I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The first thing that I want to emphasise is that this is an emergency Measure to deal with an emergency situation. In considering its merits and its effects I ask the House to bear this fact constantly in mind. The emergency which we face can be quite precisely defined. It is the danger of evictions by unscrupulous landlords in the period between the election of a Labour Government, pledged to repeal the Rent Act, and the passing of the measures required to fulfil that pledge.
In the debate on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech, hon. Members opposite were concerned to know whether we were really intending to repeal the Rent Act. I can relieve them of that anxiety. We shall fulfil that promise. Indeed, I am actively engaged now on the preparation of a Bill which will restore to tenants the security of tenure which has been progressively undermined, first, by block decontrol and then by creeping decontrol ever since 1957. Yes, the Rent Act will be repealed all right, but it is quite obvious that the preparation of a Measure on that scale requires a great deal of work. We could not possibly have it ready before Christmas.
It is also obvious that when the Bill is presented to the House it will be subjected to vigorous examination and possibly to protracted debate. That is quite proper, but all this will take time—time for unscrupulous landlords to get to work without fear of punishment. This is why I commend this Bill to the House today.
The Bill is not designed to control rents. It is not even a Bill to restore legal security of tenure. It is solely and exclusively concerned to deal with the immediate short-term problem—to scotch the danger that landlords, realis- ing how their wings will be clipped by our permanent legislation, will take advantage of the weeks and months ahead to evict tenants before our new legislation comes into force.
Whatever the differences that emerge when we come to discuss our main Measure, I hope that no one today opposes the aim which we have set ourselves in this Bill. I also hope that in Committee it will be found possible to examine the Bill in the shortest possible time and with a minimum of delay, because in this emergency Bill speed is the essence of the matter. We are legislating today not for years, but for months, and if the Bill is to achieve its aim not a day should be wasted between its Second Reading and its becoming the law of the land.
Do the Opposition agree to the paramount importance of speed? I hope that they do. That hope was greatly strengthened by some of the remarks of the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) in his contribution to the debate on the Address. This is what he said, and it is so nice that I should like to read it all:
Now, we come to another of the more notable proposals in the Gracious Speech, that in respect of the reimposition of rent control. It is enormously important that we should know, and that the public should know, as soon as possible what exactly it is that the Government intend in this respect. Hon. Members on both sides of the House must be aware from their constituencies that, whatever one's view on the merits of rent control may be—whatever one's view—the uncertainty of what is to be proposed is doing positive harm as day follows day."—
So far, I entirely agree—
There are cases where tenants of uncontrolled premises are being given notice by landlords who fear that if the tenants remain they may become controlled tenants. One of my hon. Friends handed me a letter from one of his constituents to this precise effect as I came into the House this afternoon. Therefore, whatever the Government will do it is absolutely essential that they should make up their minds and make a quick and early announcement to us.
I fancy that my right hon. and hon. Friends were as touched as I was by the right hon. Member's anxiety about the threat of eviction to those poor tenants. I suspect that my hon. Friends also noted the difference between this tender solicitude for tenants and the harsh attitude with which right hon. and hon. Members opposite when they were the Government
imposed the Rent Act and subjected hundreds of thousands of tenants to precisely the danger against which they are now pleading that those tenants should be defended.
I am the last person to challenge the sincerity of conversion. Indeed, I welcome the attitude of the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames last week, and I was so glad when he went even further in these words:
… to impress upon the Government that, having taken the decision to put those words into the Gracious Speech, and having, therefore, accepted the consequences of their action in so doing, it is up to them to remedy them as quickly as possible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1964; Vol. 701, c. 855–8.]
I ask the House to notice the words,
… it is up to them to remedy them as quickly as possible.
The right hon. Gentleman demanded a quick remedy. He has got it today.
I cannot think of a case where a Government have acceded more wholeheartedly or more speedily to an Opposition demand. Here in the Bill is the remedy for those precise evictions to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded, a remedy as quick and efficacious as he possibly could demand. Therefore, in view of what the right hon. Gentleman said last week, I am relying on him, at least, to help me to get the Bill on the Statute Book as quickly as possible and to save time in Committee.
Let us look at this quick, drastic Measure, which is designed to do what the right hon. Gentleman asked me to do—to stop rapacious landlords from getting their evictions in first before security of tenure is fully restored. In essence, when one cuts away the legal verbiage, what we propose is quite straightforward. Our remedy consists of two parts. First, we have made it a crime for a landlord to evict a tenant without previously obtaining a court order. This is new. Secondly, we have granted the county courts the discretion to stay the execution of an order for a maximum period of 12 months. This, also, is new. These are the only essentially new features in the Bill.
As for the first, making eviction without a court order a crime, no decent landlord has ever dreamed of obtaining possession without a court order, and everyone on this side of the House will, I am sure, agree that this reform is a generation overdue. Nevertheless, it remains a fact that, when the Bill becomes law, for the first time in our history any landlord who evicts without previously obtaining a court order will be doing a criminal act which makes him liable to a £100 fine or six months' imprisonment. That is progress, and, although the Bill lapses at the end of 1965, I assure the House of one point about our long-term Measure: this central principle of decent human landlord-tenant relationship will be enshrined in permanent form in the big Bill which we shall present after Christmas.
As regards the second point, the provision for county courts to extend the duration of a stay of eviction, I would remind the House that, under existing law, a county court judge, once an order has been granted to a landlord, can postpone eviction only for what is called a reasonable period, which, normally, I gather is about four weeks. Although not enshrined in legislation, the period is normally four weeks. The Bill will enable him to postpone not for four weeks, but for 12 months.
That is really all there is to this Bill. We are making the eviction of a tenant without a court order illegal and, having compelled the landlord to go to court, we then give the judge or registrar discretion to postpone execution of the order for up to 12 months, that is, until our major legislation is through. Thus, we achieve our two objects. We prevent unscrupulous evictions during the transitional months ahead and, just as important, we provide a de facto rent freeze, which should last until our major law is on the Statute Book.
I am most anxious not to claim more for this emergency Measure than is actually in it, so I emphasise that it does not alter the statutory relationship between landlords and tenants. Under the Bill, the court is still bound, whenever it finds that a landlord is entitled to possession, to make an order in his favour. The right to possession by the landlord is still there, absolutely unchanged. We are not altering that. All that we are doing is making evictions and wholesale rent increases virtually impossible for the short transitional period which lies ahead of us, and we are doing it without altering the basis of the law as we think that that sort of operation, if it be necessary, should be left for the main Bill.
We have been able to achieve this de facto freeze only by relying very largely on the wisdom of the courts. It will be for the courts to decide whether a tenant is entitled to a stay of eviction and, if so, for how long it should last. It will be for the courts to decide whether the rent should be increased, decreased or left unchanged. In fact, although the judges and registrars will have wide discretion, the Bill gives them, as I shall explain, guidance on how that discretion must be used.
In this way, we have tried to ensure that full account is taken of the position of both landlord and tenant. What we are trying to do is to avoid abuse either of the honest tenant by the unscrupulous landlord or of the honest landlord by the unscrupulous tenant, who also, by the way, certainly exists. We have tried as far as possible to be strictly fair to both sides. But there is something which I must say candidly to the House.
If anyone predicts, as well he may during the debate, that the effect of the Bill will be to tip the balance in favour of the tenant, I can only say that the pendulum has swung very far towards the landlord since 1957, and a little swing towards the tenant would be no bad thing. After years of landlord-biased Tory legislation, it is high time that tenants were given, not a fair crack of the whip—that would be asking too much—but at least the benefit of the doubt.
For the convenience of the House, I shall now go through the Bill Clause by Clause and take up the points which arise. Clause 1 tells us who and what is covered by the Bill. As I am an English Minister who must tread delicately in such matters, I had better start with subsection (6), which tells us that the Bill deals not only with England and Wales, but with Scotland, also. It will come as no surprise to hon. Members from north of the Border when I confess that, where Scottish legislation has led, the law of England and Wales is now submissively to follow.
As I understand—I am delighted to make the discovery—it has been the law of Scotland for some years that a landlord who attempts to obtain possession of his premises without going to court is acting unlawfully. But such action is not at present a criminal offence, and the only remedy for the tenant is a civil action. Subsection (6) makes Scottish landlords subject to the same criminal penalties as the landlord in England and Wales and so transforms an illegal action into a criminal offence.
