(1) An increase in the rent of a dwelling-house to which the principal Act applies payable in respect of the extended period of any part thereof which, by virtue of the principal Act, would be irrecoverable shall be recoverable if the amount of the increase does not exceed ten per cent. of the standard rent:
Provided that no such increase shall be due and recoverable until the expiry of four clear weeks after the landlord has served upon the tenant a notice in writing of his intention to increase the rent.
(2) The increase of rent permitted by this Section shall be in addition to any increase permitted by Section one of the principal Act.
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the words "by virtue of the principal Act would be irrecoverable," and to insert instead thereof the words "would but for the principal Act be recoverable."
My hon. Friend followed the ordinary procedure, and the Amendment was handed in while the Chairman of Ways and Means was occupying the Chair. I do not know how the matter can be dealt with now. Perhaps under the amended procedure with regard to the Report stage it would be permissible to move it at that time?
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the word "ten," and to insert instead thereof the word "five."
I think that the speeches delivered on a previous Amendment would apply with regard to this. I think that with 5 per cent. the landlords would have got as much as they were entitled to, because according to the principal Act, they are allowed to put on the extra rates, with the result that in many districts the rent have already been advanced to a very considerable extent. In West Ham in the Division I represent, in consequence of the rates being advanced by 2s. 9d. in the pound, the landlords have been enabled to put those extra rates upon the rent, which has been the means of advancing the rent by 9d. per week. If you take the adjacent borough of East Ham the same thing applies, that in consequence of the rates jumping up the landlords have been in a position to advance the rents something like 11½d. a week. Therefore, to agree to give the landlords this power which the Bill proposes, to advance the rent another 10 per cent., seems to me to inflict many hardships upon the wage-earners of this country. It means, in a word, that when this power is given to the landlords a person paying a rent of 10s. a week will have to pay another 1s. a week, and in my humble judgment that is a good deal more than the landlords are entitled to. I do not think the small property owners have very much to complain about, and I should say that in hundreds of cases the landlords are getting at least 10 per cent. on their turnover. If you take into consideration the amount of money they give for a house and the rent they receive at the present time, there is no doubt that in many cases they receive at least 10 per cent. on the capital they have invested. I am firmly convinced that if you were to canvass the majority of the people in every division throughout the length and breadth of the country you would find them up against you in proposing to give the landlords the power which this Bill gives them.
The difficulty that one has in dealing with an Amendment of this sort is that there is really no sort of principle to guide one. There is no reason why there should be any particular limit as to time in this Bill or as to the amount of rent which may or may not be put on, and I do not know whether to support the Amendment or not. It is all a question of what is reasonable under the circumstances, and I doubt very much whether anybody in this House has a sufficiently general knowledge of the conditions of the property all over the country to say that 10 per cent. or 5 per cent. is the more reasonable figure. I think we are in a real and genuine difficulty. I have not the slightest desire to support any proposal which enables profiteering to go on by landlords or any other class at the expense of the sort of people who are concerned in these houses, but I do not know whether profiteering of that sort is involved or not. So far as my knowledge of this kind of property goes, which I grant is not very extensive, the people who own it are, I should say, on the whole less wealthy than their tenants. There are high wages being earned at the present time, and a great number of these tenants are really in receipt of a larger income than the owner of the houses. I know a number of cases where that is so. How far that is at all general I am not in a position to say, but I know enough to know that we are not dealing here with a large and wealthy class of people. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir T. Whittaker) told us on the Second Heading of the Bill that in general the owners of this kind of property were people of very small means, and if that is so I do not think my hon. and gallant Friend opposite (Colonel Thorne) is in a position to say that a possible increase of 10 per cent. is more than would enable that class of property owners to do their duty by the property in the way of repairs. I am convinced that, so far as building by private enterprise is concerned, there will be no building as long as this Bill is in operation. You may expect building to begin as soon as this Act expires and no sooner. But meanwhile, of course, there may be some repairing done. Will an increase of 10 per cent., having regard to the increased cost of labour and materials, be more than will enable the owners to keep these houses in repair? I do not know, but so far as I am concerned I think it is only right that the houses should be kept in proper repair, and if my hon. and gallant Friend opposite were inclined to allow the 10 per cent. to remain as a possible increase of rent, I should be tempted to support him in the next Amendment, in which he proposes that that increase shall only be allowed when some competent authority is satisfied that the house is kept in proper repair.
I am in some difficulty in regard to this matter, because I have put a manuscript Amendment on the Paper in which I really expected the support of the President of the Board of Education after the speech to which he has treated the House this afternoon. I am glad to see that he has returned to the House, and I hope that on this Amendment he will give the House some of that correspondence which he refrained from giving when speaking on the last Amendment. My Amendment, unlike that of the hon. and gallant Member opposite, was that the figure of 10 per cent. should be erased and the figure 20 inserted in its place. So far, the whole of the Amendments that have been moved have been moved in the interests, or as I think in the supposed and mistaken interests, of the tenants of small houses, and I think far too little has been said of the poor owners of small house property. My contention is that as a matter of fact the interests of owners and tenants on this question, so far from being, as most people have been representing, antagonistic, are very much more often identical. I strongly oppose the Amendment before the Committee, and I hope the Govern will at least adhere to the figure they put in the Bill if they are not prepared to increase it. It is notorious that no class in the whole community has suffered greater financial disadvantage during the last four and a half years than the good landlords of small house property, landlords, that is to say, who have tried under very difficult circumstances to keep their property in good repair. On this question I speak from very long and close practical experience as trustee of an estate which contains a large amount of property of this kind. I know that on that estate and on many others with which I am acquainted every effort has been made to keep abreast of necessary repairs during the last four and a half years, but it is of course the case that repairs not immediately necessary have been postponed. These houses are for the most part occupied by very well paid wage-earners, who have done far better than the small owners of these properties during the last few years, and they have not only done well in wages but they have done exceedingly well by the sub-letting of the rooms in the houses for which the rents were fixed. There is no Member of this House who is not aware that in a very large number of cases—I think this is particularly true of some of the towns in or just outside the Metropolitan area—single rooms have been let at rents far in excess of the total rent received by the landlord. My hon. and gallant Friend opposite wants the 10 per cent. increase reduced to5. But I say that the original offer of a 10 per cent. increase is inadequate for the purpose. I do not deny the difficulties in which the Government find themselves, and I do not deny the existence of bad landlords any more than of bad people in any other class. But I do say that the profiteering landlords are, in relation to the whole, relatively very few indeed. I say that this small class have had less chance of gratifying their profiteering greed than any other greedy class in the community during the last four or five years, and finally I say that by general admission the Rent Restriction Act has very unjustly penalised the class of small owners of small property which has on the whole deserved extremely well of the community. That class is mostly very thrifty. Up to ten years ago small house property was a very favourite investment with the working classes and with the lower middle-class investor, but in the last nine or ten years it has been just as unpopular as it was previously popular. In many districts the houses have been quite unsaleable, and the unpopularity of this class of property is the real source of the difficulty in which we find ourselves involved to-day; and it ought to be part of the Government's policy to try and restore confidence. I do not like the Bill in its original form, but I like it much less in the form in which the Amendment proposes to put it.
I hope this Amendment will not be persisted in. My hon. and gallant Friend seeks to substitute for10 per cent. as the maximum of increase 5 per cent. The only reason that he adduced for the change was that under the existing Act where there is an increase of rates payable by the landlord that is not to be treated as extra rent payable by the tenant. But that is already provided by the existing Act, and if this Bill were to effect no more than that it would not be making any additional provision for the landlord at all. The question is, is there an additional provision to be made, and, if so, to what extent? I listened with care to my hon. and gallant Friend to see what reasons he would adduce in favour of 5 per cent., but there was none. So far as his argument went, it would have been just as much open to him to say 2½ per cent. if the Bill had proposed 5 per cent., as to say 5 per cent. when the Bill proposes 10 per cent. The figure 10 per cent. was not arrived at at random. There were those who suggested that, in view of the rise in prices, the maximum increase ought to be much more than 10 percent. The figure of 10 per cent. was a compromise. It was a figure arrived at after the most careful consideration and is no random figure, and if it is to be displaced one would expect it to be displaced by careful argument and the presentation of facts. I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend appreciates this fact. It is very easy for those who look at this matter from the point of view of the tenant alone to insist upon a small increase, or upon none. It is very easy, too, for those who look at this matter from the point of view of the landlord, to insist upon his hardship, and ask for a larger increase. This Bill holds an even balance between the two, and makes in the circumstances a reasonable and not too large a concession. My submission is that the figure 10 per cent. hits that medium, and hits it, not by a guess, but as a result of the careful deliberation of persons competent in this matter. I hope, in these circumstances, my hon. and gallant Friend will not persist in this Amendment.
