Clause 1. — (Rent Limit of Controlled Houses.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Rent Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th March 1957.

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Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , Newcastle upon Tyne East 12:00 am, 26th March 1957

I beg to move, in page 2, line 19, at the end to insert: (5) This section shall not apply to any dwelling-house in relation to which an application under section one of the Act of 1949 either—

  1. (a)has been made since the Housing Rents and Repairs Act, 1954, came into force and before this Act comes into force, or
  2. (b)can be made on or after the date on which this Act comes into force.
(6) The rent recoverable in respect of such a dwelling-house as is mentioned in the last foregoing subsection for the rental period comprising the commencement of this Act shall, notwithstanding the repeals effected by this Act, remain the rent recoverable in respect of that dwelling-house for any rental period for which it is neither increased nor reduced by the determination of a Tribunal under the Act of 1949.(7) The proviso to section one of the Act of 1949 (which provides that an application to determine a reasonable rent for a dwelling-house shall not be made if a previous such application has been made in respect of that dwelling-house) shall no longer have effect and references in the Act of 1949 to a standard rent shall be construed as references to the standard rent on the day before the commencement of this Act. I think it would be for the convenience of the Committee if, at the same time, we were to take four consequential Amendments. Those consequential Amendments are: in page 14, line 44, after "1939", to insert "The Act of 1949"; in page 16, line 8, at the end to insert: Tribunal" has the same meaning as it has for the purposes of section one of the Act of 1949, in page 31, line 47, at the end to insert: 25. Sections five and six of the Act of 1949 (which relate respectively to registers of determinations and to tribunals for the purposes of section one of that Act) shall apply for the purposes of this Act as they apply for the purposes of section one of that Act, and in page 38, line 17, to leave out "Sections one, four, five and six".

This Amendment has a rather strange history. The matter was raised in Committee, and although in Committee we were subjected to the Guillotine during the major part of the proceedings, we were, at this time, subject only to the trickery of the Government. It was the predecessors of the present Minister and the present Parliamentary Secretary who so organised business as to deny any reply on this at that time.

What happened was that the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Sir I. Horobin) was in the midst of one of his, if I may say so, more brilliant sentences, when he was interrupted by the closure of one sitting. When the Committee again met in order to hear the completion of that sentence, to our surprise neither was the hon. Member allowed to complete his sentence—as I am sure he was eager to do—nor did the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary rise to make any comment. In fact, they took a snap Division, thus denying the Committee any sort of consideration of this proposal at all. That, of course, is why we are. considering the matter again today.

The Bill has the effect of sweeping away a large part of the rent tribunal procedure, and this Amendment seeks to restore, to some extent, that procedure, which has been found to be of such great value to the large mass of tenants up and down the country. It is true that this Amendment refers only to the rent tribunal procedure provided in Section 1 of the 1949 Act, but that is a very considerable amount. I was looking at the last available report of the Ministry, which shows the large volume of work which is being done under Section 1 of the 1949 Act by the tribunals. Unless this Amendment is passed, that will be swept away.

For example, I noticed that during 1955 there was a sharp increase in the tribunals' work—very naturally, because the party opposite extended their field of operation by the 1954 Act. That Act enabled approaches to be made by both parties. That, indeed, was the case before, but what was new was that it enabled the rent tribunals to agree an increase of rent as well as a reduction where they thought it suitable. Very naturally, that resulted in a large number of further applications being made to them by landlords in addition, of course, to the still very considerable number of applications by tenants.

I notice that the right hon. Gentleman who treated us so scurvily in Committee is now sitting on the Front Bench. I am very grateful to him for coming to consider this matter and, perhaps, even to let us have his views of this question which, as I was explaining to the House, he refused to let us have when we were dealing with the matter in Committee. It will be very interesting to hear the views of the Minister of Defence in addition to the views of the right hon. Gentleman who has succeeded him as Minister of Housing and Local Government.

