I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
It is a small but, I think, a useful Measure, and I believe it will prove non-controversial. It is, of course, inevitable that in war-time there must be a very large number of requisitions of property, and also that some people whose property is requisitioned must feel a very real sense of grievance, and it is obviously very desirable that we should do everything possible to see that the necessary requisitions are conducted in such a way as to inflict a minimum amount of inconvenience and discomfort on the people affected. That can in part be done by courtesy, by tact, and by realising that, although, of course, the interests of any individual must give way to the interests of the welfare of the country as a whole, yet, in considering whether any premises should or should not be requisitioned, one of the factors always to be taken into account should be the interest, the welfare, of the persons affected. If you can with equal convenience obtain other premises which will not inflict hardship upon individuals, there is always a strong case for obtaining those other premises. It is, however, surprising, in view of the very large number of requisitions there have been, how small is the volume of complaints in regard to what has been done.
That is no reason why we should not try to see whether we can do something to get rid of the grievances that remain. Accordingly the Chancellor of the Exchequer asked Mr. John Morris, an eminent member of my own profession, to conduct an inquiry into the matter. In due course he reported, and I am sure that Members of all parties will be grateful to Mr. Morris for the care that he has shown in making the report, which is a White Paper, Cd. 6313, in which he sets out the results of his experiences. He sets out the fact that there have been a very large number of requisitions and that on the whole complaints have been few, and he analyses, as far as he can what those complaints come to. In so far as they can be met by departmental administrative action, steps have already been taken to that end, but there are two respects in which legislation is required if Mr. Morris's proposals are to be carried out, and it is to give effect to them that the Bill has been introduced.
It is, therefore, a Bill to amend the law in relation to landlord and tenant in the case of requisitioned premises, and it proceeds according to the Chancellor's promise on 11th September that he would bring in legislation of this sort. The proposals given effect to by the Bill are, firstly, that in certain circumstances tenants whose premises have been requisitioned shall be given an option to disclaim their leases and, secondly, that in certain other cases tenants of requisitioned premises shall have the right to a readjustment of the rents payable to the landlord. I think it is obvious that a tenant who is, in effect, in residence in certain premises, which he is using either for his own residence or for that of his family or as his business, is in a position which may cause him to suffer special hardship by requisitioning. Not only, if the premises are requisitioned, may he receive less rent than the rent that he is under an obligation to pay to his landlord by reason of a fall in the value of the premises, but, in order to live, or perhaps to carry on his business, he may find himself under an obligation to acquire a lease of other premises, and thus he may find himself under an obligation to pay the rents of two premises, the One that has been requisitioned and the other that he had to take by reason of the fact that the first had been requisitioned. He is obviously in a very different position from a tenant who is not living or carrying on business in the premises that are requisitioned. If such premises are vacant, the requisitioning may be actually a boon to the tenant. He may get something for them instead of having a liability on his hands.
Therefore Mr. Morris recommended that tenants who are actually ejected from premises in which they are residing, or from which they are effectively carrying on business, should be given the right, if they so desire, to disclaim their leases, and the first four Clauses of the Bill substantially give effect to that recommendation. We provide in Clause I that residence must be real and continuous and that the use as business premises must be substantial, and therefore we have to concede to the landlord the right to apply to the court to have it determined, if he controverts it, whether the conditions—effective residence and the like—are or are not complied with. We desire to help in the main the tenant who, as a result of requisitioning, is forced to seek alternative accommodation, and we do not think we ought to help the man who has premises to spare or premises of which he is making little use.
further recommended that it would be unreasonable to give the right of disclaimer where there is a long period of the lease still to run. Otherwise a lessee with a long and onerous lease would be able to get rid of his obligation merely because the premises had been requisitioned for a short time. Mr. Morris therefore recommended that the right to disclaim should be available only where the requisition is likely to last for a period which constitutes a substantial part of the remaining period of the lease, and that will be given effect to in Clause 8. Speaking by and large, we give this right only in cases where the unexpired term of the lease is five years or less. The material date is either the passing of the Bill into an Act, in the case of previous requisitions, or in the case of future requisitions you date your five years from the date of the requisitioning. The right to disclaim is retrospective in this sense. Tenants who have suffered from a requisition before the passing of the Act, and whose premises remain still under requisition, can give notice to disclaim within three months from the passing of the Act, and in that case the disclaimer operates from the date of the passing of the Act. We felt that it would be undesirable and, indeed, impracticable to go right back and give further retrospective effect to these proposals, because to do so would lead to very complicated results in regard to money which had already been paid.
The Bill gives the tenant the right to say, "I give up my lease." We call it "disclaimer." Under the Landlord and Tenant Act if premises are sufficiently damaged by enemy action, the tenant has the right to what is called "disclaimer." We propose to give him the same right in the event of requisitioning.