In addressing the House for the first time, I am doing so as one who lives in one of the poorest districts of East London where the housing problem is of a very intense character. As regards 70 per cent. of the houses in the district, the landlords ought to be sent to penal servitude for daring to call for the rent. Yet in the last four and a half years we have been regularly called upon on Monday mornings for the usual weekly rent. When we have asked for repairs to be done, we have been told it is impossible, because of the shortage of labour to do the necessary repair work, but we have never yet been told of the shortage of rent collectors. They came round regularly every Monday morning, come rain, snow or shine. In addition, in most working class districts, as hon. and right hon. Gentlemen know, in consequence of circumstances arising out of the War, houses have been let better than ever before. I happen to be a member of a local authority, in addition to being a newly-elected Member of this House, and in our district the landlords admit that, practically speaking, arrears of rent have been unknown during the War period. Has not that fact to be taken into consideration when you are talking about the risks which the landlords run? In most industrial centres there has been, through unemployment and bad conditions of trade, a fair proportion of working-class tenants who have not been paying their rents regularly, but when employment has been good and wages coming in regularly, the landlords have not had that difficulty. Is not that percentage of risk to be taken into consideration when you talk of the disadvantages which the landlords suffer in consequence of the existing arrangement? What is the value of repairs under ordinary circumstances? Could we put it at 10 per cent? The hon. Gentleman opposite said that 10 per cent. would not cover repairs. If that is true, then for four and a-half years landlords have been drawing from their tenants more than 10 per cent. because they have been doing no repairs.
I venture to suggest that if you are going to talk about the disadvantages which landlords suffer, you must take into consideration how much increased death rate has been brought about from the fact that we could not get repairs done in our houses. We have lost in a great many cases a lot more than has been gained through rent being stabilised. I live in a house where, in order to get your trousers on, you have to open the window of a morning—one of those brick boxes with slate lids that have been recognised all the way through as the bugbear of every housing reform. They are built in rows, because they cannot be trusted to stand separately. Yet the only people we are to consider are those making fortunes out of the houses 'of the common people! I am not going to suggest any motives, but certain hon. Members have spoken of the woes of the property owner, and talked of the poor property owner, and trotted out in support of their case the widow and the orphan who have invested in house property. But they do not mention the big insurance companies or the other big landlords who own hundreds and hundreds of houses in areas, and use them to the fullest possible extent in order to exploit the fullest profit out off the people. I say, with all due respect to hon. and right hon. Members in this House, that in the majority of working-class districts, particularly in East London, it is absolutely unfair to impose on the people any increase of rent at all. The houses are not in a condition to justify any increase of rent, and the majority of landlords would be hard driven to prove the necessity for taking the rent they now take. Consequently, we have compromised, so far as the Labour party is concerned, with the proposals of the Government and the proposition now before the House. We venture to suggest that 5 per cent. meets the situation well when you take into con- sideration all the facts, including the regular payment of rent during the past four and a half years, and we hope that if work can be stabilised and employment made more plentiful that condition will continue. But, on the other hand, we want you to take into consideration the fact also that in nearly every district, particularly in the district from which I come, the landlords are allowed to compound for the rates, which means that they are paid a commission by the local authority for acting as rate collectors as well as rent collectors. That means that they are getting a premium from the local authority, and during four and a half years they have averaged 7½per cent. in our district as commission for collecting rates. I protest against any increase, but I am prepared to accept the compromise, and we say that, so far as we are concerned, 5 per cent. is full compensation for all the risks, these people run.
I think the Committee ought to consider this Amendment purely on a financial basis. Ten per cent. is either enough, or not enough, or too much. What is the ground for saying it is too much? Before the War the recognised cost of keeping property in repair was one-sixth of the annual rental value. Take a house worth £26 a year. Now one-sixth of £26 is £4 6s. 8d. That was the amount which was considered by valuers, builders, owners of property, and all Income Tax surveyors, as the proper average amount spent in keeping property in repair.
I am not able to tell the hon. and gallant Member that. It differs in different places. I am now saying that on a £26 house it would cost the landlord £4 6s. 8d. to keep it in proper repair, according to the best opinion available. It is admitted by everyone throughout the country that the cost of repairs has more than doubled. That being so, in order that this £26 house shall be repaired as it ought to be, it will cost not £4 6s. 8d., but £8 13s. Now, the proposal to allow the landlord to increase the rent by 10 per cent means that the landlord will be able to get £2 12s. more in rent, whilst admittedly he has got to spend at least an extra £4 6s. 8d. in repairs. Those are facts which I am quite certain no person in the building trade, apart altogether from landlord or tenant, would dispute; and, that being so, is it not reasonable that landlords should at least have paid back to them the amount to be spent in repairs? It is quite true, as the last hon. Member said, that a great many repairs have not been done. That means that the landlord will probably have to spend a great deal more in the future, and at double the price it would have cost him a few years ago. The learned Attorney-General calls this a compromise. I do not see anything of a compromise about it. It is the amount fixed upon as an amount which will secure most favour from hon. Members opposite, and, with all the facts and figures before us, to ask for that 10 per cent. to be reduced is unreasonable, and something which no facts and no figures can be brought forward to support.
I should not have intervened in this Debate had it not been for the learned Attorney-General suggesting that 10 per cent. was a compromise. The Hunter Report found as follows:
Owners should be entitled to increase their rent, at the end of six months after the termination of the War, by an amount not exceeding 10 per cent. of the rents, exclusive of rates. At the expiration of another twelve months they should be entitled to increase their rents further by an amount not exceeding 15per cent. of the present rents, exclusive of rates.
It is not a compromise, but it is the lowest amount which they suggested should be increased six months after the War. The owner will be in a much worse position than is recommended by that Committee which specially sat upon this question. I at once say that 10 per cent. is a reasonable amount. It is a compromise, and the very lowest figure you could possibly offer. If you do not allow a reasonable increase it will hit poor people. I have a most pathetic letter here from Stockport, in which we know the Labour Members are particularly interested. There are small persons there with a few cottages in which they have put the money they have saved. They have had a mortgage upon the property for forty years, and are not able to pay it all off. Now they say they cannot get anything out of the property at all, and living has gone up for them in the same way as for others. Therefore, I think that in adopting the 10 per cent. you are going to the lowest possible point that you can offer. I hope the Government will maintain that position.
If we are going to have Bills of this sort it seems desirable to consider as to whether the 10 per cent. is or is not a fair increase. I was very much struck by the speech of my hon. Friend who sits for the Thornbury Division who, for the first time in this Debate, explained the thing, and, similarly to my hon. Friend beside me, put the actual facts before the Committee. What he said seemed to me to be absolutely conclusive. Ten per cent. is not enough. What we really ought to do is to increase the rent by at least 20 per cent. I happened to look at the Report of the Committee on the Increase of Rent, etc., while the hon. Member was speaking. The Report says:
All the property-owners emphasised the great increase in cost of repairs (which was put at from 100 per cent. to 200 per cent. according to the district) and in management generally.…
Then the Report says:
Though repairs in many cases had not been done, this was often due to the scarcity of labour and materials, and these repairs would have to be done eventually, and would then cost more.
The hon. Gentleman opposite did not seem to realise that if you have repairs to do and allow them to go on without being done that you will have to do them some day or another, and in all probability you would have to do more than you would have done at the first. Anybody who has had any experience in the management of property will admit that fact. The Committee
admitted that the percentage of bad debts and 'empties' was very small, but they urged that nevertheless their net return was much less than in 1914.
The Committee then go on to give illustrations, and they continue:—
There was considerable variation as to exact figures, but the general effect of the evidence was that on the average repairs amounted, before the War, to approximately 20 per cent. of the rental (exclusive of rates) and that the cost of repairs at present might be taken to be considerably more than double the pre-war cost, and was likely to be approximately double for the next one or two years. Other costs of management were also higher. A rise of some 20 per cent. of net rental would be required to cover these additional outgoings.