There was in 1955 a rapid increase in the number of cases under the Landlord and Tenant (Rent Control) Act, 1949. In fact, the number of cases received during the year was over 4,000 for 1955, compared with 2,500 the year before. There is no doubt that these rent tribunals are being used to a very large extent and are proving of great importance. But, of course, that does not concern the Minister. He wishes to sweep them away, and by these provisions we are now considering he has swept away a good half of the work of the rent tribunals. That is a very serious matter indeed.

Why cannot the Minister accept the very modest proposals which are made in this Amendment? It proposes, in effect, that in the case of all new lettings since 1939, the date provided for in the 1949 Act, the question of rental should go before the rent tribunal if either tenant or landlord so wishes. I would stress that, under the present law, it is possible for the rent to be either increased or reduced. There can be no suggestion of unfairness here. It is the responsibility of the rent tribunals to settle what they regard as the reasonable rent, and it has, moreover, been the common view up and down the country that these tribunals have done an exceedingly good and useful job.

In what I might almost call excessive fairness, we make the further proposal that the proviso in the 1949 Act which said that a second application could not be made to a rent tribunal should, in effect, be deleted. This means that second applications can be made. One would have thought that that would have been an advantage, even in some cases to landlords as well as to tenants. It is making the position open to take account of changing circumstances. It seems to me that it is a perfectly valid, fair and reasonable proposal to advance, that tenants, instead of being denied their rights of independent arbitration by a rent tribunal, should have those rights preserved really as they are at present.

When this matter came before the Committee—I put it in that way, since we were denied any opportunity to discuss it—my hon. and learned Friend rightly urged upon the Committee that here was the case where tribunals are required to determine a reasonable rent, yet the Government were saying that any such determination of reasonable rent is to be set aside. That, in effect, is the situation. I must confess that I am no clearer in mind after the Parliamentary Secretary tries to explain it than I am before he starts, but, as I read the Bill, I understand the position to be this. Where, in advance of the Bill coming into operation, a rental has been determined which is higher than the rent limit set by the Bill, then that higher rent has to operate. If, on the other hand, a rental is determined, either by a tribunal or by agreement, which is below the rent limit fixed by the Bill, then the rent limit fixed by the Bill shall operate. The result is that the landlord is to have it either way, which is surely quite the most outrageous travesty of justice.

5.45 p.m.

I can well understand the Minister or his Parliamentary Secretary making out a case that, where determinations have been made long years ago, some alteration has to take place. But, after all, we are here discussing determinations made by rent tribunals in some cases as recently as a few months ago, or just a few years ago—anyhow, since the war and the development of this procedure. No one can possibly say that those determinations are out of date. Even if they were, there is procedure under our Amendment enabling them to be reconsidered by the tribunal.

All of us are surely agreed that the procedure of the tribunal is a simple one which does give to the average tenant a feeling of justice which he certainly does not expect to get in any other way. As all my hon. and right hon. Friends have made clear, the average tenant does not like being taken or taking anybody else to the courts. He is not in the habit of doing that. He is frightened of the procedure. Whereas, on the whole, the procedure of the rent tribunals is informal, simple, and, therefore, highly desirable.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Oldham, East will, I am sure, give us his support, because he has said, in relation to an earlier Amendment about which he was speaking to the House a moment or two ago, that he very much preferred civil procedure, by which I understood him to mean that he liked to see cases of this kind dealt with in this more informal manner rather than by trying to take them through the courts. I cannot help feeling, therefore, that he will support us, and all the more, because he was so brutally stopped from speaking what was on his mind when the matter was considered in Committee. I feel sure that we have the welcome support of Members opposite.

Irrespective of the views of the hon. Member for Oldham, East, I would say that if this Amendment be not accepted by the Government, then a quite impossible situation will be created; the Government will be denying to people in the country the assurance of, by definition, a reasonable rent determined by an independent body, namely, the tribunals which have had the approval of people of all political persuasions up and down the country. We fear that there is in the mind of the Government an intention to destroy this kind of procedure, but any such act on their part will merely serve to drive deeper into the minds of people in the country the feeling that what hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are after is not any kind of fair play for tenants but merely a determination to ride roughshod over their views and ensure the supremacy of the landlords' claim for a higher rent, whether it be just or not.