§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Rent Bill, has consented to place her interest, so far as it is concerned on behalf of the Crown, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of this Bill.
§ 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 third time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3ª.—(Lord Mitchison.)
§ On Question, Bill read 3ª, with the Amendments.
§ Clause 14:
§ Recovery of possession of owner-occupied houses
14.—(1) Where a person who has occupied a dwelling-house as his residence (in this section referred to as the owner-occupier) has let the dwelling-house on a regulated tenancy and the conditions mentioned in subsection (2) of this section are satisfied then if—
(b) the court is satisfied that the dwelling-house is required as a residence for the owner-occupier or any member of his family;
the court shall make an order for the possession of the dwelling-house, whether or not it would have power to do so under section 3 of the Act of 1933, and section 5(2) of the Act of 1920 shall not apply in relation to the order.
LORD HASTINGS moved, in subsection 1(b), to leave out "any member of his family" and to insert:
his wife or widow or his child (or, if more than one, such of them as may in default of agreement be decided by the court);".
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I know that it is not the normal practice to move Amendments on Third Reading if 564 it can be avoided, but I think these two Amendments are self-explanatory, and it will be quickly understood why they are being moved on this occasion. With regard to the first Amendment, your Lordships will remember that Clause 14 in its original draft allowed an owner-occupier who had occupied a dwelling-house and then had let it unfurnished to recover it by giving notice to the tenant in the way laid down in the clause of his intention to do so, and at the same time allowed any member of his family who had resided with him in that house to recover it also.
§ We felt on the Committee stage that it was unreasonable to exclude from this right a wife or child of that occupier who had not actually lived in the house. Therefore we cut out the limitation, thereby passing an Amendment against the wish of the Government and allowing any member of his family to reacquire occupation of that house. The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, resisted that strongly and made great play with his nineteen grandchildren. Later, when I pressed him on the inhumanity, as we thought, of excluding a wife or child from the home of the husband and father because they had not happened to live there, he brought in the difficulties about how you would decide between nineteen children, a curiously reactionary argument which met with strange support from a member of the Liberal Party who does not seem to be with us to-day.
§ Anyhow, being reasonable people in the official Opposition, we, of course, sought to meet these criticisms, and therefore this Amendment is really improving on what we did on the previous occasion. We are limiting the concession, as the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, likes to believe it is, to the wife or widow or the child of the owner-occupier, and, if more than one, such of them as may in default of agreement be decided by the court. By narrowing down this clause we feel that we have met the criticisms raised in Committee. We therefore put forward this Amendment, and as it is an improvement on the previous one I hope that the noble Lord opposite will have no difficulty in accepting it. I beg to move.
Page 10, line 36, leave out from ("or") to end of line 37 and insert the said new words.—(Lord Hastings.)
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, may I correct the history a little? What happened in this case was that the original Bill confined the right of possession in these cases to relatives who had lived there with the owner-occupier, and an Amendment was put down by the Opposition which dispensed with the requirement of having lived there and extended the right to any member of the family. It did not need me to tell them that that was not right; they said so themselves and they were quite clear about it. No doubt the Conservative Party is always right, but not necessarily the first time. They have now tried to correct this minor error by limiting the matter a little, applying the right not to all members of the family but to some of them; and the "some", I notice, leaves out various possibilities—a mother, for instance, who has lived there, and so on. On the other hand, the Amendment that is now brought forward was in effect mentioned, and it was on the basis of this Amendment that the argument proceeded in Committee. I am certainly not going to repeat what was then said by way of objection to the original alteration.
On this side of the House, we still think that the original version was right and that the omission of the requirement of having lived there with the owner-occupier was quite wrong, for the reasons that were given at the time. But, so far as this Amendment is concerned, it simply corrects what was in fact a minor error, and, therefore, while in no sense of the word can I accept it, I should certainly not feel justified in suggesting to the House that a Division should take place on the Amendment.