This is the only difference we make in Scotland. I pay tribute to my Scottish hon. Friends for having provided this watch-dog power so many years ahead of us, and I hope that they will agree that, in belatedly following their example, we have at least sharpened its teeth and given it better effect.
We learn from the beginning of Clause 1 whom the Bill covers. This is very important. I am beginning to discover that there are people greatly alarmed about certain effects of the Bill, mainly because they have not studied who is covered by it. It provides protection not to everyone who occupies a room or a dwelling, but only to true tenants with agreements. For example, a lodger is not covered by the Bill, nor is anybody who lives in a residential hotel. Such people will not be able to stay for an extra 12 months. All tenants, on the other hand, are covered, and whether their rooms are furnished or unfurnished makes no difference. In addition to affording protection to the actual tenant and sub-tenant the Bill affords protection also to his widow or any other member of his family living with him at the time of his death.
I said that the Bill deals with tenants, but there is one exception covered by subsection (5). We have decided to extend protection not only to agricultural workers living in tied cottages with a proper tenancy, but also to those, quite a large number, who are not legal tenants but only so-called licensees. I gather that the National Farmer's Union is alarmed by the Bill, but I can tell those concerned that it provides simply that all agricultural workers living in tied cottages will be treated exactly like any other tenant for the period of the Bill, whether they be legal tenants or not.
We have done this for a very good reason. In agriculture, one is not always aware whether one's agricultural worker in a tied cottage has a formal legal tenancy or not, and it seemed to us ridiculous that the Bill should cover one group of agricultural workers who had formal tenancies, but not cover the others who did not. We thought it simpler to treat them all as tenants and to give them all the ordinary protection which every true tenant will have under the Bill.
My right hon. Friend said that the Bill will cover furnished as well as unfurnished tenancies. He probably knows that at present tenants of furnished premises have the protection of tribunals. Does he, therefore, mean to do away with furnished tenancy tribunals and substitute the county courts?
I think that my right hon. Friend has not quite grasped the nature of the Bill. It is not permanent legislation. It is legislation dealing with a period of months and, during this period of months, it is for convenience that we make it cover all tenancies including furnished tenancies. It was pointed out to me that, if we decided to do this, it might be possible for a furnished tenant to spin out time by having three months' security of tenure under the existing arrangements and get 12 months' security as well. I shall come to that. It is really up to the judges not to allow abuses of that kind, and I see no difficulty there whatever.
We did not have any discussions on the Bill with any interests because it is an emergency Bill, for four months, and I can see no reason why anybody could conceivably complain because all agricultural workers were treated in this respect exactly like any other tenant.
That is all that we are doing. I can see no reason for not doing it, nor can I see that any decent farmer will possibly be prevented by the Bill from doing what he has always had and must have the right to do; and that is that when due notice has been given, and when it has been proved that the need is there, and he has been to court, then, in due course, he can remove the person. That is all still here. The relation of the landlord to the tenant remains unchanged under the Bill. So I think that the N.F.U. has really misunderstood the nature of the Bill.
I come now to Clause 1(3). This is a very important subsection and I want to tell the House about it. As many hon. Members on my side of the House know, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) knows better than I, it is not sufficient in these days to make an eviction without a court order illegal. It is even more important to intimidate the intimidator—to threaten with imprisonment the landlord who tries to get rid of his tenant not by straight honest-to-goodness eviction, but by such devious devices as cutting off his electric light, removing his furniture, or in other ways making his life unbearable.
This Clause covers this, so all that lot are for this period of months being tied up till we can tie them up even tighter in our permanent legislation. All those people who try those devices make themselves liable to a fine not exceeding £100 or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding six months, or both.
Now I turn to Clause 2.
Mixed accommodation is dealt with in Clause 3. I will mark my hon. Friend's point, but I think that it would be for the convenience of the House if I went through the Clauses one by one. I will certainly answer any questions, as will my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary at the end of the debate, but I think that if we go through the Clauses one by one hon. Members will find that their points are covered as we go along.
I should like to ask my right hon. Friend about one thing which is important, and which has special application in London. What about the case in which the landlord of the premises refuses to issue a rent book? Although this emergency Bill will not rescind the Landlord and Tenant Act, it seems that the protection to be afforded will not apply to a tenant who has no rent book and who, therefore, is not a true tenant, although it is the landlord who withholds the rent book.
Yes. This is the kind of case which we fully realise exists. There are certain to be quite a number of cases of which hon. Members can give me notice. I will come to this later. I think that local authorities do have powers which I shall ask them to use, as I hope they will. My hon. Friend is right in saying that somebody not a true tenant is not covered by the Bill, because it covers tenancies, and because there were obvious dangers of abuse if we spread the Bill too far to all sorts of other people. It covers the vast majority of cases.
I come back to Clause 2. This is the Clause which gives power to the County Courts to postpone evictions for up to 12 months, and then it tells them how to use it. Subsection (2) widens the discretion of the court so the judge can vary the conditions of a tenancy as he thinks fit, and this deals with the rent problem, and with such problems as arrears. In subsection (4,a,b,c,d) we give guidance to the county courts as to what they have to bear in mind in making up their minds. We give them discretion, but I think it right, for their guidance, that specific things should be brought to their attention.
These considerations have been taken from previous Acts of Parliament and there is nothing novel about them, but I must, in fairness, draw the attention of the House to one novelty which occurs in subsection (1), where we lay down that even if a court order has been made before the Bill is passed it can still be considered for suspension if execution has not actually taken place. That is to say, a tenant who has already been served with an order before the Bill becomes law, but the order has not been executed, can seek to prevent it from being executed by going to the court.
This is a very important proviso. We are against retrospective legislation. This Clause is the nearest we have come to it in the Bill, and I wanted to tell the House frankly that it is rather near it and ought to be looked at in that particular way. I think that we are justified in including it because all the old Rent Acts did much the same thing in rather different words.
Now Clause 3. This deals with exclusions, which my hon. Friend was asking me about. We exclude various kinds of tenants who are mostly people who are given protection in other ways. For instance, we take, first, property with a rateable value of over £400 a year. We fixed this top level of £400 rateable value for the practical reason that this is the top level for county court action. Above that, one goes to the High Court. There is also the practical reason that at or above that level one is at the ordinary market level and people at that luxury level need no protection.
The second exclusion is of tenants covered by rent control. We excluded them simply because they are covered already and, indeed, much more adequately, by the rent control. So they are covered and we need not, by this Bill, do any more for them. So they are excluded because they are already protected by another Act.
Another subsection excludes tenants of mixed premises—this was the point my hon. Friend raised—because they are covered under the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1954. Another subsection reserves to the local authorities their right to summary eviction in magistrates' courts under the Small Tenements Recovery Act, 1838. We are simply leaving unchanged the relationship between the tenant and the local authority, though I might give notice that we may not leave it unchanged in the permanent legislation.
The only part of Clause 4 I need call attention to is subsection (2). I am aware that some people are afraid that the Bill may impose a strain on the county courts. We have looked into this. I have found, rather to my surprise, that there is no evidence, even in areas like London, that the courts have been unduly overcrowded recently, or that there has been any unusual delay in hearing cases, but we want to avoid the risk of courts being choked as a result of the Bill, and so to relieve the pressure on them the Bill empowers registrars to hear applications under this Bill.
I can go through the rest of the Clauses rather quickly. Clause 5—
In dealing with exclusions the right hon. Gentleman referred to residential hotels, and he dealt with other exclusions, but I wonder whether he has taken account of houses which are let at the seaside for a week or a fortnight or for a month, for quite obviously, if they are let to a succession of people, and provision under the Bill is not made for them, there could be great hardship on their owners, who are generally very small people.
I am sure that this is a problem that we should consider in Committee. It is a very difficult problem, and in preparing the Bill we spent more time on this than any other. We discussed it at length. This is a balance of evils of what we should write into the Bill, and whether we ought to elaborate things, and to exclude certain parties, true parties with certain terminal tenancies. It was extremely difficult to write these in in such a way as to tie an unscrupulous landlord. We came to the conclusion that for this short period it really was, on the balance of evils, better to leave the Bill as it is, though I may say that I am willing to discuss this in detail in Committee.
