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.