill, but where, all the same, all rents are going to be frozen until such time as this machinery is put into operation.
§ The right honourable gentleman the Minister said that he does not want more than twelve months, so it seemed to me that as a display of the earnestness of the Government's resolution in this matter they would be very happy indeed to accept this Amendment, because quite clearly if they are right and they will be able to do it as quickly as that, then they have nothing to fear from it. On the other hand, if they accept the Amend 1122 ment and do not get on with the job as they promised they will, and as I am sure they will, they will be in a situation that in the area concerned the Bill will not apply. I have not worked out what the consequences will be, but I am sure they will be severe so far as the Government are concerned, and that they would not wish this to happen. Accepting for the moment that this regulation must be countrywide, there must be some guarantee that the speed will be up to the promises of the Government.
§ I hope that we can have a progress report towards the end of July this year or towards the end of the time when Parliament has this Bill before it, which will show us how the Government are getting on, and how soon they are going to deal, not with the important areas which I know will be tackled at once, but with the less populated areas, the agricultural areas, where quite a lot of people live, and where I think there will be a great deal of dismay if they find that for a long period of time their rents are frozen; they do not know where they are; they have no rent officer and nobody to appeal to—the whole matter will be in a state of confusion. I hope, therefore, that as I have moved this Amendment in this spirit, noble Lords opposite will be able to respond and tell us how they are getting on. I beg to move
Page 13, line 43, at end insert the said proviso.—(Viscount Colville of Culross.)
§ LORD MITCHISON
I welcome wholeheartedly the enthusiasm of the Opposition to get this Bill working quickly. I had my doubts about it during some of the earlier discussions in Committee, but they were, of course, purely personal doubts, a matter of personal impression. I am now entirely reassured by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross. We have it from him that he is really anxious that the Bill should be brought into operation as soon as possible. He is not alone. After all, there was no opposition to it on Second Reading, either below or here, and we were congratulated on bringing in such a courageous Bill. I remember that that adjective was used several times. No doubt great minds think alike on those occasions. We welcome this. It is entirely our own point of view about it, and our reason for it is a simple one: 1123 we want to get this Bill working as rapidly as possible because we think there is some urgency in the problem with which it seeks to deal, which is, broadly speaking, in a great part of the country the effects of the Rent Act, 1957 and the shortage of houses and accommodation. It is quite true that it does not apply to the same extent in the country districts, but that is our reason for wishing to have this Bill.
There is one other point. I do not think any Amendment has been moved in this House suggesting that the Bill should be limited to certain areas. There has been a suggestion that the rateable values should be limited, and that was approved by the House, but there has been no suggestion that it should not apply to all parts of the country. I think this is a matter which should be of general application. The system which is being set up will no doubt have different effects in different parts of the country, but it should be applied everywhere. That being so, the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, can take it from me that it is in the highest degree impossible that when we have got this Bill into its final form we shall be slow in putting it into operation. Rent officers cannot be appointed under a Bill which is not yet in force; we cannot appoint rent assessment committees or start to make the Bill function until we know the final form. Your Lordships have not finished with it yet, and it by no means follows that another place will necessarily accept all the Amendments which will appeal to your Lordships. Therefore it is obviously premature to start making the arrangements under the Bill, and no such official start of any kind has been, or can be, made.
It is perfectly true that my right honourable friend has made a number of inquiries about the framework of this Bill from local authorities. That is the usual course for any Minister of Housing and Local Government to take, certainly in a Bill which directly affects local authorities, and also I think in Bills of this kind. But those discussions have been purely informal, and we cannot undertake that we shall proceed with any given speed through all the consultations which will have to be considered when the Bill becomes law. I would remind your Lordships that outside the Greater London 1124 area there are 45 county councils and 78 county boroughs, so that there are 123 sets of negotiations to be carried through on the question of rent officers, rent assessment committees, and the other machinery which has to be set up with the collaboration of local authorities. Sometimes the negotiations with local authorities are a trifle difficult. Suppose Rutland, for instance, wanted to make joint arrangements with some other county, as it does over a bewildering variety of matters. It might take a little time to do this, and it is simply impossible to fix a time for it.
The noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, has got a great deal of good sense in these matters. Does he really think it likely that we are going to be slow? This is a major Bill designed to remedy a major grievance and to alleviate great hardship in a number of cases. The noble Viscount can be assured that we do not need a timetable in order to proceed with speed; but, equally in a case of this sort, where this large number of consultations is involved, one cannot expect any Minister to accept a timetable, whether it is nine months, as now suggested here, or six months, as was suggested by the noble Lord's friends in another place—six, seven, eight or nine months, whatever it is. He really must take it, I suggest, that the Minister in a Government introducing a major Bill, which we, at any rate, believe to be remedying a major mischief, is not going to be slow in bringing it into operation. If there is going to be any slowness it may occur in other ways; it will not be our fault; we shall do our best to operate it.
For these reasons, I cannot accept this Amendment. I do not think the noble Viscount really expected me to: he did not move it in that sense, but he asked for a timetable of some sort. I can only say that it is too soon to give any promise of that sort, because a great deal of this work can be done only when the Bill has assumed its final form. What has happened previously has been an informal matter, as always occurs in this kind of case. That is the position. May I suggest, with great respect, that if anybody wants to know how things are going on, the best way to find out is to put down a Question later on, when we have 1125 had time to get started properly on this business.
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL
May I ask the noble Lord one question? I believe that many people are worried that under this Bill, in order to enforce rentals they have to be registered. The question that many people ask is this: where a landlord and tenant agree amicably on a rent and then the tenant goes back on his word, is the landlord able to recover the rent he originally agreed by contract or has he to wait for that rent to be registered?
§ LORD MITCHISON
I am not quite sure that I have the point correctly, but I will try to answer it, and the noble Earl will tell me if I have not understood him. First of all, there is nothing in this Bill to prevent a landlord and tenant from agreeing a rent, and there is no need for them to register that rent when it is agreed. But either of them may protest against a rent, even a rent which has previously been agreed, and seek the conciliatory services of the rent officer and, finally, a determination of the rent assessment committee. That, I suggest, is only right; because, after all, a rent agreed at one time may not necessarily be a fair rent a year or two later, and there must be some rights of that sort. I think the suggestion was that once the parties had agreed a rent the sanctity of contract obliged them to keep to it. My short answer to that is, "Not in these short tenancies". No doubt the matter is different where you are considering a long lease and the rent has been agreed; and you may find that a ground rent under a long lease has become something which under modern conditions does not represent the bargain but goes back in history. But in the cases which we are dealing with here, surely sanctity of contract does not oblige the parties to turn into a perpetual contract what was intended to be only a short-term matter.
§ LORD NEWTON
I think everyone accepts that the preparation of the machinery is going to take some time. We are not asking the Government to do any more than they say they can do themselves. We suggested a period of nine months because, having read very carefully what the Minister said in another place, this seemed to be what the 1126 Minister thought he could do comparatively easily. We thought it advisable to write into the Bill the Minister's intentions as we understood them to be. The noble Lord shakes his head, but that is the reason why my noble friend and I put this Amendment down.
As regards the sting in the tail, that is to say the second part of the Amendment, the reason for that was simply this: that when a somewhat similar Amendment was moved in another place, although making the time limit shorter, one of the reasons why it was resisted by the Parliamentary Secretary was that it left somewhat uncertain what would happen afterwards in a registration area if the machinery had not been set up. That is a fair point, and I should have thought we had met that point pretty effectively in this Amendment.
I have not the slightest doubt, nor do I think anyone has, that the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, and other spokesmen for the Government meant exactly what they said, and they have said many times that they want to get the machinery of this Bill in operation as soon as possible. The point is this: that Acts of Parliament are timeless until such time as they are repealed or amended, and Ministers are not; nor are Governments. This is one reason why we thought it ought to be written into the Bill.