§ LORD NEWTON moved, after Clause 14, to insert the following new clause:
§ Recovery of possession of dwelinghouse for residence by owner or his widow
§ .—(1) Where a person has purchased or become the owner of a dwelling-house with vacant possession and intends to occupy it within five years from the date of obtaining vacant possession and has let the dwelling-house on a regulated tenancy and the conditions mentioned in subsection (2) of this section are satisfied, then if—
- (a) apart from the Rent Acts the landlord would be entitled to recover possession of the dwelling-house; and
- (b) the court is satisfied that the dwelling-house is required as a residence for that
566 person or his widow, and the said five years have not elapsed;
§ (2) The said conditions are—
- (a) that not later than the commencement of the tenancy (or if the tenancy was created before the commencement of this Act, not later than six months after the commencement of this Act) the landlord has given notice in writing to the tenant that possession may be recovered under this section; and
- (b) that the dwelling-house has not since the commencement of this Act been let by the said person on a regulated tenancy with respect to which the condition mentioned in paragraph (a) of this subsection was not satisfied."
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this new clause is almost identical with the new clause that I moved on the Report stage of the Bill, and somewhat similar to one moved on the Committee stage by my noble friend Lord St. Helens. So this matter has twice been discussed by your Lordships, and discussed fully, and I hope you will not expect me to spend very long this afternoon on rehashing the arguments in support of it. What this new clause broadly amounts to is this. It says that where a man buys a house with vacant possession, or becomes the owner of a house with vacant possession, and intends either to occupy it himself or that, in the event of his death, his wife should occupy it within five years of the date from which he obtained vacant possession, then he shall be able to obtain possession from the court within that five years as a matter of right, provided that at the time of the letting on a regulated tenancy he informed the tenant in writing that he would be recovering possession within the five years.
§ I think that at every stage in your Lordships' House, and pretty well at every stage in another place, Ministers have said that they accept in principle that exceptional treatment should be given to the man who wishes to buy a house for his retirement. The object of this new clause is to meet the case of purchase for retirement. At the same time, Ministers have always gone on to say that, although they accept it in principle, they have not been able to find a satisfactory way of carrying it out. It is my submission this afternoon, as it has been my submission 567 before, that we have found, if not perhaps the best way of doing it, at any rate a perfectly adequate way of doing it. When we find what we consider is a good way of doing it, the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, objects that to do this violates the principle enshrined in the Rent Acts that it should be for the courts to determine where the balance of hardship lies between the owner and the tenant.
§ There are two answers to this objection of the noble Lord. The first is this—and I have made this point before. In Clause 14, which we have just been discussing and which deals with recovery of possession by owner-occupiers—incidentally, the Government's own clause—the Government themselves admit that in the particular cases dealt with by Clause 14 it is right that there should be no question of considering any possible hardship to the tenant. So in this new clause we are not seeking to write a precedent into the Bill. The second answer to the objection of the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, is this. If the Government really mean what they say—and I am sure they do, because they have said so often, and with great sincerity, that they would accept the principle that it is right to treat exceptionally the man who purchases a house for his retirement—then it follows from that as a matter of simple logic that consideration cannot be given to any possible hardship to the tenant. You cannot say, on the one hand, that the court shall decide where the balance of hardship lies and, at the same time, that you accept in principle that the man who buys a house for retirement should be exceptionally treated.
§ The other main objection which the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, has made to this clause is that it goes too wide. Theoretically, it certainly covers more than the man who buys a house for his retirement within a period of five years of obtaining vacant possession, and it must do so for this simple reason. As I know, and as the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, knows, it is not possible to write into this new clause or, indeed, into the Bill at all, the notion of retirement, because the word "retirement" is not capable of sufficiently accurate definition. But your Lordships may recall or, at any rate, I think the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, will, that at the 568 Report stage the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, pointed out in a most persuasive speech in support of my new clause that there are equally deserving cases, in his judgment—and I would agree with him—which this new clause may take care of: cases which are just as deserving as that of the man who buys a house against his retirement.
§ They are, first, the man who has to go abroad for a few years because of his employment and wants to have a home to come back to when he returns to this country. Secondly, there is the case of a man in one of the Armed Services who knows that in two, three or four years' time he is going to retire, not from work, but from his service in the Navy, Army or Air Force, and again wants to have a home in which he and his family can live. I think that is really all I need say in commending this new clause once again to your Lordships' House.
§ It was apparent to me, at any rate, when I last moved this new clause on the Report stage that it found favour with every noble Lord present—with the exception, of course, of the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison—irrespective of where the noble Lords were sitting in the Chamber. I withdrew the new clause on that occasion, rather reluctantly, for two reasons. The first was that I hoped that the noble Lord would accede to the request made to him by his noble friend Lord Silkin that between the Report stage and Third Reading he would think yet again about this matter and try to put down his own form of words which would meet the object which I think he has at heart just as much as I have.