The Committee also suggested that if there was an increase of mortgage interest there should be a further rise in the net rental of at least 15 per cent. to cover the increase. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, in saying that this was a compromise, I think, put his finger upon the spot, for in the Report of the Committee it was shown that what they recommended was 15 per cent., 10 per cent. to come into
operation at once and another 5 per cent. to come into operation at the end of six months—15 per cent. altogether. It is quite clear that 10 per cent. will not meet the cost of repairs or anything like it. I do not think that the majority of Members of this House want to make it so impossible for people to invest in houses as to favour legislation which will not only not put them in the position in which they were in 1914, but will put them in a very much worse position. Hon. Members opposite talk about the people in the districts not being willing to pay an increase of rent. What we have to consider is whether or not, if we are going to put restrictions of this sort into the Act, we are putting fair or unfair restrictions, and whether we are putting in restrictions which will prevent the very thing which hon. Members require, namely, an increase in the building of houses, and not to inquire whether or not you have an open window or whether repairs have or have not been done. No repairs have been done, because it was impossible to do them. Really, I was astonished, and cannot help saying it, that the people who have had such enormous increases in wages owing to the increased cost of living—and it will not be denied that the average working man has had an enormous increase—should begrudge paying a small portion of that increase to those who have had no increase at all in the income which they receive, and on which they have to live. It seems to me to be a most selfish proposal. I cannot understand it. I sincerely trust the Government will consider whether it would not be best to leave out the word "ten" and insert either "fifteen," according to the recommendation of the. Committee, or "twenty," which I think would be best, and according to the proposal of my hon. Friend.
I desire to say one word in support of the recommendation of the Government. I feel some difficulty in the matter, because I have a good deal of sympathy with what has been said by hon. Members opposite. I know houses in respect of which I can well understand the feeling of the people who say that they will pay no rent. On the other hand, I feel in some measure that there are many houses where this 10 per cent. extra is not sufficient. I myself think it is a reasonable compromise. But I want to say this: that in voting for the Government I only vote, bearing in mind the Amendment which is following afterwards in the name of the hon. Member for Wood Green, namely, that in respect of these houses a certificate should be furnished saying that they are in a proper and habitable condition. I want the Attorney-General to be able to help some of us who are disposed towards him in this way by indicating that he may see his way to accept that Amendment.
We have heard from the opposite benches that landlords have nothing of which to complain. I can only tell the House that I have in my letter bag every morning shoals of letters from my Constituents—and I may say for the information of the House letters bordering on Stockport, of which we heard a little while ago—complaining bitterly that the writers are not able to increase their rents even by 20 per cent. Instead of calling it a compromise, as has been suggested, some of my Constituents say that the suggested arrangement is an insult. I will say for the information of the House that one letter which I have received gives particulars of the bill which has been paid by the landlord in question for repairing a house. I do not know that this is what hon. Gentlemen call making a fortune out of house property. The house is let at 6s. 6d. weekly, and the bill for repairs paid within the last three weeks was £20.
I only desire to ask the Attorney-General to clear up one point before we go to a Division. This is a question which is giving a good deal of concern to people who write to Members, because the landlord at the present moment can compel the tenant to pay, in addition to his rent, a portion of the local rate. What I and others would like to know is if the House decides upon this percentage, does it also give the landlord the right to put on the 10 per cent., and, in addition, the increase in the rates of the district? It may seem a simple matter, but it is not quite so simple as it seems. Hon. Members have raised the question of repairs to house property. I have a letter in my hand which says:
For seventeen years I have lived in this house, and have paid 14s. per week. My landlord has never put a paintbrush or whitewash brush inside or outside the place for eleven years.
I only mention that because we have been told that the cost of repairs is so large that landlords cannot do up their houses. It would have been much wiser and better for them to have raised the cry if they had done the repairs than to have said they could not do them during the War.
I desire to support the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich. I do not think that any Member or party in this House would have any objection to sanction an increase of rent if they felt that that increase of rent bore some proportion to the real, actual reparirs executed. I am entirely with my hon. Friend (Sir A. Yeo) in regard to the case he has just mentioned, where no repairs have been done. But I have risen to endeavour to see if we cannot effect an agreement now between those who are pressing this Amendment and my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green, who will press his Amendment in a short while. I suggest to the Committee that what we are all anxious to secure is that any increased rent should be in return for value received. I would suggest we retain the 10 per cent., if, when the time comes, we support the Member for Wood Green in the Amendment that no increase of rent is permitted unless repairs are carried out. If we do this we shall be effecting a reasonable compromise which my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham might quite well see his way to agree to.
I desire to support the Amendment. In the county from which I come, Durham, and the mining area from which I come, if 5 per cent. is allowed it will be quite adequate, and more than many of the houses, considering all things, are worth. Many of the houses in existence in the mining areas in Durham have only been tolerated during the War owing to the great scarcity of labour and the impossibility of getting on with building. What we want there is no allowance for the householder to get on with repairs. What these houses require to-day is demolition. We know, however, that these houses cannot be demolished, because we cannot turn people out until other houses are built, and that will be some considerable time. In respect to some of the houses to which I refer, there should be no repairs, and those concerned should not have 5 per cent. They should be allowed nothing. Still, if they do get 5 per cent., it will be quite sufficient. I hope the Amendment will be carried. If it is not, and if the proposal is allowed to the property owners in the mining areas, it will cause no end of discontent and unrest amongst the miners, for they will not be prepared to pay the increased rent.
Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman replies, I should like to ask him to clear up a point which seems to have been overlooked. Under the Increase of Rates Act, 1892, if you put a, sum on a smaller house you increase the assessable value of the house, which immediately increases the amount of rate, and this has to be paid by the tenant. How does the present position stand in relation to that?
It would very much assist us in dealing with this question if the Government could tell us whether they have any intention of accepting the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Wood Green, which lays down that no increase should be allowed unless the house is put in a proper state of repair.
I will reply to the specific question asked me by my hon. Friend as to whether the proposal in this part of the Clause gives power to the landlord to pass on to the tenant any increase in the rates. This part of the Clause has nothing to do with the question of rates. If my hon. Friend will look at the principal Act, he will see that it is provided by Section 1, Sub-section (1), paragraph (iv.), as follows:
Where the landlord pays the rates chargeable on, or which but for the enactments relating to compounding would be chargeable on, the occupier of any dwelling-house, an increase of the rent of the dwelling-house shall not be deemed to be an increase for the purposes of this Act if the amount of the increase does not exceed any increase in the amount for the time being payable by the landlord in respect of such rates.
In other words, rates and rent are not to be mixed up, and if my hon. Friend will look at Sub-clause (2) of Clause 1 of the present Bill he will see that it is provided that the increase of rent permitted by this Section shall be in addition to any increase permitted by Section 1 of the principal Act. In other words, we are dealing
in this Clause with rent, and rent alone, and we are not dealing with rates, and that question stands precisely where it was left by the Act of 1915.
With regard to the second question, whether the Government propose to accept a particular Amendment providing some guarantee that in the case where the increased rent is permitted the dwelling house should be put in a proper state of repair, I do not think we can accept that Amendment, but I am prepared to consider, on Clause 6, whether or not we can usefully insert some provision to enable the County Courts to deal with the matter if it is alleged that the house is not in a proper state of repair. I do not, however, contemplate with equanimity the providing of some 6,000,000 certificates as to whether houses are in a proper state of repair or not; but this matter can be dealt with under Clause 6.
Is it not better to have 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 certificates from the local authorities saying that the houses are in a proper condition than to have 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 applications for the County Court?
I strongly support the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Wood Green, and I hope it will be accepted. I myself have great difficulty in voting unless I know that the 10 per cent. increase which is to be allowed is going to be spent in repairs for the houses. Surely this is a perfectly clear case. Like the hon. Member for Barnard Castle, I know the housing conditions in the county of Durham, and he knows them as well, and they are not good, to put it mildly. How can I justify going back to my Constituents having supported a 10 per cent. increase in the rent, when the repairs may not be done to the houses? I do not follow the suggestion made by the Attorney-General. I have read over Clause 6 again, and it does not seem to me to apply to the case at all. Surely the fair thing to do is to provide that unless the owner of a house can produce a certificate from the local authority that he has kept that house in proper repair he should not have the increase. This question of the increase of rent goes a long way, because the increase would be allowed to a landlord who let his house on a repairing lease and that would charge all the repairs to the tenant. It is a far-reaching power, and it can only be justified when we know that the houses have been put in a proper state of repair.