The other one is simply this: that the rent freeze which is inevitable until the machinery for the registration of rents comes into operation may cause equal hardship to tenants in the one case and to landlords in the other. Everybody will want the machinery for the fixing of fair rents and the registration thereof set up and found to be working as quickly as possible in areas where rents are too high—of course they will. But because the scope of this Bill covers the whole country, inevitably it covers, and will cover, areas in which there is no great shortage of houses to let and therefore where there is no great hardship.
Will there not perhaps be pressure put upon the Government not to bring Part II of the Act into operation in areas where there is no scarcity and where rents are not too high? There is the subtle point of Clauses 11 and 12. As we know, Clause 12 provides the machinery by 1127 which properties can be taken out of control altogether. We also know that this particular clause was strongly opposed by the noble Lord's own Party in another place. But the subtlety is this: that you cannot take the present controlled rents (that is to say, rents controlled under the 1957 Act) out of control except by passing, first of all, through the stage of regulation; and you cannot have regulated rents until the machinery has been set up for fixing fair rents and for registering the rents. If the Government could be persuaded to delay the setting-up of the machinery in certain areas where rents are not high, that would be a fairly effective way of stopping the decontrol of those properties which are at present controlled under the 1957 Act. Those are the sort of things we had in mind in putting down this Amendment.
§ LORD MITCHISON
I think the noble Lord, Lord Newton, has made out quite a strong case for something of this sort if we had had a Tory Government, but that is all.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
I am bound to confess that the noble Lord does not miss his chances. I hope that there is no thought in the minds of noble Lords opposite that the forecast that was made by the right honourable gentleman in another place is in any way likely to prove inaccurate. I do not remember the noble Lord saying anything on this particular point. Is there any indication at the moment that this time limit is not going to be practically possible? I shall be glad to hear.
§ LORD MITCHISON
I do not know what the noble Viscount thinks he heard. I am much obliged to him for giving way. I said nothing about it because it did not seem to me to be relevant to this Amendment, and nobody appears to wish to dispute it. I really must ask him to accept that my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, with all the resources of his Department, knows a great deal more about this than I do, and possibly even more than does the noble Viscount.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
I think that is more than probable. On the other hand, I should have assumed that somebody from the right honourable 1128 gentleman's Department might have spoken to the noble Lord before he came to your Lordships' House this evening.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
I am sorry to hear that. I think that the noble Lord has given us the hint. We will have an arrangement by which each county is represented upon your Lordships' Order Paper, with questions right the way through in October, November, December, January, and February next year to see how, in each county, county borough, in Scotland, in Wales, and in England the rent control regulations are getting on. I hope the noble Lord will be able to give us a very satisfactory answer to each of them. I beg leave to withdrawn my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 20 agreed to.
§ Clause 21:
§ Registration areas and rent officers in England and Wales
§ (3) A scheme under this section—
- (a) shall provide for the payment by the local authority to rent officers and deputy rent officers of remuneration and allowances in accordance with scales approved by the Treasury:
§ 9.32 p.m.
LORD MOLSONmoved, in subsection (3), to insert as a new paragraph:
() shall require that persons appointed as rent officers or deputy rent officers shall have experience of property management or of property valuation;
The noble Lord said: In his Second Reading speech the Minister described the functions which he hoped would be discharged by the rent officers. He referred to them as being a very important part of the machinery. He obviously hoped that very frequently the advice which they gave when acting as conciliators would avoid the matter being taken to the Tribunals. He said:
That is why I want to emphasise that rent officers need not be qualified surveyors or qualified lawyers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Commons), Vol. 710 (No. 92). col. 49; April 5, 1965.]
That I wholly accept. But when he was pressed as to what kind of people he wanted to appoint, he said that he would be discussing with the clerks of the county councils and towns how to select them. He said that the kind of people that he had in mind were [col. 50]:
People who had been housing managers, for example, or public health inspectors. There are, fortunately, a great many people to-day with a wide knowledge and understanding of these things.
§ What we are anxious about is that these rent officers shall not be partial people. Let us be frank about it. In another place the Minister was much criticised by some of his Left-Wing friends who considered that his proposals for increased rent, and so on, which he said were necessary to cope with increasing costs of repairs, went too far. When he was dealing with the clause about increases and fair rents, and providing for steps of only 15 per cent. per annum, there were those on his side who said that 15 per cent. was quite enough for all—in other words, not 15 per cent. per annum, but 15 per cent., once and for all.