§ A further reason why I hoped the noble Lord would do that is that I do not imagine the drafting of this new clause is perfect, but it is the best that my noble friend Lord Hastings and I can do. The other reason why I withdrew my Amendment at the Report stage was simply that, although I was in no doubt that if I had pressed it to a Division there would have been a majority of your Lordships voting in support of the new clause, I doubted whether we had a quorum. If your Lordships remember, it was the last day's Sitting before the Summer Recess. If there had not been a quorum, even though the majority had 569 been in favour of the new clause, that would have been the end of the day's proceedings on the Report stage of the Rent Bill and therefore if I had instigated anything like that I should have been in breach of an understanding which had been reached through the usual channels. However, I am under no such compunction this afternoon. I beg to move.
After Clause 14, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Newton.)
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I envy, but suspect a little, the divining powers of the noble Lord, Lord Newton, who was able to say that everybody in the Chamber supported his new clause when he last brought it forward. It is quite true that my noble friend Lord Silkin and I did not agree on this matter, and I dare say we still do not agree—I do not know—but let us see exactly what is happening. Here is a group of three or four clauses which produce particular exceptions in favour of the landlord and entitle him to get possession in certain circumstances. To that group an addition is sought to be made. It is to follow immediately on one which deals with the recovery of possession of owner-occupied houses. Owner-occupation is the reason why the Government have put that clause in. It is the absence of that fact about which we have been complaining in connection with the previous Amendment. This is an entirely different matter. Here it is sought to bring in people who need never have occupied the house at all, but certainly were not occupying it at the time in question, and clearly again this is not a case of ministers of religion or persons employed in agriculture; it is something entirely new.
The position is that the noble Lord, Lord Newton, is perfectly correct if he says that my right honourable friend in another place and I here expressed sympathy with the wish to deal especially with cases of retirement, but we both said that we found great difficulty in devising suitable machinery, and in fact we have not found it. Whether one can be said to accept something in principle when what one says is, "I sympathise much with the intention but I do not see how to carry it out" is a matter of language with which I need not trouble your Lordships at this hour. I have looked at it 570 again and I am still unable to see how to carry it out. What I am quite clear about is that the clause proposed here, which incidentally does not mention retirement at all—does the noble Lord wish to say something?
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, what I said under my breath was that we know that, and I went to great pains in my speech to explain exactly why the word does not occur.
§ LORD MITCHISON
Then we can proceed from there: whatever else it does, the clause does not mention retirement. What it does is to give a man who has bought a house and who is not expected to have occupied it, and it gives certain relatives of that man also, the right to get into the house as a resident; a right against the tenant who is there at the moment; a right to be exercised on notice and within five years. The conditions of exercising the right, other than those I have already mentioned, consist in the satisfaction of the court that the dwelling-house is required as a residence and—a very vague one—that at sometime or another, there was an intention to occupy it. That is what we are asked to accept as a provision.
I am not quite clear what the merits of this clause are, and that is what troubles me. It is agreed that it goes infinitely beyond the case of the man who retires. I should have thought it might easily lead to people making a practice of getting a notice of this kind. I do not quite know when they are supposed to have the intention, thereby creating the right to use the clause at a later stage. But what is the real purpose and object of it? I listened carefully to the noble Lord's speech, and if it is agreed that this is not just a question of retirement, what is the reason for putting forward this clause at all? I should understand it if there were no provision at all bearing on this case, but in effect we are being asked to say that the provision that occurs in paragraph (h) of the First Schedule to the Rent and Mortgage Interest Restrictions (Amendment) Act 1933 is insufficient, and we are asked to give to the landlord in this particular case rights which are far more extensive than those already given by that paragraph.