Clause 5 is simply concerned with the statutory tenants in what were formerly requisitioned houses. Clause 6 makes it palpably clear that this is an emergency Bill by making it end at the end of 1965.
After saying this I merely want to answer three points about which I am sure I am bound to be asked. It will save time if I refer to them straight away. I know that the first one is worrying mostly hon. Members on this side of the House. The Bill is to prevent evictions before the main legislation is passed, which may be in the spring. I want to say a word about the landlord who evicts a tenant during the weeks before the emergency Bill becomes law.
We have given a great deal of careful thought to this. At first, we thought we would best meet this by retrospective legislation, and we even considered giving a retrospective right to damages for unreasonable evictions, though I confess that I found it hard to see the tenant who would dare to go to court. But we eventually decided that the most we could do is what we have done in Clause 2—the part I have already described about dealing with orders already existing, but which can be postponed from execution after the Bill is through.
I want to add two other things, because it is extremely important to stop the evictions even during the next week or two, while the Bill is being passed. If the House does its job quickly, even the toughest landlord will find it difficult to anticipate the Bill, because if he tries to evict a tenant, and a tenant refuses to be bullied—and I hope that by the Bill he will be encouraged to refuse to be bullied—it will take some time for the landlord to take possession.
The landlord has to give the minimum four weeks' notice to quit. He cannot get the tenant out by force. If the tenant refuses to be browbeaten, the landlord has to go to court for an order of possession. It will probably take four weeks or more for his case to be heard, and even under the present law execution can be suspended for another four weeks. This means about three months between the service of notice to quit and achieving physical possession by lawful means.
But I am aware that there are some landlords who are already resorting to less reputable methods than lawful means. I want to remind those landlords that by so doing they are now risking loss of their property to the local authority by compulsory purchase. I think that the House is very well aware that in 1960 one of my Conservative predecessors issued a good circular to local authorities in the greater London area. In this circular he said that he was prepared to entertain compulsory purchase orders if tenants were in danger of being rendered homeless under the threat of exorbitant rents, and he later amplified this policy to cover cases where landlords were unreasonably refusing to offer tenants new tenancies.
The terms of the circular are familiar to local authorities all over the country. Indeed, as I learned in Liverpool on Saturday, it is being used to excellent effect. Nevertheless, because we have a dangerous period in the weeks ahead, I want, this afternoon, to remind every local authority and every landlord that the circular of 1960 stands. I stand by it, and I add this: if a tenant is in danger of being made homeless by an unscrupulous landlord who is rushing eviction proceedings through against him, and if the local authority is convinced that it can meet the situation only by compulsory purchase powers, then I say to both—the local authority and the landlord—that in that situation I am prepared to entertain compulsory purchase orders submitted to me by a local authority in England and Wales.
I suggest that my hon. and learned Friend discusses that with his friends on the city council in Liverpool, with whom I discussed this matter last Saturday, and who believe that the threat of compulsory purchases of this kind will probably be sufficient to stop the evil in these weeks ahead.
Whether the Bill achieves its full purpose depends on public opinion, and on the publicity that is accorded to it.
Is it not a fact that the circular dealt specifically with multi-let property, and that this was a weakness in it? May we have an assurance that it no longer applies only to multi-lets, but also to individual households faced with evictions?
My hon. Friend may have observed that, against all my inclinations, I was reading this passage very carefully. This speech has been drafted and I ask my hon. Friend to study HANSARD tomorrow. I think that he will find that what I have said gives him all that he wants.
I want hon. Members to give publicity to this and to cases which they discover of landlords evicting in this way, because I think that by publicity, and by threats, we can protect our tenants without anyone, or at any rate many of them, getting anywhere near actual evictions.
That brings me to the second thing that I want to say, and that is the extent of the actual emergency which we are facing in London, Liverpool, Birmingham, or any other of our great cities where this is a real problem. Is the emergency grave enough to justify the measures that we are adopting? Is it worth doing what we are doing this afternoon? When I looked for evidence, I found that this business was like an iceberg. What is above the surface is very small, but what is below the surface is really important stuff. It is extremely difficult to get hard evidence.
I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames. He based his appeal for action on a couple of letters which he received. I have been carefully through all the letters which I have received as the Minister in charge of this Department and I want to tell the right hon. Gentleman about them. Up till now, I have had three authenticated reports describing how landlords are serving notices to quit, with the stated intention of anticipating the reintroduction of rent control. I have had three absolutely clear cases of that.
I have had 22 other people writing to me reporting, but without details, that landlords are serving notices to quit in their areas. One letter refers to an estate agent having sent out more than 50 notices to quit. One refers to 25 families on an estate receiving notices to quit, and another letter states that 40 notices have been served. These letters came from all over the country, not just from London.
That evidence was not very satisfactory, and to seek further evidence I made what inquiries I could in 11 London boroughs, in town halls, and in seven rent tribunals. Nine of the boroughs—I shall not give the names; two of them should have known better—stated that they had no evidence of any increase in recent weeks in the number of cases where landlords were taking steps to gain possession, and two reported slight increases. This may merely show how little town clerks are in touch with the realities of life among people who live in other than council houses. Of the rent tribunals, four reported no increase, and three a slight increase.
I was not satisfied with that and I therefore decided to visit the best place that I could think of to see for myself, which is the L.C.C. Reception Centre for homeless families at Morning Lane, Hackney. Here, may I pay tribute to what the L.C.C. has done for homeless families. In the provinces the children of homeless families are put in homes and the families are broken up. It is, therefore, a great pleasure to see this relief effort in London. There is this central point where there are social workers who can see how people are being made homeless, analyse them, and study their stories.
I think that it would be better if the hon. Gentleman asked questions after he has heard what I have to say. All the officers to whom I talked at this Centre agreed that the Rent Act is not the sole cause of homelessness, and that the personal characteristics of some tenants are certainly an important cause. They all agreed, however, that the Rent Act is the single most persistent and most steadily increasing cause.
Perhaps I might give the House the figures that I was given. Of the 88 families received at Morning Lane during the week that I visited the centre—last week—24 families, just under one-third, were there not because of any personal failings, not because of overcrowding. not because of rent arrears, but basically because the landlords wanted to get vacant possession of the property and had used the powers given to them under the Rent Act to throw their tenants into the street.
After that visit my last doubts vanished. It would have been inhuman and irresponsible to prepare for a main Measure to be launched after Christmas without taking the precaution of passing this emergency Bill to deter landlords.
It is quite clear that notices to quit are generally issued in respect of unfurnished tenancies. Is there any evidence that this is happening in furnished tenancies where there is already protection?
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should visit the centre to which I have referred and study the situation there. It would be an excellent education for him, as it was for me. We are dealing here with all tenancies. The Parliamentary Secretary, who specialises in London housing, is very anxious to answer all the questions that are asked during the debate, and will do so if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
In the few weeks that I have been at the Ministry I have become more and more impressed by how little reliable information is available about conditions in the nation as a whole in this whole difficult area of the private landlord and private tenant. That is one reason why we were so anxious to postpone the big Bill until after Christmas. I want also to receive and digest the Milner Holland Report, which deals exclusively with the situation in London. We desperately need to know more facts which, during the last 10 years, nobody has wanted to know. Our difficulty is to find the organisations in the Ministry which are suitable to discover these absolutely essential facts. I wish that the hon. and learned Gentleman had been bombarding my predecessor, so that I could have inherited an adequate instrument for research on these questions throughout the country. I am glad that he pointed out the deficiencies of my predecessor.
I want to return for a moment—because I know that the question is being asked; it was asked by the right hon. Gentleman during the debate on the Address—to this basic issue of the landlord/tenant relationship and what we intend to do about it. I gave notice to the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). I want to go back to the Rent Act for a moment, partly to remind myself, as somebody drafting legislation, of the frailty of even the cleverest legislators and their ability to get things wrong. It is extremely instructive to a legislator to read the two-day debate on the Rent Act, which took place during the Suez crisis, and which was of the very greatest importance. In that debate we heard the case for decontrol. It was stated in confident assertions that decontrol would help to end the housing shortage first by preventing under-occupation; secondly, by maintaining the stock of houses to rent by giving the landlord an incentive to relet instead of selling a vacant house; and, thirdly, by enabling landlords to keep their property in good repair. Those were the three reasons for decontrol.