Like other hon. Members under similar circumstances, I ask the House to grant me some indulgence. I have been interested in this question of housing for many years, and I know the county of Durham well. We on these benches are quite sure that up to the present date the tenants in Durham County are being exploited quite enough. I know the case of some houses which were leased to a colliery company, that company being compelled to find houses. The rent paid was originally something like 1s. 10d. a week, and they had been given up as being unfit for the workmen to live in. Now instead of 1s. 10d. being charged a rental of 5s. is being paid. I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite if they are inclined to give landlords of this character any further increase in rent. As far as repairs are concerned nothing has boon done to these houses, and paint is unknown to them, and whatever has been done has been done by the tenants. I wish to say to my hon. Friend who called attention to the position of the middle-class man who requires a larger house, that the action of the landlords in my county has had the effect of preventing these people getting a house at all. Houses that were originally built for one tenant and let at 10s. per week have now been let out in tenements at a rent of 100 per cent increase.
It is on this account we on these benches have no sympathy with the landlord as we know him at the present time. We desire that at the very earliest opportunity the Government should take over the housing of the people, because in this respect private enterprise has miserably failed to house the people. I want to urge that this system should not be perpetuated by any increase in rents in the future. Enough rent is being paid now try these poor people. We know the type of houses referred to, consisting of one room which is not only the living room but also the washhouse and the scullery, and you have babies born where the clothes are being washed. For these houses of two rooms 5s. per week are being extracted from the poor people. I ask the Committee to consider well before rejecting the compromise which my hon and gallant Friend has suggested.
I only rise to say that if this question is one of putting more money into the landlord's pocket irrespective of his having spent more money on the houses, I am against it. I am not here to enable landlords to profiteer, and make up the extra cost of his living at the expense of the tenant. After the landlord has done the repairs and paid excessive charges, let that be the measure in some respect as to the increased rent he is entitled to receive. I think it would be monstrous for us at this moment to sanction any increase of rent except those that arise of necessity on account of the increased cost of commodities.
I heard with very great regret the answer of the Attorney-General to the effect that he could not accept the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Wood Green. Surely he must recognise that no one in this. House wants to penalise a good landlord. The whole of the criticisms which have been directed against the proposed increased of rent have been directed against those landlords who have not recognised their moral responsibility, and who have not done their duty by their tenants. This is an opportunity for the right hon. Gentleman to conciliate everybody if he will ensure that only those landlords who have done their duty shall receive this privilege of an increase in rent.
What was the answer the right hon. Gentleman gave? He said he could not contemplate with equanimity the issue of some millions of certificates. I want to suggest to him that he is exaggerating the difficulty. I have some knowledge of this matter and I may tell him that the thing is not so difficult as he imagines. In the first place, he is assuming that there will have to be a separate certificate for every house, but that is not the case. As a rule, landlords own a great many more than one house and sometimes they own a whole street of houses, and, probably, one certificate would be sufficient for the whole of those houses. The local authorities, or at any rate those of which I know anything about, have already a very intimate knowledge of the conditions of housing in their districts. It does not mean that you will have to send an inspector round to look at every house. They have records of the condition of the houses, and many of them are being inspected continually, and I do not think it would take very long in the great majority of cases to say whether or not a certificate should be granted. Finally, I want to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that it is six months from the passing of the Act when this increase of rent will come into operation, and whatever certificates are to be given by the local authorities, they can be spread over the whole of that time and will not in any way penalise the good landlord. I do urge him to reconsider this matter once again, because the suggestion which he has made will not at all meet the case of those who desire that every tenant should have the opportunity of having his house certified as being fit for his habitation if the tenant is obliged to go to the County Court.
I should like to reinforce the appeal of the last speaker. Both the Attorney-General and the President of the Board of Education, in dealing with previous questions whether a suggestion is practicable or not, have based themselves almost entirely upon the Report of the Hunter Committee. I will take that test as to whether the proposal of the Amendment can be accepted. The Amendment is taken practically in terms from the Hunter Committee's Report itself. It is quite true that the Hunter Committee proposed to allow the first 10 per cent. to be taken by the landlord without any certificate, but they recommended that before the additional 5 per cent. should be taken there should be supplied just such a certificate as now is suggested. I do, therefore, ask the right hon. Gentleman to accept this proposal as a thoroughly practicable thing, supported by both the majority and minority Reports of the Hunter Committee.
I cannot help thinking that there is some misapprehension as to the view of the Government in this matter. I am sure the Committee will see that it is at present engaged in discussing one matter with reference to another. The question at present before the Committee is whether the limit of the proposed increase shall be 10per cent. or 5 per cent., and before the Committee votes hon. Members desire some assurance as to the attitude of the Government upon a topic that must arise later. I do not think that there is any real difference of substance between us. The difference is one simply of method. It will be conceded that there is no desire to penalise the good landlord, and I am sure it will be also conceded that there is no desire
to protect the bad landlord. Nor is there any desire that the landlord under the false pretext of making repairs should be permitted to put upon his tenant an increase of rent in respect of repairs which in fact are not made. The question is one purely of method. The challenge that was offered to the Government was that it should accept a particular Amendment which makes it a condition precedent of every increase, whether the landlord be good or bad, that, in the words of the Amendment, a certificate should have been procured from the local authority
to the effect that the house in respect of which the increase in rent is made is at the time of the certificate in a condition in all respects reasonably fit for human habitation.
In other words, that certificate is to be obtained in every case, whether it is needed or not. It is to be a condition precedent, and apparently a certificate will have to be obtained before the increase can be made, whether the repairs fall upon the landlord or upon the tenant. If an increase in the rental of the houses under the Act is going to be made on anything like the scale suggested by some hon. Members, then the Act will certainly apply to some houses where the cost of the repairs does not fall upon the landlord. Let us see what is the difference between us. The difference is as to the best mode in which it may be secured that a landlord shall not increase the rent of a house which ought not to be certified as fit for human habitation. That is our desire. Our desire is to prevent any such result as that, but I am advised that the particular method which is proposed is cumbrous and impracticable. We have had an interesting speech as to what the local authorities would do. I am told that it is not to be thought that local authorities would willingly embrace the burden of giving a certificate of the kind which is asked in every case. However that may be, I am perfectly willing to consider the particular method. We are agreed upon the end which is in view, namely, that an increase in rent is not to be made on the pretext of paying for repairs if in fact they are not carried out by the landlord. I think, with that assurance which I will endeavour to fulfil if not during the Committee stage, at any rate on the Report stage, enough has been said upon the question whether this should be 10 per cent. or 5 per cent.