I think I ought just to remind your Lordships what that paragraph says. It 571 is at the end of the First Schedule to the 1933 Act and it provides for recovery of possession where the dwelling-house is reasonably required by the landlord, and then there is a limitation of date, the limitation now being the date when this particular Bill was introduced, because that is by an Amendment in this Bill; and then it goes on to sayfor occupation as a residence for—
- (i) himself; or
- (ii) any son or daughter of his over eighteen years of age; or
- (iii) his father or mother:Provided that an order or judgment shall not be made or given … if the Court is satisfied that having regard to all the circumstances of the case, including the question whether other accommodation is available for the landlord or the tenant, greater hardship would be caused by granting the order or judgment than by refusing to grant it.That is a well-tried provision which is intended to deal with this type of case. It has been in existence now for over thirty years. What does this proposed clause seek to do? What it seeks to do is, first of all, to omit the discretion of the court not to make an order if it thinks it would be unreasonable to do so. That is in all these rent cases, although I did not actually read it out. Secondly, it seeks to omit the question whether the landlord's requirement is reasonable; and, thirdly, to omit the question of greater hardship.
These are all matters which fall to be decided by the courts, and what in fact is happening in this case is that the new clause seeks to deprive the tenant of the protection of the court, and only the tenant. This is in fact a landlord's clause if ever there was one. It is so widely drawn that it could be applied in a large number of cases. The provision in the 1933 Act will be of little or no practical use afterwards because people will proceed on this new provision, the whole object of which is to deprive the tenant of the protection of the court. That is as I see it. I may be wrong, but if that is the position I say to your Lordships that this is a most remarkable attitude to take up. I always thought we were all agreed that in cases of this kind these questions of recovery of possession of a house were bound to involve human factors; there were bound to be different circumstances in different cases, and for those reasons it was right to leave, as 572 there had always been left, a wide ambit to the discretion of the court. Questions of what is reasonable, of where the greater hardships lie, are, I suggest, matters which the court ought to be allowed to consider, and not forbidden to consider, as in effect this clause provides. This clause really enjoins on the court to let the landlord in, being a landlord who has not himself ever occupied the house, who has bought or has acquired it in some way or other and requires it as a residence for himself or members of his family.
I suggest that in the present housing conditions, and indeed in the housing conditions we have had for twenty or thirty years past, to put in such a provision is bound to cause considerable hardship to a considerable number of tenants. I would again suggest that it is unworthy of Parliament in those circumstances to consider that this is a better alternative than the provision which already exists in the 1933 Act. There is no doubt where the political majority lies in this House, but I say to your Lordships that in my humble opinion it will be a discreditable thing if we seek by this particular clause to deprive tenants all over the country of the protection of the courts in the manner I have indicated, because that is the effect of the proposed clause.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, said that it would be discreditable for this House to insert this new clause in the Bill. Is it not also rather discreditable for the noble Lord to come down here now and plead the wrongfulness of this new clause, on the ground that it includes a possible hardship to the tenant, when time and time again Ministers in both Houses of Parliament have said they accept in principle that it is right to put the man who wishes to purchase a house for his retirement in a favourable position? One cannot maintain both these things at the same time.
Unfortunately I did not bring with me all the relevant Hansards, but I have one here and I will just remind the noble Lord what he said about this in Report stage:I think we are all agreed that if we could provide for the case of a man who buys a house with a view to retiring shortly into it, we would do so. My right honourable friend certainly said it quite clearly in another place; I repeated it here, and I have repeated it again to-day."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 269, (No. 116), col. 446, August 5, 1965.]
§ LORD MITCHISON
I am much obliged to the noble Lord. He knows quite well that this was with reference to retirement, as was what my right honourable friend said. We both used the same language: that we were sympathetic to the idea but did not believe it could be carried out. This clause goes far beyond it.