§ It is of the utmost importance that we should have some assurance from the Government that the rent officers are not going to be people with a strong prejudice against landlords, that they will not be people who do not recognise that a fair rent involves taking into consideration the cost of building new houses and of repairing old ones. It is because we feel it important that we should have some assurance of that kind that I have put down this Amendment that these officers should have some experience of property management or of property valuation. I beg to move.
Page 14, line 15, at end insert the said paragraph. —(Lord Molson.)
I heartily support this Amendment, but in so doing I suggest to Her Majesty's Government that they may have to alter the usual attitude of the Civil Service towards the employment of part-time people in this business. The attitude of the whole-time Civil Service is, on the whole, against the employment in Government service of part-time employees, but in order to obtain people with the necessary qualifications and ex 1130 perience I think it will almost be certain that Her Majesty's Government will have to go to people who are semi-retired. There are a great many people who are semi-retired, and who are perfectly capable of doing light work in a skill of which they have considerable experience, but who are not really capable of a full-time slogging job of the 9 to 5 character. From the point of view of national resources, I think it is a great pity that in this country so little use is made of people of that nature, largely stemming from the prejudice of the professional civil servant against using part-time employees. With that proviso, I give the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Molson my hearty support.
§ LORD CHAMPION
The Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Molson, is of course one of very great importance. We do want to be fair to the landlords, which is the point he made, but of course we also have to be fair to the tenants. Both of them are entitled to our consideration in this connection. We recognise that it is vital that the rent officer, whose job it will be to assess the rent of a particular property, shall be a man of standing and a man who can really do the job in such a way as to meet the necessity for fairness as between landlord and tenant. As paragraph 8 of Schedule 3 says, he is required to determine a fair rent for a dwelling that in some cases does not yet even exist.
The noble Lord has to some extent argued—and this has certainly been argued by others—that the less rigid the fair rent formula is under Clause 26 of this Bill, the more necessary it is that the rent officer should be an expert in this field of property valuation. It has also been argued—I think it was argued by the noble Lord, Lord Newton, on Second Reading—and I regard this as being of some importance, that inexpert valuations may cause the system to break down under appeal. It was also argued (and I hope your Lordships do not mind if I answer some of these points at this stage) that if the rent officer is not really expert in this field, he will be "easy meat" for the lawyers and other experts who will want to argue cases before him.
Before I go on to the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Molson, I should like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, 1131 that it is the Minister's intention to use part-time people in some of these matters. The Minister has said it, and I am sure that he will do it. I am also sure he recognises that there are a number of people with the necessary knowledge who have, perhaps, left local government employment, but could give only part-time service to the job. I am fairly sure that he will want to use those people in this scheme, and that he will have this point ever in mind in discussing schemes with the local government authorities, which of course he has to do.
The noble Lord, Lord Molson, has of course given to the Committee some weighty arguments. I recognise that he is knowledgeable in this field of valuation, local government, et cetera. But, on the other hand, of course, we have the very weighty and knowledgeable testimony of the noble Lord, Lord Cohen of Brighton, who on Second Reading said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 267 (No. 99), col. 1499, July 8, 1965.]I think my noble friend Lord Cohen of Brighton was on two sound points there. The first is that the furnished houses rent tribunals set up under the Act of 1946 have, for all the years that have passed since then, been doing a similar job without much complaint, or with very little complaint. Indeed, I must admit that I have heard of very few. Few of the members of those tribunals were in fact valuers. The lawyers who presided were not expected necessarily to have a special knowledge of valuation, and they were given no complicated formula to which to work. They just had to fix reasonable rents. My noble friend also said that experts were in very short supply. If they are in fact in very short supply, the effect of this Amendment, if it were incorporated into the Bill, might well be to delay, perhaps for a long time, the bringing into operation of Part II of the Bill. For, without the rent officers, upon which so much depends, how is the Minister in fact going to give us the early operation, or the operation 1132 at all, of that part of the Bill which the noble Lord, Lord Molson, himself described as "courageous"?