|Division No. 13.]||AYES.||[6.53 p.m.|
|Adkins, Sir W. Ryland D.||Duncannon, Viscount||Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ. Wales)|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Du Pre, Colonel W. B.||Lindsay, William Arthur|
|Ainsworth, Captain C.||Edwards, A. Clement (East Ham, S.)||Lister, Sir R. Ashton|
|Archdale, Edward M.||Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon)||Lloyd, George Butler|
|Atkey, A. R.||Elliot, Capt. W. E. (Lanark)||Locker-Lampson G. (Wood Green)|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Eyres-Monsell, Com.||Lorden, John William|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Falcon, Captain M.||Lort-Williams, J.|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir F. G.||Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfray||Loseby, Captain C. E.|
|Banner, Sir J. S. Harmood-||Farquharson, Major A. C.||Lowther, Major C. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Barlow, Sir Montague (Salford, S.)||Fell, Sir Arthur||Lowther, Col. C. (Lonsdale, Lancs.)|
|Barnes, Major H. (Newcastle, E.)||Fisher, Rt. Hon. Herbert A. L.||Lyle, C. E. Leonard (Stratford)|
|Barnett, Captain Richard W.||FitzRoy, Capt. Hon. Edward A.||Lyle-Samuel, A. (Eye, E. Suffolk)|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue||Lyon, L.|
|Barrie, C. C.||Foreman, H.||M'Callum, Sir John M.|
|Beckett, Hon. Gervase||Forestier-Walker, L.||M'Curdy, Charles Albert|
|Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)||Foxcroft, Captain C.||M'Donald, Dr. B. F. P. (Wallasey)|
|Bellalrs, Com. Carlyon W.||France, Gerald Ashburner||Mackinder, Halford J.|
|Benn, Sir Arthur S. (Plymouth)||Fraser, Major Sir Keith||M'Laren, R. (Lanark, N.)|
|Benn, Com. Ian Hamilton (G'nwich)||Gange, E. S.||M'Lean, Lt.-Col. C. W. W. (Brigg)|
|Betterton, H. B.||Gardiner, J. (Perth)||Macleod, John Mzckintosh|
|Birchall, Major J. D.||Gardner, E. (Berks., Windsor)||Macmaster, Donald|
|Bird, Alfred||Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||McMicking, Major Gilbert|
|Blades, Sir George R.||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. John||McNeill, Ronald (Canterbury)|
|Blair, Major Reginald||Glyn, Major R.||Maddocks, Henry|
|Blake, Sir Francis Douglas||Gould, J. C.||Magnus, Sir Philip|
|Boles, Lieut.-Col. D. F.||Gray, Major E.||Malone, Major P. (Tottenham, S.)|
|Borwick, Major G. O.||Grayson, Lieut.-Col.H. M.||Marks, Sir George Croydon|
|Boscawen, Sir Arthur Griffith-||Greame, Major P. Lloyd||Marriott, John Arthur R.|
|Bowles, Col. H. F.||Green, A. (Derby)||Mason, Robert|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Green, J. F. (Leicester)||Meysey-Thompson, Lt.-Col. E. C.|
|Brackenbury, Col. H. L.||Gregory, Holman||Middlebrook, Sir William|
|Breese, Major C. E.||Greig, Col. James William||Mildmay, Col. Rt. Hon. Francis B.|
|Briggs, Harold||Gretton, Col. John||Mitchell, William Lane-|
|Britton, G. B.||Griggs, Sir Peter||Moles, Thomas|
|Brotherton, Col. Sir E. A.||Guinness, Capt. Hon. R. (Southend)||Molson, Major John Elsdale|
|Brown, Captain D. C. (Hexham)||Hacking, Captain D. H.||Moore, Maj.-Gen. Sir Newton J.|
|Bruton, Sir J.||Hallwood, A.||Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. C. T.|
|Buchanan, Lieut.-Col. A. L. H.||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir Fred (Dulwich)||Moreing, Captain Algernon H.|
|Buckley, Lt.-Col. A.||Hallas, E.||Morrison, H. (Salisbury)|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Hambro, Angus Valdemar||Mount, William Arthur|
|Burn, Col. C. R. (Torquay)||Hamilton, Major C. G. C. (Altrincham)||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert|
|Butcher, Sir J. G.||Hanson, Charles Augustin||Murchison, C. K.|
|Campbell, J. G. D.||Harris, Sir H. P. (Paddington, S.)||Murray, Lt.-Col. Hon. A. C. (Aberdeen)|
|Carew, Charles R. S. (Tiverton)||Henderson, Major V. L.||Murray, Major C. D. (Edinburgh, S.)|
|Carr, W. T.||Henry, Sir Charles S. (Salop)||Murray, William (Dumfries)|
|Carter, R. A. D. (Manchester)||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford)||Neal, Arthur|
|Cayzer, Major H. R.||Hewart, Right Hon. Sir Gorden||Nelson, R. F. W. R.|
|Chamberlain, N. (Birm., Ladywood)||Hills, Major J. W. (Durham)||Newman, Major J. (Finchley, Mddx.)|
|Child, Brig.-Gen. Sir Hill||Hohler, Gerald Fitzroy||Newton, Major Harry Kottingham|
|Clay, Capt. H. H. Spender||Hood, Joseph||Nicholson, W. (Petorsfield)|
|Clyde, James Avon||Hope, Harry (Stirling)||Nield, Sir Herbert|
|Coates, Major Sir Edward F.||Hope, John Deans (Berwick)||Norris, Colonel Sir Henry G.|
|Coats, Sir Stuart||Hopkins, J. W. W.||Ormsby-Gere, Hon, William|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Hopkinson, Austin (Mossley)||Palmer, Brig.-Gen. G. (Westbury)|
|Cockerill, Brig.-Gen. G. K.||Horne, Edgar (Guildford)||Parker, James|
|Colfox, Major W. P.||Hughes, Spencer Leigh||Parkinson, Albert L. (Blackpool)|
|Colvin, Brig.-Gen. R. B.||Hunter, Gen. Sir A. (Lancaster)||Pearce, Sir William|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Hurd, P. A.||Peel, Lt.-Col. R. F. (Woodbridge).|
|Cooper, Sir Richard Ashmole||Hurst, Major G. S.||Pennefather, De Fonblanque|
|Coote, Colin R. (Isle of Ely)||Jackson, Lieut.-Col. Hon. F. S. (York)||Perkins, Walter Frank|
|Coote, W. (Tyrone, S.)||Jameson, Major J. G.||Perring, William George|
|Cope, Major W. (Glamorgan)||Jephcott, A. R.||Pickering, Col. Emil W.|
|Cory, J. H. (Cardiff)||Jesson, C.||Pilditch, Sir Philip|
|Courthope, Major George Loyd||Jodrell, N. P.||Pinkham, Lieut.-Col. Charles|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Univ.)||Johnson, L. S.||Pollock, Sir Ernest Murray|
|Cozens-Hardy, Hon. W. H.||Johnstone, J.||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Assheton|
|Craik, Rt Hon. Sir Henry||Jones, Sir Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Pratt, John William|
|Croft, Brig.-Gen. Henry Page||Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Preston, W. R.|
|Curzon, Commander Viscount||Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen)||Pulley, Charles Thornton|
|Davidson, Major-General J. H.||Jones, Wm. Kennedy (Hornsey)||Purchase, H. G.|
|Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln)||Kerr-Smiley, Major P.||Ramsden, G. T.|
|Davies, Sir Joseph (Crewe)||Kidd, James||Randles, Sir John Scurrah|
|Davies, T. (Cirencester)||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Raw, Lt.-Col. Dr. N.|
|Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)||Knight, Capt. E. A.||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel|
|Denison-Pender, John C.||Knights, Capt. H.||Reid, D. D.|
|Dennis, J. W.||Lambert, Rt. Hon. George||Remer, J. B.|
|Denniss, E. R Bartley (Oldham)||Lane-Fox, Major G. R.||Remnant, Col. Sir J. Farquharson|
|Dewhurst, Lieut.-Com. H.||Law, A. J. (Rochdale)||Rendall, Athelstan|
|Dockrell, Sir M.||Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Glasgow)||Roberts, Sir S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)|
|Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)||Sugden, Lieut. W. H.||Williams, Lt.-Com. C. (Tavistock)|
|Rodger, A. K.||Surtees, Brig.-Gen. H. C.||Williams, Col. Sir R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Rogers, Sir Hallewell||Talbot, G. A. (Hemel Hempstead)||Williamson, Rt. Hon. Sir Archibald|
|Roundell, Lt.-Col. R. F.||Taylor, J. (Dumbarton)||Willoughby, Lt.-Col. Hon. Claud|
|Rutherford, Col. Sir J. (Darwen)||Terrell, G. (Chippenham, Wilts.)||Wills, Lt.-Col. Sir Gilbert Alan H.|
|Samuel, A. M. (Farnham, Surrey)||Terrell, Capt. R. (Henley, Oxford)||Wilson, Daniel M. (Down, W.)|
|Samuel, S. (Wandsworth, Putney)||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, S.)||Wilson, J. H. (South Shields)|
|Samuels, Rt. Hon. A. W. (Dublin Univ.)||Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, W.)||Wilson-Fox, Henry|
|Sanders, Colonel Robert Arthur||Tickler, Thomas George||Winfrey, Sir Richard|
|Scott, Leslie (Liverpool, Exchange)||Townley, Maximillian G.||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone)||Tryon, Major George Clement||Wood, Major Hon. E. (Ripon)|
|Seager, Sir William||Turton, Edmund Russborough||Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, W.)|
|Shaw, Capt. W. T. (Fortar)||Waddington, R.||Woolcock, W. J. U.|
|Shortt, Rt. Hon. E.||Walton, J. (York, Don Valley)||Worsfold, T. Cato|
|Smith, Harold (Warrington)||Ward, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)||Yate, Col. Charles Edward|
|Sprot, Col. Sir Alexander||Warner, Sir T. Courtenay T.||Young, Sir F. W. (Swindon)|
|Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (Preston)||Watson, Captain John Bertrand||Young, William (Perth and Kinross)|
|Starkey, Capt. John Ralph||Weston, Col. John W.||Younger, Sir George|
|Steel, Major S. Strang||Wheler, Col. Granville C. H.|
|Stephenson, Col. H. K.||White, Col. G. D. (Southport)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Lord Edmund Talbot and Mr. Dudley Ward.|
|Stevens, Marshall||Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.|
|Stewart, Gershom||Wigan, Brig.-Gen. John Tyson|
|Strauss, Edward Anthony||Wild, Sir Ernest Edward|
|Sturrock, J. Leng-||Williams, A. (Consett, Durham)|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. William||Hancock, John George||Sitch, C. H.|
|Arnold, Sydney||Hayward, Major Evan||Smith, Capt. A. (Nelson and Colne)|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Hinds, John||Smith, W. (Wellingborough)|