§ LORD NEWTON
The reason it goes beyond it, as I have already explained to your Lordships, is that it is intended to deal with the retirement case. The noble Lord said that he was uncertain what our purpose was. It is to deal with the case
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ 5.42 p.m.574
§ of the man who purchases a house for his retirement. But, as the noble Lord, knows, it is not possible to narrow the clause by writing in references to retirement; it cannot be done. We could go on debating this matter for ever. I do not think the noble Lord and I are any nearer than we have ever been, so I must now ask your Lordships to decide between us.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 70; Not-contents, 56.573
|Aberdare, L.||Devonshire, D.||Long, V.|
|Allerton, L.||Digby, L.||Lothian, M.|
|Alport, L.||Dilhorne, V.||Luke, L.|
|Amherst of Hackney, L.||Drumalbyn, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Eccles, V.||Margadale, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Effingham, E.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Barnby, L.||Elliot of Harwood, Bs.||Mersey, V.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Emmet of Amberley, Bs.||Morrison, L.|
|Boston, L.||Falkland, V.||Newton, L.|
|Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs.||Ferrers, E.||Reading, M.|
|Carrington, L.||Fortescue, E.||Redesdale, L.|
|Chesham, L.||Glasgow, E.||St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]|
|Clinton, L.||Glendevon, L.||St. Helens, L.|
|Colgrain, L.||Greenway, L.||St. Just, L.|
|Conesford, L.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||St. Oswald, L.|
|Coutanche, L.||Harris, L.||Somers, L.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Hastings, L.||Strange of Knokin, Bs.|
|Craigton, L.||Hertford, M.||Stuart of Findhorn, V.|
|Crathorne, L.||Horsbrugh, Bs.||Teynham, L.|
|Cromartie, E.||Ilford, L.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Inglewood, L.||Waldegrave, E.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Killearn, L.||Ward of Witley, V.|
|Derwent, L.||Lambert, V.||Wolverton, L.|
|Addison, V.||Hilton of Upton, L.||Royle, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Hives, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Amulree, L.||Hobson, L. [Teller.]||Segal, L.|
|Arwyn, L.||Hurcomb, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Iddesleigh, E.||Simey, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Latham, L.||Snow, L.|
|Bowden, L.||Leatherland, L.||Sorensen, L. [Teller.]|
|Brockway, L.||Lilford, L.||Southwark, L. Bp.|
|Burden, L.||Lindgren, L.||Stonham, L.|
|Champion, L.||Listowel, E.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Chorley, L.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.||Strang, L.|
|Cohen of Brighton, L.||Longford, E. (L. Privy Seal.)||Summerskill, Bs.|
|Francis-Williams, L.||Mitchison, L.||Wade, L.|
|Gainsborough, E.||Morris of Kenwood, L.||Walston, L.|
|Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Nathan, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Geddes of Epsom, L.||Peddie, L.||Williams, L.|
|Granville-West, L.||Phillips, Bs.||Willis, L.|
|Haire of Whiteabbey, L.||Plummer, Bs.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Henderson, L.||Rea, L.|
§ think it would be appropriate if I were to say a few words—and only a few words—about the Bill as a whole. We have I think, in general, on both sides of the House, been agreed that something was required. I think I might go rather 575 further and say that this Bill was a courageous venture—for that word was used three times on the Second Reading. I hope that I may go yet a little further, and say that a great deal of it, at any rate, is good. The reason why noble Lords opposite regarded it as courageous, I feel, was that the Bill involved in some cases an increase of existing controlled rents, and they thought that that was beyond the brief of the Labour Party.
§ But the real courage of the Bill, it seems to me, is that for the first time it does not propose the idea of control of rents by reference to rateable value, by reference to a percentage increase or something of that sort, but founds it on the judgment of men who have some knowledge of the right sort of amount that the rent ought to be; because, great as is my respect for a valuer, that is probably the way in which a great many of them are hound to face it.
§ When this question became clear in the course of discussion on Second Reading a number of noble Lords opposite expressed some doubt as to whether the Bill could be put into operation fast enough to exclude what might well be a most inconvenient gap. I am trying to put this fairly to all sides concerned, and I said at the time—I gave the House a formal assurance—that we would indeed proceed with it as rapidly as possible. Perhaps I may take the opportunity today of saying a word or two on how things are moving.
§ First of all, the Greater London Rent Assessment Panel will be given responsibility for the whole of Greater London and the complexity of its housing problem. But most important, I think, in the meantime—and I believe that a public announcement has already been made on this matter—is the fact that most distinguished persons have agreed to serve on it. The President is to be Sir Sydney Littlewood, who is a Past President of the Law Society. The Vice-Presidents will include Professor Donnison, who is a Professor of Social Science and Administration at the London School of Economics, and was a member of the Milner Holland Committee. There is another member of the Milner Holland Committee, in the person of Mr. Pilcher, who is a chartered surveyor and Past-President of the Royal Institution of Chartered 576 Surveyors; and then a former Deputy Chief Valuer of the Valuation Office of the Department of Inland Revenue, Mr. J. J. Edwards. I cannot imagine a more distinguished and suitable body for the purpose than those gentlemen. We propose soon to issue invitations to prospective London Panel members—that is to say, the people who will be serving under the President and Vice-Presidents in dealing with the machinery of the Bill.