This belief in the almost divine power of decontrol to cure most of our social evils was expressed most clearly by the Parliamentary Secretary of the day, now the right hon. Gentleman for Wolverhampton, South-West. In one of his classically precise, brilliant and revealing speeches he made a number of predictions. He pointed out that as a result of his Bill decontrolled rents would soon not be much in excess of controlled rents; that the rent limit would prove to be a maximum not often obtained in real life; and, finally, on creeping decontrol —here he was more cautious—he suggested a figure of 125,000 homes a year as likely to become decontrolled. The actual figure was 325,000 houses a year. He did not even get the figure of bulk decontrol right, because it was roughly half of what he predicted. That is a warning of how careful one has to be to know something about the real situation before one legislates on this extremely difficult and complex situation.
I want to quote. I do not quote it against him because I like clarity even when it is embarrassing. He told the House:
… upon an objective basis, and one which has been broadly accepted I think, we are now within sight of, and should in 12 months' time or so be level with, an equation of the overall supply and demand for homes."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1956; Vol. 560, c. 1760.]
Decontrol would abolish the housing shortage within one year. In the earthly
paradise created by the "Powell-like" application of laisser faire the private housing supply would balance demand. The landlords would earn enough to repair their houses. The tenant, liberated from socialist controls, would enjoy freedom of choice at rents that he can afford.
Of course, we know that is all nonsense. We knew that it was nonsense then, and we said so, but no one would listen to us. It was not only the right hon. Gentleman. The whole British establishment was on his side. There were leaders in The Times, the Economist and, I regret to say, even in The Guardian supporting this view or the virtues of decontrol; and now, seven years later, we all know that the realities bore no relation to the predictions when the measure was brought in.
Under-occupation, due to disappear, actually increased in the first two years after decontrol; and the majority of the landlords still failed to repair their houses. Most significant of all, the politicians who had looked forward to the decontrol, section by section, of all rent-controlled houses, in the last election were seeking votes by promising that there would be no further block decontrol. Could conversion and penitence ever go further?
I am not saying for one moment that there is any blame attached, but it has made me feel that if one is to succeed in this problem a humble study of the facts before one lets one's doctrine prevail is very important indeed.
I come to the question which the right hon. Gentleman asked me. If the Rent Act has to go—and now even no hon. Member opposite doubts that it has to go—what do we put in its place? The right hon. Gentleman asked me if we would go back and try to create the pre-1957 conditions. He is a kind man and he asked me an easy question. As he well knows, the answer is "No", because it is impossible to do so. There is another reason. This Government recognise that the old Rent Acts had very serious defects indeed. In a world of rapid technological change and of rapidly changing economies there must be a continuous growth of wages, of prices and of profits, and if we try to freeze rents when the cost of everything else is rising the result is to create more problems than we solve.
This, of course, is true. This is not something on which there is a monopoly of wisdom on either side—it is something that is true. What we hope to do now is not to restore the Rent Act of 1957 or anything like that. By shifting the emphasis from the negative formula of rent control to the positive aspects of security of tenure, we are determined to end the cold war atmosphere between landords and tenants and to lay the foundations for a new and more humane relationship between them in the years to come.
The truth is that security of tenure is an essential part of the comprehensive social security to which the Government are committed, a great slice of which we are going to carry through in this Parliament. We can find a solution of the age-old landlord-tenant problem only if we see that solution as part of a comprehensive plan for providing for the whole community security in sickness; security against unemployment; security in old age; and, not least, security against homelessness and, even more important, against the fear of homelessness.
All these different related kinds of social security have to be bound together, and we are determined to carry out our offensive along the whole front in this Parliament. We know that passionate controversies will be aroused. I know when the big Bill comes forward there will be controversy. We shall have got right down to basic principles, and we shall be discussing and fighting for things really worth fighting for. I say that as one of those who believes that controversy is the breath of life.
But if we want to do that with a good conscience we must be sure that the protracted debates that we have do not mean eviction for innocent tenants. Therefore, before we start the debate and enter on this controversy which may last for some time, we must make quite sure that not a tenant suffers as a result of a delay in the process of democracy. In that spirit I plead with the House. Let us show an example. Let us say that before we argue on the big issues we will agree on the need to protect the tenants during this period, and let us show, by getting this Bill through in a few days, that we are united in helping the tenants in this way.
I begin by congratulat- ing the right hon. Gentleman on his assumption of what he will already have learnt to be one of the most difficult, as it is one of the most important, of the great offices of State. I include in those congratulations the two very able Parliamentary Secretaries whom he has the good fortune to have at his side. It would also be in the spirit of the way we do things here—although it is probably not strictly required by our rules governing these matters—if I were to say that, not directly, but through a board of which I am a member, I may well have a personal interest in the subject matter of the Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman would probably agree that the Bill is somewhat difficult to follow and somewhat obscure in its drafting. It bears all the understandable marks of hurried drafting, and I am sure that he will appreciate that it is, therefore, necessary for my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself to try to elicit from him the exact meaning and effect of certain passages in the Bill which, at the moment, seem to be very far from clear.
We have had the Bill in our possession for less than a week—I make no complaint about that—and the right hon. Gentleman and the House will probably accept that in the case of a complex Measure like this, acting and interacting on a whole mass of existing legislation, it is not a very convenient procedure, and it is one which I hope in other circumstances the Government will not seek to follow. It means that I shall have to ask a number of questions which, as I understand the right hon. Gentleman, his Parliamentary Secretary is almost bursting to reply to.
I will endeavour to temper the wind to a far from woolly lamb, but I must point out that we are legislating, and what the House wants to know, especially in these circumstances, is not only what are the Government's intentions—which the right hon. Gentleman very clearly explained—but also whether, in point of law, those intentions, and no more, are carried into effect by this Measure.
If there be any misunderstanding about that on my part, at least I sin in good company. On 12th November The Times said that the Bill would have the effect of freezing all rents for the next 12 months. As I understand the right hon. Gentleman, that is not so. If that great newspaper can be misled, then lesser and humbler folk perhaps have a good excuse.
I understood that. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman used the word "wholesale" before. But with that quotation in mind, I thought it desirable in everybody's interest to get this clear. The newspaper stated that the Bill would result in a freezing of rents during the next 12 months, but I understand that that is not so.
The right hon. Gentleman presents the Bill as a holding Measure. I thought that he admitted, in frankness, that it was necessitated by the decision of his right hon. Friends and himself to put what one may colloquially refer to as the repeal of the Rent Act in the Queen's Speech. In my speech in the debate on the Address I said—and the right hon. Gentleman quoted it in extenso, so I need not repeat it—that the effect of making that statement of policy must be to induce what I hope and believe is a minority of landlords—but some landlords—to seek to get out of property which is at present decontrolled, but which they fear may be recontrolled, tenants who, if they remain, will become controlled tenants. The Government having created this situation—it has not been created by a cataclysm of nature, but by the Government's own actions—it was up to the Government to come forward as quickly as possible with their proposals, so that no one should suffer simply as a result of uncertainty.
The right hon. Gentleman presented the Bill at the beginning of his speech with a reference to the fact that it was an emergency Measure, solely and exclusively concerned to prevent unscrupulous landlords from exploiting tenants. At the outset, while it may well have that effect by reason of the provisions of Clauses 1 and 2, in the absence of further clarification from the right hon. Gentleman it seems to me that it goes a great deal further than that.
Before I come to the detailed points which I shall put I must say that the right hon. Gentleman cannot ride two horses on the Bill. He cannot put it forward merely as a clear, clean-cut emergency Measure, designed to protect tenants from the effect of the Government's announcement and ask, in those circumstances, for its speedy passage if, at the same time, it contains controversial matter which he himself may accept and think right, but which is extraneous to that particular purpose.
It follows from the line that the right hon. Gentleman took that he accepts that proposition, and the point that I shall endeavour to make a little later in my speech is that there are matters which, whatever their merits or demerits, are not necessarily required for the purpose which the right hon. Gentleman himself gave as being the main reason for the Bill. I do not ask the right hon. Gentleman to take that from me; I shall hope to demonstrate it to him, not at excessive length, in a few moments' time.