This is important. Unless the Minister can get these schemes working, it is going to do precisely what the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, and others talked about on the last Amendment; it is going to delay it for a long time. We do not want this. We want this scheme to be working as quickly as possible, first of all to deal with the rents that will now be controlled under this Bill but which were decontrolled under the 1957 Act; and, secondly, in fairness to the landlords, we want the scheme to be ready to work for those houses that are still controlled because they remained controlled after the 1957 Act. If we cannot find the people to do this job—sensible people, such as the Minister talked about on Committee stage and on Second Reading in the other place—then this scheme will be delayed. And if we are going to say that they must have a professional qualification, this is going to make it very much more difficult.
§ LORD MOLSON
If the noble Lord will allow me to interrupt him, I was careful not to say "a professional qualification" when I moved this Amendment. I did not want to ask the Minister to go back on exactly what he had said. I said "of some experience"; and, of course, what I had in mind was the kind of housing manager to whom he referred as the kind of person he would like to appoint. But I did want to make it certain that there would not be any partisans (if I may use that expression), without any knowledge of valuation or of house management.
§ LORD CHAMPION
I am sure that the Minister will be with the noble Lord in so far as it is possible to obtain those people, in so far as they are available to him. He will not want people who are partisan. I am sure of this, because he has introduced this. If we had wanted to be very partisan about this, we should have stuck rigidly to the conditions which applied before the 1957 Act and we should have stuck rigidly to the old system of rent control. I should have thought that wrong in the circumstances, because I agree with the noble Lord that something had to be done—and this, we think, is the way to do it.
1133 But then, of course, there is the other point that, against the decisions of the rent officers, there is always the right of appeal to the assessment committees, and the assessment committees will normally consist of a lawyer, a valuer and a lay member. From the results of such appeals and rulings I should think that the rent officer would be able to build up quite quickly a code of everyday practice upon which to base his further advice and his determinations. The Minister of Housing and Local Government has throughout emphasised that he wants to get people of the highest quality to do this work, and that there are many people in local government who know a great deal about housing and its problems, although having no valuers' qualifications, and perhaps no actual experience of valuation or property management, but that, if they are qualified, so much the better.
What we are seeking to do by this Bill is to ensure a situation which will be just to the landlord and just to the tenant. I am quite sure that my right honourable friend will not deliberately go out of his way, or appear to do so, to select people who would be biased one way or the other. I do not think that he intends to do that. I hope that, with this virtual undertaking that I am giving the Committee, the noble Lord will withdraw his Amendment.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
I am rather disappointed at the answers of the noble Lord, Lord Champion. Getting experienced rent officers is the key to the successful working of the Bill. Ascertaining a fair rent is no easy job. I think that some rent officers will have to be part-time, because there is a great shortage of suitable staff in local government departments—in planning, roads, health and so on. Surely the part-time men chosen for this work would be retired housing officers or retired rating officers. They would be experienced. I can see nothing but good in writing into the Bill what the Minister intends; because Ministers come and go, but Acts of Parliament remain on the Statute Book for a number of years. These men should have experience in property management and valuation. One of the most important features of the Bill is that men of high calibre are appointed. I am sure that it is the intention of the Minister to do that, and I see 1134 no reason why it should not go into the Bill.
§ LORD ILFORD
May I put one point to the noble Lord? The noble Lord spoke more than once of the appeal from the rent officer to the rent assessment committee. May I ask whether it is intended that there should be any further appeal from the rent assessment committees? I cannot find provision for such an appeal, but the Bill is not very straightforward and such a provision may be there and I may have overlooked it. Is it the intention of the Government that there should be some further appeal from the rent assessment committees?
§ LORD LLOYD OF HAMPSTEAD
Perhaps I might venture to deal with the point which has just been raised, although maybe a reply from the Front Bench is required. As I understand it, it was never the intention of this Bill to have an appeal from the rent assessment committee. The appeal referred to was from the rent officer. It is a two-tier structure; not a three-tier one.