§ The question of the rent officer service is also being considered. Noble Lords will remember that the rent officers have a new function under the Bill. They are, as it were, the equivalent of conciliators in industrial disputes rather than a tribunal of any sort. We shall require about a hundred or so in London and two to three hundred in other parts of the country. Applications have already been received for many times the number required in London, though we have not yet proceeded towards getting applications in other parts of the country. I think it right to mention the proposed salaries so as to give the House an idea of the type and status of person we are looking for. The salary will be from £1,495 to £1,745, with an additional allowance of £250 for senior rent officers. Outside London the salaries will be the same, less the London weighting—the usual allowance that is made for the extra expense of living in London. The Bill is not yet law and we could not have gone any further than we have gone already; but I think it is fairly clear that London at any rate will get under way quickly, and there is every reason to believe that the other parts of the country will follow pretty quickly, probably beginning with the West Midlands.
§ As regards Scotland, here again the proceedings are not quite so far advanced as they are in London, but it is intended to appoint rent officers and rent assessment committees early in the New Year in the four cities in Scotland, the large burghs. There have been informal consultations about that, and there will be statutory consultations as provided in the Bill as soon as it is enacted. There will follow consultations with the other large burghs and counties. In general, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State expects the system to be in operation for most of Scotland in the early part of next year. My Lords, I apologise for 577 having taken a long time to deal with this, but the House really was interested in the possibilities of getting it moving as quickly as possible. If I have not given any great detail, it really is because one cannot say much more than I have said; but I hope that the House will take this as an indication that we are really trying to get a move on.
§ I do not think I need say any more, except that one is allowed on this sort of occasion to say "Thank you" to all noble Lords who, through varying points of view, some of them most critical of some parts of the Bill, have nevertheless made constructive—I hope I do not sound as if I am arrogating to myself any right to say this; I do not so intend—criticisms of the Bill. I am most grateful to them. I apologise for all my own deficiencies, which have been numerous, some detected by noble Lords opposite and others not detected. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Mitchison.)
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, I shall detain your Lordships for only a few moments at this late stage of the Bill. First of all, perhaps I might express my own thanks to the noble Lord for the information which he has just given us about the arrangements which are being made for bringing this Bill into operation.
There are two matters which I should like to put to your Lordships and to the Government. Both are matters which can be appropriately discussed at this late stage of our proceedings. First of all, this is undoubtedly an exceedingly obscure Bill. I do not in my experience recall a Bill of greater obscurity or complexity. Clause 1 itself is a masterpiece of legislation by reference. It presents the greatest difficulties of construction. I am not complaining of the draftsmanship; in some ways the draftsmanship is a model of the Parliamentary draftsman's art. It is the complexity of the subject matter of the Bill which makes it so difficult to put it into simple and straightforward language. But it is unfortunate that a Bill of this nature should be a Bill which is expressed in such an obscure fashion. This Act will affect hundreds of modest homes in all parts of the country. It will affect the comfort and the happiness of thousands of persons, landlords as well as tenants. This Act will 578 have to be interpreted to these people by their solicitors, by house agents, estate agents and so on. I desire to make no reflection on the small solicitor, but most of the solicitors who have to advise on this Bill are not the sort of solicitors who are accustomed to deal with complicated legislation. It may well be that they will find it difficult to appreciate what this Bill is all about. I confess I had to read it several times myself before I began to understand it.
My recollection goes back a long way in these matters. I remember the Act of 1920, which was the consolidation Act passed at the end of the First World War. In those days I was in active practice at the Bar and was very glad to go down to the county court and argue a point on the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act for a modest fee of three guineas, which was the fee I commanded in those days. At the same time I used to go to what in those days was called a "poor man's lawyer centre" and give advice, mainly on rent questions, to persons who were not able to pay for advice. At times I am appalled when I think of the misery I must unwittingly have caused by the unsound advice I gave to those unfortunate people. I am quite sure that we are going to find this Act even more difficult to construe than the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1920.