|Brace, Rt. Hon. William||Hirst, G. H.||Smithers, Alfred W.|
|Bramsdon, Sir T.||Irving, Dan||Spencer, George A.|
|Briant, F.||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Spoor, B. G.|
|Brown, J. (Ayr and Bute)||Jones, J. (Silvertown)||Stanton, Charles Butt|
|Burn, T. H. (Belfast)||Kenyon, Barnet||Swan, J. E. C.|
|Cairns, John||Lunn, William||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)|
|Carter, W. (Mansfield)||Macdonald, Rt. Hon. J. M. (Stirling)||Thomas, Brig.-Gen. Sir O. (Anglesey)|
|Coote, Colin R. (Isle of Ely)||M'Guffin, Samuel||Thorne, Col. W. (Plaistow)|
|Crooks, Rt. Hon. William||M'Lean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Toctill, Robert|
|Davies, Alfred (Clitheroe)||Morgan, Major D. Watts||Waterson, A. E.|
|Donald, T.||Murray, Dr. D. (Western Isles)||Waterson, A. E.|
|Edwards, C. (Bedwellty)||Onlons, Alfred||Wedgwood, Col. Josiah C.|
|Edwards, J. H. (Glam., Neath)||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||White, Charles F. (Derby, W.)|
|Gilbert, James Daniel||Richardson, R. (Houghton)||Wignall, James|
|Glanville, Harold James||Roberts, F. O. (W. Bromwich)||Yeo, Sir Alfred William|
|Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Rose, Frank H.||Young, Robert (Newton, Lancs.)|
|Graham, W. (Edinburgh)||Rowlands, James|
|Griffiths, T. (Pontypool)||Royce, William Stapleton||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr. T. Wilson and Mr. T Griffiths.|
|Grundy, T. W.||Shaw, Tom (Preston)|
|Hall, F. (Yorks, Normanton)||Short, A. (Wednesbury)|
Question put, and agreed to.
Mr. T. WILSON:
I bog to move, at the end of Sub-section (1), to insert the words,
exclusive of any amount paid by the tenant in increased rates.
I am moving this with the object of getting it made quite clear by the Government what their intentions are with regard to the increase of 10 per cent. The learned Attorney-General was not quite clear in his explanation of what the original Act said. He suggested that the 10 per cent. increase allowed would be an increase on the rates as well as on the net rent. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]
I want to make it quite clear, if this Bill becomes an Act, that this increase of 10 per cent. can only be levied on net rent. In a very large number of Lancashire towns the rates are compounded. Six shillings a week is paid in rent, and that includes the rates as well as the rent. The rates would amount to 1s. a week, and that sum would be included in the 6s. Unless it is made quite clear in this Act that the increase of 10 per cent. can only be levied on the 5s., and not on the 6s., it will lead to trouble and litigation. I would appeal to the Government to insert an Amendment to make it clear to the tenants of small houses that the 10 percent. increase can only be levied on the net rent, and that the old rates must be paid by the landlord before the increase of 10 per cent. can be levied on the tenant.
I thought, I was evidently wrong, that I had explained this matter with reference to a previous Amendment. Might I attempt to explain it again. If my hon. Friend will carry his
mind back to the Act of 1915, he will remember that in the Section which prohibited the raising of rent in certain cases there were provisos added. One was where the landlord was called upon to pay an increase of rates,
Where the landlord pays the rates chargeable on, or which, but for the enactments relating to compounding would be chargeable on the occupier.
By a later part of the Section it was provided that in such a case, where an increase of rent was due to an increase of rates, there should be notice given by the landlord to the tenant, with a statement, showing particulars of the increased rent charged in respect of rates on the dwelling-house. So far as this Bill is concerned, it leaves the question of rates exactly where it was left by the the principal Act, and makes no alteration one way or the other. It merely provides for an increase of rent to the extent of 10 per cent.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is not also dependent on the statutory meaning of the words "standard rent" in the Act of 1915, which also forbids any possible interpretation that it should include any more than the net amount of rent.
That is so. The words "standard rent" are expressly defined in Section 2 of the principal Act. If the Committee will allow me, I will read that definition. It is
The rent at which the dwelling-house was let on the third day of August, nineteen hundred and fourteen.
Then there is a provision, where the house was not let on that date, that it should be the rent on which it was last let before that date or, in the case where a house was first let after that date, that it should be the rent at which it was first let.
With regard to the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for West Ham, I do not think this is the correct form or place. I think the hon. and gallant Member will agree that the point he has got in mind is much better met by the Amendment next but one, standing in the name of the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. G. Locker-Lampson), who I propose to call on in a moment or two.
I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (1), to add the words,
of such dwelling-house up to and including the twenty-fourth day of December, nineteen hundred and nineteen, or does not exceed fifteen per centum of the standard rent up to and including the twenty-fifth day of March, nineteen hundred and twenty-one.
This Debate has shown us two or three things. It has shown that all landlords are not millionaires. It has shown us that repairs are going to cost at least twice what they cost before the War, and that it is evident that the Committee are going to insist that some sort of certificate must be given by the local authority to a landlord before he is allowed to get his 10 per cent. Also, we have done something more important, than that. We have extended this Bill for another year, and we have made it effective for two years instead of one year. That being the case, it will be perfectly evident to the Committee that the Government have brought in this Bill somewhat hastily, and that they are in somewhat of a tangle over it. Surely the best thing they can do is to stand by the Hunter Committee. We have the Committee, with its careful evidence of experts, and their recommendations, and it would surely be better for the Government to stand by those recommendations. The Attorney-General rather sheltered himself just now behind the Committee. He said he fixed on the 10 per cent. increase because it was recommended in the Hunter Report, But he forgot to say that that was only for the first year, and that the Hunter Committee recommended for the second year a further increase of 5 per
cent., making a total increase of 15 per cent. I think it would be much better to stand by what the Hunter Committee did recommend. We have beard a good deal from the Labour Benches of what Labour thinks about the increase of the rental. May I just quote the evidence which their own trade union officials gave before the Committee. It is on page 6 of the Report, as follows:
Some of the trade union officials examined realised the great increase in cost of repairs and the fairness of giving an increased rate of interest to mortgagees, and agreed that all such reasonable increase in outgoings should be borne by the rent, which should be increased accordingly. They were prepared to agree that probably a 1 per cent. increase in mortgage interest, and a 33 per cent. increase in rent, would be required if this were to be done. They thought, however, that a sudden and substantial increase in rent would mean serious discontent and industrial unrest, and that this increase might have to be made in two or more stages, but they considered that if the matter were properly put before them tenants would realise that with an all-round increase in the cost of everything else rent must also rise. They were emphatic, however, that while this increase in rent should be allowed to good landlords, no in crease whatever should be allowed to owners of houses which did not come up to a proper minimum standard of habitability, and in particular to owners of some houses which were only permitted to be inhabited because of the present famine of accommodation. The witnesses considered that the Act should be extended for a period which permitted increases in rent and mortgage interest.
That is the evidence given by certain trade unionists, and I do suggest that a case is made out for my proposal. My Amendment reads rather badly in view of the alteration made in the Bill earlier in the day, and I would suggest that it be allowed to read, instead of "the twenty-fourth day of December, 1920," "the twenty-fifth day of March, 1921." The right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Education told us he had had many letters from owners of property and builders. I also have had scores. Of course, 10 per cent. is practically nothing as compared with the amount which will be required for carrying out the needed repairs. If 10 per cent. is allowed for the first year and 15per cent. for the second it will give an average of 12½ per cent., and that perhaps may encourage the landlord to do some of the repairs which are necessary.