As the right hon. Gentleman told us, Clause 1 contains the true emergency provision under which it will be impossible to evict a tenant covered by the Bill without recourse to the county court and without an order from the county court. There is nothing very startling about that. As the right hon. Gentleman fairly said, this is at present the practice of good landlords and good companies in England. It also has the additional merit of being the law of Scotland, and to the extent that this provision brings the law of England more into line with that of Scotland I am sure that it will arouse the enthusiasm of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition.
But it is here the practice to go to the county court, although there is in England one exception to which the right hon. Gentleman hardly referred, namely, the possibility, which the Bill abolishes, to go to the High Court under the very speedy procedure with which it is possible to move there. That procedure, as well as the procedure of evicting without a court order, is abolished in England and Wales by the Measure.
I am much obliged. I hoped that the House and the right hon. Gentleman had followed me. I was talking of houses covered by the Bill. I agree that houses of an annual value in excess of £400 are not covered, and that the right to which I have referred remains in their case. It is convenient to deal with the great mass of houses covered by the Bill, and I shall endeavour to direct my remarks specifically to them.
There is one important consideration which bears on what is not, of itself, an unreasonable proposal. The right hon. Gentleman said that he had made some inquiries, from which he had discovered that the county courts were not unduly congested. That is probably true. On the other hand, the county court procedure may well involve substantial delay—a delay imposed upon a landlord not by a conscious decision of the judge, but a delay in getting a decision at all. This procedure is nothing like as quick as the High Court procedure, and if the Government are to cut out the High Court procedure they should be prepared to take steps to secure that county courts move speedily in appropriate cases.
The right hon. Gentleman said that there were bad tenants as well as bad landlords, and that is so. There are cases—no doubt a very small minority, but very trying to landlords—of really bad tenants who can cause the greatest trouble either to landlords or to fellow tenants. In such cases it ought to be possible to get an order speedily.
If the right hon. Gentleman studies the matter, I do not think that he will feel that it is possible at present in the county courts, even in London. In the country there is a further problem. In the country, county court judges go on a circuit, and if one happens to miss the judge at one of his courts it may be quite a considerable interval before it is possible to catch him —if that is not a disrespectful phrase—at the court having jurisdiction in respect of the property involved.
I think that it is up to the Government —if they are to make the county court procedure universal up to the £400 mark—to see that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has a look at the county court procedure, in order to give an opportunity for the securing of an order speedily where the need for it can be shown to exist, and not to deny effective justice simply by delay. The Government should look at the general county court rules, and in the country it also involves looking at the specific point, whether it should not be made possible for proceedings to be brought in any of the county courts served by a particular county court judge, rather than that the hearing of a case should be confined to the court within whose jurisdictional area a particular property happens to be. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will say something about this matter.
I should like to take this issue a little further. If this is a good principle, of no eviction without a county court order—it is a principle, as I say, that I should certainly not wish to criticise off the cuff—there are several questions about it. Why should it be introduced—this new principle in England and Wales—only to the end of 1965? Is it because it is intended to introduce that principle in the further legislation to which the right hon. Gentleman referred? Indeed, at one stage I thought that we had almost got on to the Second Reading of the right hon. Gentleman's second Bill. I felt tempted to say—as perhaps I should say at this stage—that whatever we may say, or whatever attitude we may adopt about this Bill, my right hon. Friends, and I feel that the right hon. Gentleman and the Government are making a great and grave mistake in going for the general reimposition of rent control throughout the country. In our General Election manifesto we said that there was a special question in respect of London which we should want to consider in the light of the Milner Holland Report. That we shall wish to do.
This Bill has nothing to do with the Milner Holland Report. I understand from an answer by the right hon. Gentleman that he has not even got that Report yet. Apart from that, the decision of the Government to go forward with a universal, nation-wide increase up to what is at present an unstated value in rent control is, in our view, a very sad and unfortunate mistake. I have no doubt, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I should incur your displeasure if I were to argue that proposition now. I understand from what the right hon. Gentleman said that an opportunity to do so may be forthcoming before too long.
Meanwhile, we have to discuss this Bill against the background of what the right hon. Gentleman has promised, or perhaps I should say threatened. We have, therefore, to look at this issue not only on its own merits—as I say the merits of having to go to a county court seems well worth discussing—as a permanent proposition, but we have also to do it with the knowledge that anything in this Bill may be foreshadowing the intentions of the right hon. Gentleman in respect of his major Bill, for example, the limit of value to which he intends to go.
Clause 2 as the right hon. Gentleman says, puts a big load on the county court judges, a very big responsibility. If this matter is to go to someone for arbitration, I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has selected the regular courts of the land and not a temporary tribunal. I think it more satisfactory that what is a very important job should be done by professional judges of the high standard of the judges of the county courts. But I am not at all sure—in Committee we shall have to look at it again—whether the points to which they have to pay attention under the provisions of Clause 2 are necessarily the only ones to which their attention should be drawn.
There are others if one looks at earlier legislation such as, for example, the interests of prospective tenants and the interests of industry and agriculture which ought to be considered. I hope that in due course we shall have an opportunity to study them
I said that the Bill showed deficiencies of drafting which are perhaps understandable considering the haste with which it has been produced. One arises in a passage in Clause 1(1,c) to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. There, it states:
… any member of his family residing with him at his death
is brought into the protection of the legislation. But residing for how long? For 48 hours? The old Rent Acts pre-
scribe a period of six months. It looks to me as if the possibility of offering what would be quite a wrong benefit to someone—who perhaps came to help during the last few days of a persons life—has been provided in haste, and we shall want to investigate that.
The right hon. Gentleman also referred to Clause 1(3,a) where there is a reference to it being unlawful to enforce one's right of possession otherwise than through the courts. What does that mean? Does one incur the penalties of this provision if, without intimidation—I share the wish of the hon. Gentleman that intimidation should be prevented, though I do not know whether this form of words would do so—one says to a tenant, "Your tenancy is up, I want possession, and if you do not give it to me I shall have to proceed in the county court"? Does that kind of approach which, if the tenant is willing to go, would save both parties from incurring wholly unnecessary costs, get caught by this Clause? Again, this is a matter which, I think, in the haste of drafting, the right hon. Gentleman has not looked at.
I now come to what at the beginning of my speech I called extraneous matters. The attitude of the right hon. Gentleman to these must, I think, determine the attitude of my hon. and right hon. Friends in the later stages of the Bill. In Clause 1(5) there is a provision in respect of agricultural cottages. I know that this is an issue which arouses the deepest passions of hon. Members on the benches opposite. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, this has been a matter of controversy for 100 years. It is not, in the nature of things, involved in his emergency operation. I wish to know why, whatever its merits—which no doubt we shall discuss in Committee—it is in the Bill.
Most notable is the singling out of the agricultural cottage. As the House knows, if one occupies premises in connection with one's employment, it may be done in one of two ways. Either the occupier does so under his contract of service or under a tenancy. As I understand it, the general law on the matter is that the ordinary law of rent restriction applies where it is a tenancy and does not where it is an occupation under a contract of service. That applies throughout the whole field, in respect of National Coal Board property, railway cottages, and so on. It applies even to No. 10 Downing Street, which at present is held on a very short tenancy indeed.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give an answer to this because it may help with the progress of the Bill. Why have agricultural cottages, and only agricultural cottages, been singled out for the treatment which the Bill gives them; to treat, whatever the facts, their occupation as a tenancy and, therefore, to give to them the particular cover provided for in the Bill? Is it suggested that a farmer has, automatically, less need to obtain possession of premises for another employee than have other employers?
If that is the Government's argument, how could it possibly be applied in the case of farmers with livestock, with the necessity, particularly on winter nights, of feeding stock. I think that we must have from the Government a clear statement as to why, in a Bill which the right hon. Gentleman referred to in opening as being "wholly and exclusively concerned"—words he derived from the Inland Revenue—with this emergency situation, he has made it so different in its effect by deliberately picking out this one form of house and bringing it into this Bill.
It is a little difficult to see why he has done it and why he has done it in this way. It was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech, it was not mentioned in the Labour Party's manifesto, and, if one accepts the memorandum which the National Farmers' Union has put round, not only was that union not consulted but it was not even warned that something of major importance to its industry was to be put forward in legislation.