It seems to me that this Bill is a most suitable Bill for reference to the Lord Chancellor's new Law Commissioners. I believe that at an earlier stage of the Bill something was said about referring the Bill to the Commissioners for early consolidation. I should like to ask the Government for an assurance that this Bill will in fact go to the Commissioners at an early stage for consolidation. Consolidation is not going to be an easy task and it will take some time for the work to be done. I hope that the Government will be able to refer this legislation to the Commissioners at an early stage so that it may be put into a form in which it will be more readily understood by those who have to interpret it.
There is one other matter to which I should like to refer. The Bill provides no appeal from the rent assessment committees. In my experience every tribunal works better if there is an appeal 579 from its decisions. Only your Lordships' House and the most humble and modest tribunals are free from the operation of appeal tribunals. I am quite sure that these rent assessment committees will do their work much better if they know that their decisions will be subject to appeal. It may well be that provisions relating to appeals from these committees have been omitted from the Bill because it is possible, under the Tribunals and Inquiries Act 1958, to extend the provisions of that Act to tribunals which are set up by legislation passed subsequently to the Act, as these tribunals will be. As I understand the Act of 1958, the Lord Chancellor in conjunction with the Secretary of State may direct that the Tribunals and Inquiries Act 1958 should apply to the decisions of the rent assessment committees. In that way there will be an effective appeal on a question of law to the tribunals set up under the Act of 1958. I hope that we may have some assurance from the Government that this matter will be considered and that the Act of 1958 will be applied to this Bill at an early stage.
If I may indulge in reminiscence again for one moment, I remember when the Act of 1920 came out how difficult it was to give anybody any positive advice. Indeed, when the Court of Appeal began to receive the appeals and to appreciate the circumstances in which they came to them—because most of the persons engaged in this litigation are not in a position to go to the Court of Appeal and there were no legal aid provisions in those days—and realised the importance of clarifying this legislation, they in a short time succeeded in clearing up most of the outstanding obscurities in the Act of 1920. It has always seemed to me that the Court of Appeal of those days did not receive the credit which they deserved for the manner in which they took this legislation in hand and made something workable and understandable out of an obscure and difficult piece of legislation. I hope that to-night we may have an assurance that this matter of appeal has not been overlooked and that it is intended to apply to the rent assessment committee under this Bill the provisions of the Tribunals and Inquiries Act 1958.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, we did, of course, give this Bill a Second Reading, but on that occasion we pointed out that it was good only in parts. I had the impression on Second Reading that the Government spokesman thought the Bill was so good that it would be very difficult to improve upon it at all, but in fact we discussed 84 Amendments during the Committee stage and 32 more on the Report stage. More than 40 of those were the Government's own Amendments, so it is clear that this House had a task to perform, and that we performed it well. Of the other Amendments, nearly 70, which were put down by the official Opposition, I regret to say that, to the best of my memory, only one was willingly agreed to by the noble Lords opposite, and that another four or five we have had to pass against the wishes of the Government.
The noble Lord was kind enough to refer to our constructive attitude but, apparently, he did not think it was all that constructive when it came to the vote. I am reminded of the London Government Bill, of which both my noble friend Lord Newton and I were leading protagonists on the Government side. On that occasion, of 80 Amendments of real substance which were passed during the Committee stage, and of many more consequential ones, no fewer than 30 were put forward by the Opposition, the Labour Party, and were accepted by us.
§ LORD HASTINGS
When we compare our attitude towards their Amendments I find that this reflects little credit on the Government's attitude during the passage of this Bill. I am afraid that perhaps their intelligence was not quite up to the enlightenment shown by us when the positions were reversed.
The noble Lord referred to the fact that we had mentioned that this is a courageous Bill. Of course we did; but only in two respects, one of which he mentioned: that the controlled statutory rents will eventually become regulated ones, and the rents will go up. The second, of course, was because the Bill 581 did not propose the repeal of the 1957 Rent Act to the extent which the electorate had been led to believe. In those respects only is it a courageous Bill. But, that said, of course there is a lot of good in it. We have said that before, and we say it again. There are still many things in it that we do not like, and we do not know how this Bill will work, but we hope that it will work well.