I desire to support the Amendment of my hon. and gallant Friend solely on the ground that the Government have increased the scope of the operation of this Act by an Amend- ment which was accepted to the first Clause. I think if that had been the original intention of the Government in preparing this measure they would have adopted the recommendations of the Hunter Committee, which were to the effect that the allowance of 10 per cent. for the first year should in the second year be increased 5 per cent. I have no doubt in my own mind that if the Government had intended at the outset to extend the operation of this Act they would have adopted this recommendation made by the Committee after a most exhaustive inquiry, and on that ground alone I support the Amendment.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to accept the Amendment. It seems to be only reasonable that if you extend the period for the operation of this Act you should also make an alteration in the amount granted to the landlord for repairs. It has been admitted that the fixture fixed upon for repairs is far below what the landlord would have to pay, and the evidence which has been given clearly shows that 10 per cent. of the rent is very much less than the normal cost of peace-time repairs, which is one-sixth of the rent. During the War period the cost of repairs has admittedly increased. It certainly has gone up 100 per cent. and more, which represents one-third instead of one-sixth of the rent. It therefore seems reasonable that if the right hon. Gentleman is going practically to take the income of the property out of the control of the landlord so far as the restriction of rent is concerned, he should give a little addition to the amount allowed for repairs. I am sure the amount we suggest is very much less than would be allowed if the case went before an arbitrator who was a qualified person to deal with such questions.
I cannot help thinking that this is really a dispute rather about words than about matters of substance. I do not think my hon. Friend was in the House at the time when the suggestion was made on which we consented to extend the date to May Day, 1921. My hon. Friend may remember the representations which were made to the Government on the matter were, in substance, that unless we made some such extension we were really not making any extension at all. Under the Act of 1915 it is provided that the measure shall con- tinue in operation during the continuance of the present War and for a period of six months thereafter. As my hon. Friend must be aware, the term "continuance of the present War" has been the subject of statutory enactment, and it means the date when certain formalities following upon the peace agreement have been concluded. When does my hon. Friend suppose that six months after the conclusion of these formalities will have arrived? It will certainly not be this year. The present Act is in operation at any rate until the end of this year. The recommendation of the Hunter Committee did, indeed, draw a distinction between the first year of the extended period and the second year of that period. The first year of the extended period will cover on that view of the matter at least the whole of the year 1920, and if there be any part of what would form a portion of the second year of the extended period it would-be that between Lady Day, 1920, and Lady Day, 1921. We are really contemplating now a period it may be of little more than a year—in substance a year. And when I say that the figure of 10 per cent. was a compromise, I have in mind, of course, what occurred in the Hunter Committee. The House has seen the difficulty which has arisen on this question of 10 per cent. I hope we shall have no further controversy about extending the 10 per cent. to 15 per cent for the slight and entirely problematical period between the termination of one year from the date of the termination of the War and Lady Day, 1921.
I desire to get from the Attorney-General some help in the direction of knowing whether a landlord is legally bound to give four weeks' notice before he can claim an increase of rent. I raised this question when the Bill was introduced last Friday, and the hon. Member who was then in charge of it promised to consider the matter. It is a point which has given rise to a good deal of misgiving and misunderstanding. I have in my hand the report of a case decided in a Court a day or two ago—
The Amendment which I will move is in Sub-section (1), to leave out the words "due and recoverable," and to insert instead thereof the word "made."
What I want is, if I can make the Attorney-General understand what I am driving at—and most of us are not lawyers and find difficulty in understanding legal definitions—what I want to get at is this. The county council in their wisdom took a case to the Courts to recover 1s. 3d. as a test case. The magistrate decided that landlords were not compelled to give four weeks' notice to the tenant. But if the Act of Parliament says they are, is it in the power of judges and magistrates to say they are not, and that two weeks is sufficient, or even less? I want the Attorney-General to give this House some explanation of what four weeks really means. Does it mean that when a landlord desires to put on an increase of rent, he must give the tenant four weeks' notice, and that then it will be open to any Court to alter that and to say that two weeks, or any other period may be sufficient, or that there is no need to give the tenant any notice at all?
I hesitate to take the sanguine view that I understand the question. But if I have rightly apprehended the statement of my hon. Friend, what he really asks is this: Whether the words in the Bill make it clear that the landlord must give four weeks' notice of his intention to increase the rent before the increase can actually take place. I do not know anything about the ease to which he has referred, but at any rate it did not arise under this Bill. The words of the proviso are sufficiently clear. May I read them?
Provided that no such increase shall be due and recoverable until the expiry of four clear weeks after the landlord has served upon the tenant a notice in writing of his intention to increase the rent.
I should think those words are quite enough.
There have been cases in the county of Durham where householders have had information that their rent is going to be increased, and I should like to get an assurance from the Government that they will insist that notice shall be given before any increase of rent is insisted upon. Now increases are being made without notice.
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), after the word "recoverable" ["increase shall be due and recoverable"], to insert the words
if the sanitary authority of the district in which the house is situated, on the application of the tenant, certifies that the house is not kept in a reasonable state of repair, nor in any case—
I said a little time ago, in response to suggestions from more than one quarter, that I would endeavour, either to-night or upon the Report stage, to propose an addition to the Bill which would meet the contention of many hon. Members that steps ought to be taken to secure that landlords should not be able to increase the rent of a house not fit for habitation or a house not in a reasonable state of repair. I take this, the earliest opportunity, of redeeming that promise, and I therefore propose this Amendment. The effect of it would be to make the proviso read,
Provided that no such increase shall be due and recoverable if the sanitary authority of the district in which the house is situated, on the application of the tenant, certifies that the house is not kept in a reasonable state of repair, nor in any case until the expiry of four clear weeks after the landlord has served—
and so forth. The Committee will observe the difference—I desire to state it with the greatest clearness—between that proposal and a proposal which more than one hon. Member urged upon the Government. According to this proposal, what is given is a remedy. What is done is to provide for the case in which it is alleged that the house is not kept in a reasonable state of repair. In that case the tenant who so alleges has his remedy. In the other case, what was contemplated was that there should be a universal certification, that every house in regard to which an increase was contemplated should be the subject of a certificate of this kind—as I am advised a wholly unnecessary, cumbrous, and, it, may be, impracticable burden. My suggestion to the Committee is that this proposal would meet every reasonable requirement to the end which hon. Members have in view.
May I say that I did not in the least want to cut out my hon. Friend for West Ham (Colonel W. Thorne). I put down my Amendment before his was on the Paper, and I did not know his Amendment was going to be put down. The suggestion of the Attorney-General does not really meet the point. I listened very carefully to the words he used, and he only used the words
in a reasonable state of repair.
That does not cover the case of slum property, which may be in a perfectly good state of repair, but may not be property in which anybody ought to live. The Attorney-General stated just now that he had been advised on this subject. He said he was advised that this proposition, which is down in my name and the names of other hon. Members, was impracticable and unworkable. I should very much like to know from where he got that advice, because I have the Hunter Committee Report in my hand, and I find that the only official bodies who gave evidence before that Committee were the Local Government Board for England, the Local Government Board for Scotland, the Local Government Board for Ireland, and the Agricultural Wages Board. I gather that my right hon. and learned Friend has been advised by the Local Government Board. When you turn to this Report you find that the recommendations made by the majority of the Committee are that
In the case of an increase in these rents, there should be a certificate from the local authority before the increase is allowed.
The Committee thought so highly of this recommendation that they actually put in a footnote at the bottom of the page repeating their recommendation—
Even the 10 per tent. increase should be disallowed in the case of houses unfit for human habitation.
They also put in a footnote with regard to the suggestion of a County Court. They regarded that as one of the alternative propositions, and discarded it in favour of the proposition which I, with other hon. Members, have ventured to suggest. The point I want to make is that it is not simply a question of repairs; it is a question of cubic space. These houses in poor streets may be in a perfectly good state of repair but they may be utterly unfit for human habitation. In 1914 the present Prime Minister appointed a Land Inquiry Committee, and in their Report the Committee said:
From information received from our investigators, and after consultation with a number of those having special knowledge, we are inclined to estimate the proportion of dwellers in slums as between 5 per cent. and 10 per cent. of the whole country.
May I say that in employing the words
kept in a reasonable state of repair
I was certainly under the impression that I was doing not less but more than is contained in the hon. Gentleman's Amendment. I should have thought myself that if a house was not fit for human habitation, a fortiori, it cannot be said that it is in a reasonable state of repair.
I shall be perfectly willing therefore to put in the alternative, that is to say, to make it read
where the sanitary authority…certifies that the house is not reasonably fit for human habitation or is not kept in a reasonable state of repair.