No doubt some of my hon. Friends, particularly those representing agricultural constituencies, will want to probe this matter further, but I want to make it plainly clear to the right hon. Gentleman that the inclusion of this particular proposal in the Bill seems at any rate to diminish very considerably his claim that this is a Bill of a character confined to dealing with an emergency and entitled to treatment on those lines.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman—this is surprising for him—slipped very quickly over the question of the inclusion, which he confirmed of furnished lettings within the provision of the Bill. Why have they been brought in? They are not covered by the main provisions of the old Rent Acts; they are, in fact, covered by their own legislation. I think that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. F. J. Bellenger) made a very effective point when he intervened during the right hon. Gentleman's speech and asked how one would co-relate the rent tribunals, whose functions, as I understand, are not being interfered with in the Bill, and the dealing by the county courts under the Bill with furnished lettings from in some cases exactly the same point of view—the continuity of tenure of the granting of security.
There has obviously been very little thought given to the inter-relationship of the two, but I think that it goes deeper than this. It is much more questionable whether furnished lettings should be dealt with in a measure of this kind at all. The essence of furnished letting is very different from that of an unfurnished letting. It is foolish to generalise in these matters, but, broadly speaking, an unfurnished letting is a letting to a family and, equally broadly speaking, a furnished letting is to an individual, to single people. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Broadly, I think that it is true. There are, as I accepted, exceptions, of course.
I think that that argument might have been true before 1957, but because of the effects of the 1957 Rent Act and the shortage of rented accommodation which has followed the effects of that Act the conception he has of furnished accommodation today just, is not true.
I am sorry to disagree with the hon. Gentleman—though our disagreement is only on a question of degree and emphasis—because he will accept from me that there is a vast mass of furnished lettings to individuals, students, secretaries, people who work in London, who take a furnished letting of individual rooms in private houses. So there is quite plainly a greater need than in unfurnished accommodation for flexibility in this.
There is a very great danger, which the right hon. Gentleman did not address himself to at all, that if the holders of furnished lettings are to be protected by provisions of this kind there might be a much greater unwillingness on the part of individuals to let furnished rooms in their own houses. If that is so, the effects will be very serious indeed.
At one time, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, I was concerned at the Treasury with the affairs of universities, and one of the most important things, particularly in connection with the new universities and those in great cities, was getting individual rooms, furnished, of course, in ordinary houses for the students attending those universities. Some of the universities were trying a very sensible idea, under which there was an overlap, and a student of one university lived in the room in which a student of another university lived when he was at home.
I think that the House must face the fact that this will plainly be much more difficult for someone who wants to let for a matter of weeks—a university term for example—a room to an individual in his own house, if he cannot secure that person's departure without the full procedure of the county court, and with all the possibilities that a judge may grant a suspension of the order. I think that the House wants to think further on whether or not furnished lettings should be brought in.
This is no new point. The old Rent Acts, though they dealt peripherally with furnished lettings, were mainly concerned and mainly concentrated on unfurnished lettings. I do not accept, I am bound to say, without a great deal more justification than the right hon. Gentleman gave, the suggestion that his "emergency" involves also the imposition of this system on the general body of furnished lettings. I can see his difficulty, when he put to us very fairly, as to the exclusion of particular categories. There are categories, such as those I have been describing, which he and every sensible person wants to see excluded.
Would my hon. Friend consider including in this very important point the interests of the tourist industry in this country and the vital interest in the major tourist seaside resorts of making quite certain that the very cheap furnished lettings which are made through the winter months, decidedly and on the basis that people will leave in the spring, must be protected in those areas? There just is not the time to ensure, by going to a court, if somebody who has agreed to leave in the spring changes his mind and decides to sit on his backside in the flat. That can be a major harm to the tourist industry.
I think that my hon. and learned Friend has made an effective point. I had intended to make the additional point of the seaside towns; their winter lettings and their summer lettings over particular periods are a further difficulty in the way of this procedure. I expect that some of my hon. Friends who represent these towns will also want to press this point on the right hon. Gentleman.
I am very anxious to follow this argument—having had it for some weeks privately, I am interested in having it again in public—whether there is a real problem or not. Surely, if we are right, in Scotland where, anyway, no one can be evicted without going to court, this problem must have been in existence for a long time, yet it has not been a great problem. Secondly, if one lets one's house furnished, how does one throw someone out normally? One does it by agreement. What extra imposition is the Bill making which did not exist in the first place?
I see the point about the High Court and the longer process. In normal cases, to say that pending the introduction of the Bill the county court order shall apply, do we impose a difficulty? I think that we may be doing damage to the country if we give an impression that there are grave dangers to those people when there are not. We might be exaggerating this problem and doing damage when we are trying to help people. What is the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) exactly afraid of which will be different after this Bill is passed than it is today?
First of all, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the High Court point. There is also a further point, that if a landlady—I am not necessarily thinking of a landlady in the sense of taking lodgers, but a landlady in the sense of the feminine of landlord—who is not entitled, under the Bill, to enforce her right to possession other than by going to the court. If she seeks to enforce it other than by going to the court she commits a criminal offence. In the normal case at present she has only to ask the tenant to go, and he goes. In future, if she seeks to enforce her right she subjects herself to criminal penalties. It seems to me to make the matter more serious rather than less.
The right hon. Gentleman, again rather unlike him, missed the point when he referred to the letting of houses furnished. The particular sharpness of this problem is not where a house is let furnished, but where a room is let furnished. These represent the great numbers and the cases which immediately make for difficulty. I do not know whether the difference between his emphasis on a house and my emphasis on a room opens the way at a further stage by which we might consider resolving the problem, but I am very disturbed at the effect, not only in the seaside towns and not only in the supply of rooms for students, but generally on the flexibility and availability of furnished accommodation of including this provision in the Bill.
The onus is on the right hon. Gentleman. This is designed as a holding Measure in respect of the repeal of the Rent Act, and yet it brings in the whole mass of furnished accommodation which is not the main subject of the Rent Act at all. The onus is therefore on him, and not on me, to show why it is necessary to extend this further.
Is it not possible that these furnished lettings in seaside towns could be excluded from the provisions of the Bill by saying that any furnished tenancy of up to but no more than six months shall be excluded?
That may be a very promising Amendment which the hon. Gentleman may wish to put forward in Committee. I would not wish to dismiss that kind of suggestion out of hand. I believe that it illustrates the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has gone too far with his proposal and that the onus is on him to justify this extension of the scope of the Rent Act—for that is the substance of this Bill. With all respect to his admirable speech, he did not attempt to deal with this point. We shall therefore listen to the Parliamentary Secretary on this point with particular interest.
I appreciate the point which the right hon. Gentleman is making about a furnished letting, but if he looks at the provisions of Clause 2(4) he will find the terms on which a county court will order possession. Subsection (4,a) draws attention to the conditions of the tenancy being observed and subsection (4,d) deals with the question of greater hardship. No county court judge would do other than make an order for possession in the case which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, and no difficulty would arise.
The hon. and learned Gentleman has missed my point. This is not a case in which the landlady, to take the right hon. Gentleman's phrase, should have to go to the county court at all. Secondly, it is not for the hon. and learned Gentleman to prejudge what the evidence may be. It may well be that in the case mentioned by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr Lubbock) the tenant might be able to produce considerable evidence of hardship. This might present the county court judge with a very difficult duty of weighing one against the other. I do not think that the point made by the hon. and learned Gentleman invalidates my argument.
In the circumstances of the introduction of this Bill it is not our intention to delay its progress any more than is necessary for a proper examination of its provisions and for an opportunity to urge upon the right hon. Gentleman that he should confine it, as an emergency Measure—as he himself describes it—to the Measures needed to protect tenants from the results of the Government's action and should not carry controversial legislation into other fields. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, who has been in the House for many years, will understand, as will his experienced Parliamentary Secretary, that progress on a Measure of this kind depends on the willingness of a Minister sincerely to listen to the arguments which are put on those points, and to consider them; and, where the argument is sound, to accept Amendments. If the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to tackle the Bill in that spirit—and I have gone out of my way to help him by outlining some of the points about which my right hon. Friends and I are troubled—then I do not think that he will encounter any great difficulty.
