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With the knowledge the right hon. Gentleman has already, is he unmoved by the mounting toll of misery among elderly people, many of whom know that, by next October, they will have to leave houses in which they have lived for many years? Is he not aware also of the misery caused as a result of insecurity of tenure to untold numbers of other elderly people who live in houses which are decontrolled? Is this one of the main objectives of the Act? If it is not, what does he propose to do about it?
In reply to the hon. Gentleman's Question, I used the exact words spoken by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) in the House last week. In reply to the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I will say that I am proposing this week to send a circular to local authorities about the housing of old people.
Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that, if he waits much longer, he will be too late to prevent the very hard bargains which are being driven at present by the landlords of decontrolled houses? Those leases are being negotiated, and landlords have the whip hand; tenants, with eviction threatened, are having to accept what are really grossly unfair terms. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"]
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether his attention has been drawn to a county court judgment at Stourbridge in October with regard to paragraph 21 of the Sixth Schedule of the Rent Act, 1957; and what action he proposes to ensure that the greater hardship proviso shall remain part of the Act.
I have taken note of this judgment, but a decision in a county court does not constitute a binding precedent in other cases, and it is not to be assumed that a similar view would necessarily be taken by other courts. If a similar decision were reached by a higher court, I should certainly consider whether steps ought to be taken to give effect to the original intention.
Is not the right hon. Gentleman's reply quite unsatisfactory because, first, he fails to deal with the position of the tenant in the case of Perry v. Downing, against whom the judge found on this issue and who, for all we know, may have been evicted because of the dubiety of the right hon. Gentleman's own Act? Is he not also failing to deal with the fact that as long as there is this dubiety there may be other county court decisions? Is not the only way to deal with this matter to have a simple amendment of the Act which would put the issue beyond all doubt?
It is not for me to interpret the law, but the decision of the county court is not final on a matter of this kind, and there is an appeal to a higher court. I think that it would be better to suspend judgment until a decision is given by the higher court.
While, in the circumstances, I welcome the Minister's assurance that he will look at this matter again if there is an appeal, may I ask whether he should not follow the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) and do something now, since he made it quite clear in Standing Committee on the Rent Bill that it was his intention that the court should decide which was the greater hardship, and a number of cases on this point are coming before the county court?
Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that the decision of the county court judge is in direct conflict with the answer in his own guide to the Rent Act? Does he intend to reprint the guide, or does he intend to wait until somebody pays the money to go to the Court of Appeal, because his own Act has not been clearly drafted and has misled one county court judge, at any rate, and there are conflicting decisions? Is not it right, in the circumstances, to bring in a short Bill to make perfectly clear that his own answer in Standing Committee and his own advice in the guide to the Rent Act is what he intended should be and what ought to be the law? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if he did that we on this side of the House would facilitate the passage of a Bill for that purpose?
There is no doubt about my intention and there has been no change in my intention, but it would be contrary to all precedent to ask Parliament to alter a law which is on the Statute Book on the basis of one judgment given in a county court before any higher court has had any opportunity to pronounce upon it.