I am not sure whether even the words moved by the Attorney-General meet the case. What will really happen? The tenant will be called upon to make a complaint to the medical officer of the particular local authority. The medical officer will be compelled to bring that before the public health committee. The public health committee is chock full of landlords, who own slum property in many cases. I suggest that the landlords themselves are not going to give instructions to the medical officer to carry out the necessary repairs in accordance with the words moved by the Attorney-General. I quite agree that it is very difficult for the Attorney-General or any member of this Committee to find words that will meet the situation if the landlords themselves do not feel inclined to keep their property in repair. That has been my experience during twenty-five years on a local authority. What will happen? If the house is not in proper repair, the local authority have the power to issue a closing order, and to shut down the property altogether. In present circumstances there is a great shortage of houses, and there is nowhere else where the people can go to reside. Thus the local authorities cannot have power to rip down that slum property. There are many houses now in all parts of the country which are a standing disgrace, because closing orders have been obtained, but the local authorities have no power to compel the landlords to rip them down. I quite admit that the Attorney-General is doing his level best to meet the situation, yet, on the other hand, I agree that it will all depend upon the composition of the local council. If the local council is not full of landlords, there is a possibility of making the landlords keep their houses in proper repair. That is the only way it will be done. I do not believe that these remedies are going to be effective in any shape or form. The Amendment that has been suggested by the Attorney-General is preferable to that which was about to be moved by my hon. Friend (Mr. G. Locker-Lampson). If the local authority is called upon to issue these certificates from time to time, the same thing will happen. The medical officer will not attempt to issue these certificates without consulting the public health committee, and it will all depend upon the composition of the public health committee. Therefore what wage earners and other people in all parts of the country will have to do is to alter the composition of the local councils.
I should like to thank the Attorney-General for the way in which he has met those who objected to his first reply upon this subject. The Amendment as proposed by him is in many respects preferable and does, as he said, go further than the Amendment of my hon. Friend (Mr. G. Locker-Lampson). But there is this point: Many of these tenants are very slow to move, and they do not get themselves acquainted with what is going on in the world. A good many of them will not realise for a very long time that they have this power of applying to the sanitary authority. I would therefore ask the Attorney-General whether it would be possible for them to go at any time after the rent has been increased and make application to the sanitary authority to obtain the certificate in question?
I was about to raise a point which has been partly covered by the last speaker, although I do not think he appreciated quite the point which is in my mind. I must say that I like the Amendment of the hon. Member (Mr. G. Locker-Lampson) for some reasons better than that of the Government, because, as the last speaker pointed out, the tenants may not be aware of their rights in this matter, and the Amendment which is on the Paper in the names of several hon. Members secures that notice should be brought to the mind of the tenant before an increase of rent can take place. They would have to be served with a notice which would give them knowledge of their rights with regard to the house being in proper repair. According to the Amendment of the Attorney-General there will be nothing of the sort. It is true that the tenant will have the right of making a complaint, but there will be nothing in the ordinary procedure to inform the tenant that he has that right. If the Attorney-General is going to adhere to the form in which he has proposed his Amendment, I wonder whether he would go a little further and provide in some shape or form that in the notice which is necessary of the intention to raise the rent there should be included a notice of the tenant's right to appeal on the ground of the house not being fit for human habitation or not being in proper repair. If that were done it would meet the point I have in my mind, but it seems to me unsatisfactory that this right should be conferred without some steps being taken to secure that the tenant should be made aware of it in each case.
The tenants of these small houses do not read Acts of Parliament any more than many Members of the House do, but it is exceedingly important that the tenant who is going to have his rent raised by 10 per cent. should know the conditions under which it is to be raised and should know what rights he has in case the house is not fit for human habitation and is not in proper repair. Therefore I certainly would support my hon. Friend's suggestion that the notice of the landlord's intention to increase his rent should also contain a, notice of the right of the tenant to go to the local authority and ask if the house is fit for human habitation and is in reasonable repair, and possibly the best way of doing it would be a notice in writing to increase the rent in the terms set out in the Schedule of the Bill.
I think that is a reasonable suggestion, and we shall be prepared to adopt it, though I do not say exactly in the form of a notice in the Schedule—I should like to consider that points—but, at any rate, the landlord shall be required not only to give notice in writing to the tenant of his intention to increase the rent, but also shall be required to inform the tenant of his rights in the matter. With regard to the other question raised by my hon. Friend (Mr. Chamberlain) as to whether the tenant must exercise his right at once and before an increase takes place, I should have thought not. If he will look again at the words of the proviso as they would read if they were amended, the provision would be that the increase should not be due and recoverable if the sanitary authority certifies that the house is not reasonably fit for human habitation or kept in a reasonable state of repair. I do not regard that as being a remedy which the tenant must exercise at once and for all.
There are two small points on which I should like to hear the Attorney-General's opinion. I am glad the Committee has arrived at a solution of the main point. I should like to know what there is in this Bill or in the law generally to compel a sanitary authority to grant this certificate, because this is going to be a considerable burden upon the sanitary authority. It will probably necessitate an increased inspectorate. The inspectorate, certainly in London, is not altogether suitable for the survey which is proposed to be made, and it is a practical point which if it is not dealt with to-day will have to be dealt with at some time as to whether the sanitary authorities can be compelled to do this or not. The second point is this. Who is going to pay for the certificate? Is it to be supplied by sanitary authorities without payment, or to be paid for by the person who makes application for it? That is a point which will want consideration in settling the exact form of the suggestion.
I am very much obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir J. Butcher) for the suggestion he has made to the Attorney-General. When a tenant makes a complaint to the local authority and the landlord gets to find it out, the tenant is invariably victimised. Even if the Attorney-General accepts the words of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and the landlord has to convey to the tenant that he is to do so-and-so, apparently he can be victimised in the future the same as he has been in days gone by.
It is the duty now, and has been for a very long period, of the local authority to see that every house within its area is fit for human habitation. This Bill does not carry it much further. What is meant by "fit for human habitation" is simply that the house shall be wind and water tight, dry and not damp, with a proper water supply, and the drains in good order. Apart from that, it does not mean repairs at all; and I do not see that the Bill is going to help the tenant. Under the Public Health (London) Act, 1891, the duty is cast upon the Metropolitan authority to See that every house within their area is fit for human habitation, and there are the most elaborate provisions by which a local authority can be compelled to do its duty; so it is quite clear that the local authority can be compelled to give this certificate. Outside London, by the Public Health Act, there is a similar set of provisions, though not so perfect by any means; and, with regard to reducing the £10 to £5, it was thought to be a sort of concession to give the tenant that the house should be fit for human habitation. That does not mean repairs in the ordinary sense. Repairs mean that the place shall be whitewashed, papered and painted. At all events, the local authorities have perfect power to do it now. If the Act is passed it will easily be able to be carried out by the local authorities.
Mr. T. THOMSON:
I think the Amendment now proposed by the Government will be a very great help to local authorities. They have had power to close houses which were not reasonably fit for human habitation, but they were very lax in doing this in pre-war times, and during the War period it has been practically impossible to close any houses on that ground because of the shortage of houses, and this Amendment will be a great incentive to landlords to make houses which otherwise they would leave in their present state, reasonably fit for human habitation, if they can, in order to get the extra 5 per cent.
I beg to move, at the end of the Sub-section, to add the words
and informing the tenant of his right to apply to the sanitary authority for such a certificate as aforesaid.
These words are intended to meet the point raised by my hon. Friend (Mr. McNeill).
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has considered the suggestion made by my hon. and learned Friend (Sir J. Butcher) that the form in which this notice should be given should be put in the Schedule of the Bill. It is rather important that the form should be known, because if the notice were given simply in the terms of the Amendment the right hon. Gentleman has moved, it would not be very satisfactory. I do not know whether there is any objection to having a set form of words which should form the notice and having it in the Bill.
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. That was in my mind when I spoke of having it in the Schedule to the Bill, so that the matter should not be left to the landlord to put some vague suggestion in his notice which might or might not be good.
May I suggest that a verbal Amendment will be desirable? The Clause says,
Provided no such increase shall be due and recoverable.
Would it not make it clearer to say,
No such increase shall commence to be due and recoverable.
The object is this. A landlord gives notice to raise the rent, and the intention is that it does not begin to be raised until after the expiration of four weeks. As it stands I do not think it is very clear.