But he must remember that the House on both sides has a duty to look effectively at legislation of this kind and that that is a duty which my hon. Friends and I intend to discharge. We shall, of course, listen to the Parliamentary Secretary's reply to ascertain whether he is able to deal with the points which have been raised in the debate on which, as the House already appreciates, there is real and sincere anxiety on this side of the House, and perhaps on the other side, too. In the light of the hon. Gentleman's reply we shall have to see how the next stages of the Bill go.
I have said to the right hon. Gentleman that there will be no obstruction, but we must do our duty to see that, in the guise of an emergency Measure, deep and harmful changes are not made in the law of landlord and tenant.
I hope that the House will bear with me if in this my maiden speech I say a few words about my constituency. I have the honour to represent the constituency of Epping, which has been represented here by many notable figures in the past. In the period 1945–50, Mrs. Leah Manning represented Epping and was much loved in the House and in her constituency. In the last Parliament and for some time previously, Mr. Graeme Finlay was the Member for Epping. He was assiduous in his duties and a very fair opponent, and, despite our obvious political differences, a man for whom I have the greatest respect—a respect which I am sure is shared by hon. Members on both sides.
My constituency is unusual in that it has the third largest electorate in the country. I represent nearly 95,000 electors here, and the electorate lives in five separate areas—three urban districts, those of Harlow, Epping and Waltham Holy Cross; part of the Epping and Ongar Rural Districts, and part of the Greater London Borough of Waltham Forest Hon. Members will see that in those circumstances the work involved in representing so many people is vast.
The most pronounced feature of my constituency is the south-east drift. People are coming into the constituency every week from the high unemployment areas, and they are also moving out from London, particularly into Harlow New Town. The result is that those people who are coming in search of work, in offices, factories and laboratories, are in search of houses, too, and housing is a major problem in the constituency.
Although the Epping constituency is regarded as part of the affluent South, some of the worst slums that I have ever seen exist in this area. These are rural slums, places in which people are forced to live where there is no sanitation and no refuse collection. They live in old buses and shacks, in caravans, and in one case even in a tent. This is the result of the tremendous pressure which is being built up on housing accommodation as a result of the south-east drift.
This pressure has produced a vast increase in the price of homes whether they are for renting or for sale. The 1957 Rent Act, in opening much privately rented accommodation to the same free-for-all as has prevailed in the sale of houses, removed the defence from an important section of the community. The result is that since the coming into force of the 1957 Act the older, poorer and less fortunate members of my constituency have continued to be displaced.
In the many cases of eviction which have occurred one is apt to overlook the human problem involved; to regard it all as a matter of numbers. But statistics are no measure of the mental suffering caused to those who are evicted. I remember a case with which I dealt some years ago of a lady aged 80 who had lived in her house for nearly 56 years. She was turned out of it and was forced to live in temporary accommodation for six years before getting other accommodation from the local council. Another case with which I am dealing at present concerns a woman of 70 who has lived in her house for 37 years. The owner recently died and his son is anxious to sell the property and is, therefore, seeking to evict her.
These people come to me in great distress, often with tears in their eyes, and it is because of my experience of these things that I know that any Measure which inflicts sufferings of this description on members of the community cannot be in the best interests of the country. I could cite other cases but I would rather hon. Members consider what dance there is for people in the circumstances I have described to obtain alternative accommodation in my constituency.
It is possible, naturally, to rent a furnished house—that is, if one can afford £6, £9 or more a week. They are the usual rents. Otherwise, the sky is the limit. On the other hand, it is possible to buy property, although few houses worth living in are available at under £4,000. How can the sort of old person about whom I have been speaking rent or purchase such property? It is for these people, and others, that the Bill offers hope. I welcome it as such, although I recognise that it is a holding operation pending further action. I hope that we can sweep away the 1957 Act and all the ramifications which flow from it.
Another section of the community, agricultural workers, will be very much affected by the Bill. It is a scandalous state of affairs that the tied cottage should have survived down to the middle of the twentieth century. When tenancy is a condition of service I maintain that one has the essence of feudalism and I would remind hon. Members opposite that many farmers have evicted tenants from tied cottages and have subsequently sold the property because farm mechanisation has meant that not so much labour is required.
The tied cottage system has vested great power in the hands of farmers to coerce their tenants. This system is a denial of the ordinary freedom of life, and to illustrate this I will relate an incident which occurred in my constituency during the election. I was canvassing the people living in a tied cottage. In a window of the cottage was displayed a poster belonging to my opponent. I discovered that that poster had been put there in deference to the wishes of the owner of the cottage and not the people living in the cottage, who in any case intended to vote for me, which they did.
The Bill offers some hope for people in tied cottages, and it is worth considering what legal steps are available to these tenants at present. Their cases are taken through either the magistrates court or the high court. Magistrates have no discretion to delay eviction for longer than 30 days and the high court rarely exercises its power. In putting this valuable power in the hands of county courts, the Bill will enable these courts to extend the period of grace for tenants to 12 months. Clause 3(1,b) excludes from benefit tenants already enjoying the protection of the Rent Act. Can these people be evicted if their employment comes to an end? If so, it would seem that the Bill is likely to create two classes of tied cottage tenant.
Yesterday I saw a document issued by the National Farmers' Union stating that the number of cases of unreasonable hardship to farm workers has been negligible. That is nonsense. Cases of hardship arise in my constituency monthly, and it must be remembered that a farm worker who is evicted cannot afford on his wages to buy property in the area; and the local rural district council imposes a five-year residential qualification before anyone can be placed on the housing list.
In many cases, the only alternative for the evicted person is to make an effort to obtain an alternative job with another tied cottage. Often he must leave his wife and family, who are moved into an appalling hostel. One of these is run by the county council at Hornchurch. In such cases the husband is separated from his wife and family until he is able to make other arrangements. What a disgrace to think that this state of affairs should be allowed to prevail in this enlightened age; that a whole family should be subjected to this sort of torture, often with devastating results on the children and the whole future of the family. I am not describing cases about which I have heard but those which I have seen. I have seen a family's entire belongings after they have been pulled out of the house, piled up on the side of the road and covered with a tarpaulin.
Is it always the fault of tied cottage occupants when they are evicted? To answer this I will quote the case of such an occupant to illustrate how it may certainly not be their fault. Today a High Court writ is being served on a man who some years ago contracted a diseased hip bone, as a result of which his leg was amputated. His employer was gracious enough to allow him to remain in occupation of his tied cottage. The farm has since been sold and, as I say, the unfortunate occupant is now being served with a writ by the new occupier of the farm who has said that he wants the cottage for someone else. I understand that a writ is also being served today on a widow of 82 years of age, who has lived in the house for the last 29 years. If the law takes its expected course, she is to be turned out. I could cite hosts of these cases, and I am sure that my hon. Friends in the National Union of Agricultural Workers could cite many others.
In those circumstances, this Bill is welcome as going some way towards meeting the plight of those living in tied cottages. I congratulate the Government on the speedy manner in which they have moved in in an endeavour to deal with this problem, which has festered for so many years, but further action is required, and required rapidly. I want to see the 1957 Rent Act abolished, as has been promised today, lock, stock and barrel. I want to see the tied-cottage system abolished, lock, stock and barrel. But I realise that, in the long run, we must have a national housing policy if these problems are to be dealt with effectively.
The truth is that many people are forced by unemployment to seek jobs in my constituency, and this must impose a heavy burden on the houses available there. I therefore believe that it is very necessary for the Government to embark as soon as possible on a programme of building not only more houses but more new towns in which employment will be available alongside the houses, and so enable people to find the jobs they require in areas where they would prefer to stay. I believe that it would help a great deal if rented property were eventually municipalised. Private enterprise has shown quite clearly that it is unable to cope with providing accommodation at reasonable rents. I was therefore delighted to hear my right hon. Friend speak of compulsory purchase by local authorities when eviction is threatened.
I am delighted to support this Bill as an interim measure, and as a holding measure. It will go some way towards alleviating the very serious circumstances in which many people at present find themselves, but I hope that further steps will be taken swiftly. I thank the House for giving such a fair hearing to me when making my initial speech.