We are grateful to the noble Lord for giving us information about the progress already being made. I am not quite sure about the propriety of taking these anticipatory steps before the Bill becomes law, because I remember, again in the case of the London Government Bill, being taken very heavily to task—I think by the late-lamented Lord Morrison of Lambeth, and possibly by others—because our Government dared to prepare the tremendous changes which had to take place in the government of London before the Bill actually became law. But, again, being efficient and enlightened, of course we entirely applaud the action that the present Government have taken on this occasion.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I think that if this suggestion went into circulation without correction it might do some harm. If the noble Lord will look at HANSARD, he will find that I did not mention, in effect, anything of substance that had already been done. What was referred to was by way of preparation; for example, the number of gentlemen who were going to serve, the number of applications which had been received, and the number of informal consultations to be followed by statutory ones. That kind of thing, I should have thought, was permissible, correct and in the present circumstances required, and I earnestly hope that the Opposition, having urged us to get on with the Bill just as quickly as we could, are not now going to say "Not quite so fast."
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, I was not saying anything of the sort. I was pointing out to the noble Lord only that those were the sort of measures we took with regard to the London Government Bill, and that the attitude on this occasion is somewhat different. Of course, on Second Reading the noble Lord said that this is not a Bill to provide more houses, and that is quite true. Unfortunately, it is 582 not a Bill, either, to provide more houses for rent and that is much more important. As my noble friend Lord Newton said on Second Reading, this Bill is unfortunately going to have the effect of making fewer houses available for rent in the private field, but we understand, of course, that this is the Government's wish and that they do not believe that the private landlord has a part to play in the future. It is interesting that there are two members of the Milner Holland Committee on the Kent Assessment Panel, for that Committee thought that the private landlord had a great part to play, if we were going to solve the problem in London at all. But be that as it may—
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again, but he really must not say I said that. I never said anything of the sort. I have never suggested that the private landlord had no part to play.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, I hope I did not say that the noble Lord had himself said that. I was referring to the Government, and I think we shall find on reference back that that sort of thing has been said or indicated by the noble Lord's right honourable friend. However, we must not make too much of that. The fact is that the Government believe that the problem of rentable housing is to be solved by the local authorities. Of course, we are expecting to hear about that in the future, and it will affect the whole field of subsidies. I am just pointing out that this Bill does not really help the provision of houses for rent, and in the private landlord field it will, I am afraid, prove a handicap.
With that said, I should again like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, and the noble Lord, Lord Champion, also, for dealing so thoroughly, though sometimes unwillingly, with our large number of Amendments, and of course for their courtesy. My noble friend Lord Ilford has pointed out the great obscurity of the Bill, and I remember that both noble Lords on one occasion at least, having given one interpretation of a clause, found that they were wrong. Therefore, human fallibility being what it is, we cannot expect too much, even of the Labour Government. But I thank the noble Lords for their courtesy. I am only too glad to admit that the 583 noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, who has taken on the greater burden of this task, has been courteous and a worthy battle foe. I detected a slight disappointment in him this afternoon when, shortly before we came into this Chamber, he told me that he had been reading a book on the Vikings and he felt quite sure, partly, I think, as a result of my behaviour during the passage of this Bill, that I must be the direct descendant of one of the more ferocious of the Vikings named Hasting. Unfortunately, that is not so, but I am glad to know that the noble Lord considered that I also was a worthy opponent. That said, we shall be relatively glad, though not entirely happy, to allow this Bill to pass.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, may I just reply to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, about the Law Commission? The noble Lord will remember that under the Law Commissions Act the Law Commission has to prepare its programme, it is then for the Minister—in the case of the main Commission the Lord Chancellor—to approve the programme, and the programme has then to be laid before Parliament. I shall not, I hope, be disclosing anything I should not if I say that both Law Commissions have already produced their programme, and I have already approved the programme for the main Law Commission. Not being either a Statutory Instrument or a Command Paper, it could not be laid before Parliament when Parliament was not sitting, but if the noble Lord will wait for 48 hours I think he will find that his question is answered. It would not, of course, be proper for me to say which way it will be answered, but I think he will find that it is answered, and I hope to his satisfaction.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for that informa- 584 tion. I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord could give me some assurance about the other matter, the intention of applying the Act of 1958.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, may I be allowed, in mercy, to look at the point in Hansard, and to write to the noble Lord about it? I do not remember it with sufficient accuracy, I am ashamed to admit. The noble Lord's speech was such an exciting one that I forgot parts of it; but I will write to him on the point.
§ On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.