The other point I wish to make is this. I find some difficulty in understanding this point about impartiality. One does not ensure impartiality by insisting on experience as a housing manager or valuer. I should have thought that a retired bank manager, for instance, or a retired sanitary inspector or health inspector, would be just as capable and likely to be as impartial as a man experienced in housing. Surely insistence on experience as a valuer or house manager is also open to objection. It means narrowing the number of people from whom personnel can be drawn to provide the rent officers and man the assessment committees, which I should have thought very undesirable and contrary to the principle put forward by the noble Lord who purported to support the noble Lord, Lord Molson. He was anxious that part-time people of all sorts of occupations should be available, provided they had a suitable background, if not technical qualifications.
Surely it is most desirable that the Minister should be able to draw his personnel, especially rent officers, from as wide a field as possible. Not only are we liable to make the legislation quite unworkable if it is limited to valuers, who are in short supply, but surely it 1135 would be better to use valuers on the assessment committees rather than as rent officers and so put them on a higher rung of the hierarchy. With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Molson, I suggest that the object of this Bill would be much better assured by leaving the Minister as wide a latitude as possible in the performance of a task which, from any view, would be a difficult one. If we narrow the field too much, the Minister will be in great difficulty, and it may lead to the very delays which I understand that noble Lords opposite are anxious to avoid.
§ LORD ILFORD
As I have been mentioned, may I say that I fully understood the noble Lord to be referring to the appeal from the rent officer to the rent assessment committee. I was asking whether the Government contemplated that there should be any further appeal.
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ LORD CHAMPION
I am grateful to my noble friend for coming to my assistance on this point of who should do this job, which was rightly described by the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, as "quite a job". I also agree with my noble friend that if we write these proposed words into the Bill, it will limit the Minister in the exercise of his discretion. I have tried to give the sincere opinion of the Minister on this matter, and to indicate his desire to be fair and to appoint people with sound common sense. I believe that what is required for the job of fixing a reasonable rent is common sense. There is always the opportunity to appeal to the rent assessment committee.
I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, was not referring to an appeal from the rent officer to the assessment committee, but was asking whether there would be the right of a further appeal from the assessment committee to another body. The answer is, "No; except on a point of law." If a point of law arose, there would be the possibility of an appeal from the decision of the assessment committee, but not on the decision taken by the committee on the facts and the fixing of the rent. The committee will be the final tribunal. The intention ' is that people will not be able to set off a long trail of appeals to higher courts, until eventually they come to this House or 1136 somewhere else. The intention is that people should exercise their common sense about this sort of thing, in the same way as I tried to do when on a National Assistance Tribunal and appeals came to me from officers who used to work in the noble Lord's former Department. We used good common sense, and I hope that the rent assessment committees will do precisely that.
§ LORD MOLSON
When I put down this Amendment, I had three points in mind. First, I was not asking the Government to go back upon what the Minister had said in another place, that he did not propose to restrict these appointments to professionals. Secondly, I wanted an assurance that it was the Government's intention that these rent officers should be fair and impartial, and should hold the balance evenly between the landlord and tenant. And, thirdly, I wanted to draw attention to the difficulty that a mere layman has in arriving at a fair rent.
There are a number of different considerations that have to be taken into account, and a person who has had no experience in that role will find it extremely difficult to do it. That is my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Hampstead, with most of whose speech I entirely agree. I think that there is a great deal to be said for not binding the hands of the Minister, provided that we have an assurance from the Government that it is intended that these rent officers shall be impartial. We have had it in words explicitly from the noble Lord, Lord Champion, which I think go somewhat further than anything that was said in another place. I am glad to know also that it is the intention, when there are people otherwise suitable, to appoint persons with experience of local government and so on, who have some knowledge of valuation. In view of the assurance that has been given by the Government, I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ LORD CHAMPION
It seems to me that this might be a convenient moment to break off this Committee stage. I think that 10 o'clock was fixed. We shall have to sit again in Committee on Thursday, when I am afraid, if necessary, we shall 1137 have to continue fairly late. I beg to move that the House do now resume.
§ Moved, That the House do now resume.—(Lord Champion.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and House resumed accordingly.