The second matter with which the Bill deals is this: It is designed to resolve the difficulties of those tenants whose leases do not correspond with the hypothetical lease on which the right to compensation under the War Compensation Act is based. Under the War Compensation Act, compensation has to be assessed as provided in Clause 2 (1a); that is, broadly speaking, on the basis that the tenant undertakes all the usual tenants' rates and taxes and has to bear the cost of repairs insurance and other expenses, if any, "necessary to maintain the land in a state to demand that rent." It may and frequently does happen, particularly in the case of flats and offices, that the landlord provides certain services, such as heating and a lift and things of that sort and, consequently, the tenant pays a much higher rent than he would pay if those services were not provided. What is to happen if those premises are requisitioned and the tenant goes out of them, and cannot any longer avail himself of those services? As the law stands, if the requisitioning does not put an end to the tenancy, the tenant has to go on paying the amount fixed by the lease, although that amount is swollen by reason of the fact that the landlord has provided those services to which I have referred. In practice, I am glad to say that requisitioning Departments have, largely, been able to resolve these difficulties by bringing the landlord and the tenant together. If often happens that the requisitioning Department requires these services, and in those cases, an arrangement is made between the requisitioning Department, the landlord and the tenant, and in the great majority of cases that arrangement works well. There are, however, some cases in which it has not worked and in which the landlord has been insistent on getting the full rent, although he is no longer required to provide the services.
This Bill, in Clause 5, provides that the rent payable by the tenant, in the cases which I have put, may be adjusted so that the tenant, although he may be liable under the lease, is to be liable only for such rent as is attributable to those premises on the basis of the compensation, and not of the rent as swollen by the fact that those extra services have been provided. The landlord, of course, is relieved from his obligation to provide the services unless the requisitioning Department requires them, in which case the Bill provides that they shall be available for the remainder of the teen of the lease, upon the Department undertaking the obligation to pay for them on the basis of the lease. That is to say, in the case which I have indicated, the tenant will pay the rent on the basis of the Compensation Act, and the Department will pay such part of the rent as represented the services.
I give another instance. Suppose a floor in a block of offices is taken over by a requisitioning authority, that authority will probably need the use of the lift and possibly also a hot water supply. The Bill provides that, so long as the lease lasts, the Department concerned may require the landlord to continue to provide such services on the same basis as that contained in the lease, the requisitioning Department paying to the landlord the appropriate part of the rent in respect of those services. Technically, therefore, that may involve a charge on the Exchequer, and that is why it is necessary to have a Money Resolution. In practice, I do not think it should involve any additional expenditure. It is really a more convenient way of obtaining services which the Department concerned would, in any case, have to secure and which it would otherwise secure by direct negotiation with the landlord, or by getting the outgoing tenant to require the continuance of these services and paying compensation to the outgoing tenant in respect of them.
It is hoped that this little Bill will give tenants a useful measure of relief in cases in which they are suffering hardship and inconvenience as a result of requisitioning. We have tried to hold the scales fairly between landlord and tenant, and I believe we have done so. Restricted as it is to leases which have only a short period to run, and to those cases in which the tenant is in actual effective possession, I do not think landlords can regard the Bill as an injustice to them. We invite the co-operation of the House, to see whether the Bill can be improved in Committee, but, as far as the Second Reading is concerned, I feel confident that all parts of the House will welcome the proposals and will agree that they merit consideration in subsequent stages.
No one who has read the report submitted by Mr. John Morris can fail to appreciate the care with which he has examined the difficulties submitted to him or the reasonableness of the proposals which he has made to resolve them. I rise, on behalf of myself and a number of my hon. Friends, to express our appreciation of the action of the Government in having put into effect administratively as many of these proposals as they could, and in now implementing their promise by introducing legislation to cover the two points which could not be dealt with administratively. In the second place, I should like, again on behalf of myself and my hon. Friends, to say how much we appreciate the clear explanation of the two matters which are dealt with in the Bill, just given by my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General. He has covered the ground in such a way that it is unnecessary for me to make more than one comment of a general character on the Bill.
My comment is a curious one. It will be appreciated, I think, that hidden in the interstices of this technical and complicated Measure is to be found the Government's forecast of the duration of the war. It will be noted that the proposals for the disclaimer of leases are meant to cover only those leases which, roughly, coincide with or extend a little beyond the probable duration of the requisition. The material date we have to look at is that on which the premises were requisitioned. The earliest date at which premises could have been requisitioned, broadly speaking, was the date of the outbreak of the war. I suppose that requisition will extend a little beyond the duration of the war, and the period given in Clause 8 is five years. I deduce from that that it is the considered view of His Majesty's Government that we are now more than half-way through the war. I can, therefore, express my appreciation of this Measure, not only on what it directly seeks to achieve, but on what it indirectly reveals in hopefulness for us.