I intervene in this debate with even more diffidence than new Members are encouraged to display. For many maiden speakers, the tradition that one is expected to pay a graceful compliment to one's predecessor comes as a welcome support during the first hesitant sentences. It is pleasant to be magnanimous, as the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) was, to an opponent whom one has just defeated. It is not too difficult to pay due tribute to a Member who has retired. In my case, the position is far different, for I have the enormous privilege of representing the constituency which for the last 40 years has been represented by Sir Winston Churchill.
What can I say about that great man that has not already been said with far more eloquence by those far more fitted to say it than I am? Perhaps it would not be presumptuous for me to make one point. I believe that Sir Winston will live in history as Britain's greatest Parliamentarian. He himself has recorded in "The Second World War" his pride in the way that Parliament continued even during the darkest days of the London blitz. He wrote:
It was a proud thought that Parliamentary democracy, or whatever our British public life can be called, could endure, surmount and survive all trials. Even the threat of annihilation did not daunt our Members.
Hon. Members may be interested to know that this passionate belief in our Parliamentary institutions was a thread running through Sir Winston's life from the earliest days. In his maiden speech, made very nearly 64 years ago, he said:
No national emergency short, let us say, of the actual invasion of this country itself, ought in any way to restrict or prevent the entire freedom of Parliamentary discussion.
Not for the first time, or for the last time, do we find Sir Winston's words having a more than prophetic ring.
Although he was then, at the age of 26, the Member for Oldham, I am sure that hon. Members will agree that it is as the right hon. Member for Woodford that he will be remembered. Indeed, it is not stretching the point too far to say that he has probably made Woodford the most famous constituency in the world. And Woodford will be unique to Sir Winston because, by one of those happy coincidences that happen in public life, some three or four years ago an Order was made under the Representation of the People Act to bring the name of the constituency into line with that of the Borough of Wanstead and Woodford, which has the same boundaries. That Order took effect from the date of the recent Dissolution of Parliament. Though I represent the same constituency, and I am very proud of the fact, that Sir Winston represented in this House, I do so not as Member for Woodford, but as the Member for Wanstead and Woodford. As a consequence, in all history, there will have been only one right hon. Member for Woodford, and I am sure that hon. Members will agree that nothing could be more appropriate than that.
Let us now turn to the Bill which we are discussing today. The hon. Member for Epping will forgive me if I do not follow him along the path of the tied agricultural cottages, for it was with a profound sense of relief that I read in my local paper some two weeks after being adopted as candidate that the last piece of agricultural property in my constituency had been turned over to housing.
I am very conscious today of the need to be non-controversial, and if, in fact, I engage in controversy in the next few minutes, I will endeavour to do so in as uncontroversial a way as I can.
I can claim some limited experience of the subject matter of the Bill. I was for a period a member of the housing committee of the Hornsey Borough Council, and, for a while, I was its chairman. I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Reading present (Mr. Peter Emery), who was one of my predecessors as chairman of the housing committee. I have also been for a while the Bishop of London's representative on the London Council of Social Service. In both capacities I have had to face some of the problems that have been posed by the continued shortage of housing in the Greater London Area.
As housing committee chairman one has the difficult, sometimes distressing, task of deciding to which among the many deserving applicants one has on the list to allocate the all-too-few vacancies which come forward. As a member of the London Churches Group, a subcommittee of the London Council of Social Service, I was involved in collecting evidence from a number of priests in the diocese of London for the purpose of the Milner Holland inquiry into the question of rented property in Greater London. I have no hesitation in saying that, at any rate in London—and my experience extends only to London—and in the present circumstances, it is right that tenants should have the sort of protection which this Bill will give to them.
The availability of alternative accommodation is at present sufficiently scarce that, although the great majority of tenants who have to find alternative accommodation do eventually find it, the statutory period of four weeks' notice is too short in those circumstances. If what the Bill is trying to do as an emergency Measure is to lengthen the period and to give more time, it would seem to be right. As the Minister said, no respectable, no responsible landlord ever proceeds to eviction without, for his own safety, obtaining a court order, but we know there are unscrupulous landlords from whom tenants need to be protected in the situation of the continuing housing shortage.
I welcome the Bill as its intention is to give tenants more time to find alternative accommodation. Having said that, however, I must go on to express some doubt as to whether in fact the policies that were adumbrated by the Minister in his opening speech and which, with variations, have been followed by all Governments since the war are ever going to solve the housing problem which this country has had for many years. It may surprise some hon. Members, although others may be familiar with the fact, that in the last five years before the war—1934 to 1939—the average number of houses completed in this country was in excess of 360,000 a year. That figure is to be exceeded this year for the first time since 1939. I am very pleased to pay tribute to the concern and energies of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) for his notable contribution to this increase in building of houses this year.
I ask myself why it is that we have had ever since the war such a struggle merely to catch up with pre-war performance. What are the obstacles that have prevented us from making a much greater attack on the housing shortage in which we found ourselves at the end of the war? I believe that two of the most significant obstacles in this regard have been in the policies of providing indiscriminate housing subsidies to tenants whether they need subsidies or not, and the continuing pattern of rent controls, with indeed the threat of the reimposition of rent controls. The combined effect of these measures has been to eliminate virtually any contribution to the housing problem by the building of private houses to let. So long as rents do not reflect the current costs of building or converting property, so long as the threat remains that rents may be pegged at uneconomic levels, for so long that most dynamic sector of the building industry, the private sector, will remain just not interested in building houses to let.
This is not the time to—I should probably he out of order if I continued to—develop this argument. I ask only this of the new Government. In the full Measure which we understand is to follow early in the New Year, I hope the Minister, who has a reputation for original thought, will devise some method of harnessing the energies of private builders so that they can participate fully in this urgent national task of solving our housing shortage, and making it once more economic for private builders to build to let. Unless this is done I do not see how we are going to solve the nation's long-term housing problem within the foreseeable future.
An essential feature of any such Measure must be—and I was encouraged by what the right hon. Gentleman said about this—that rents should reflect current market conditions. We must not fall into the trap, as we have done too often in the past, of pegging rents at levels which rapidly become quite uneconomic by the process of inflation. They must not be arbitrarily fixed at artifically low levels.
However, if rents are broadly to conform to market values there would be many tenants, both in public and private accommodation, who could not afford to pay them. Here we have to have a redistribution, indeed I would say a reconstruction, of the whole pattern of housing aid, administered perhaps through some national agency and available to give help to all tenants who need help whether they are in private or public accommodation. This seems another field in which we should try to achieve a better discrimination in the aid and welfare services which are available. This is one of those things, like that discussed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington (Mr. Howe) the other day in relation to pensions, in which I am certain that if we are to do what we want and to help those who really need help, we have to take measures to concentrate the help on those who need it.
I thank the House for having listened with such patience to what I fear must have been to some a controversial speech. I only plead in mitigation that my experiences of these matters, limited as they are, have driven me inexorably to the conclusions which I have propounded in my speech and to do my best to persuade others that they may still have some relevance to the problems we are all seeking to solve.
I rise with some trepidation because, like my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) and the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin), this is the first occasion on which I have had the privilege of addressing this House. If I err, I beg that you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and the House will forgive any mistakes I make. One mistake I thought I might make was that of being controversial in my maiden speech but, in view of the fact that the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) in the debate on the Address asked my right hon. Friend for this Bill and that he now has got this Bill, it would be exceedingly difficult for any hon. Member to be controversial about it.
There are two conventions which I wish to follow. They are useful conventions, because they serve to introduce an hon. Member to this House. The first is to mention to the House my predecessor. I am not paying lip-service to convention when I say that Mr. Arthur Holt was a most valuable hon. Member occupying a seat on the second bench below the Gangway opposite which in the past had not so great numbers as it has today. He was a most respected hon. Member and worked hard for his constituency. Above all, I found him throughout and after a very hard-fought campaign a gentleman in the highest sense of that word.
The people of Bolton, West are Lancashire folk. They are known for being straightforward, for acting straightforwardly and for speaknig straightforwardly. One thing which they detest is any relationship between individuals whereby someone is put at a disadvantage, and that is why I feel that I should rise to address the House on this Bill.
I am proud and honoured to represent Bolton. It is a town, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Robert Howarth) made reference to last week, which was in the forefront of the Industrial Revolution. Like many towns of that nature, it is now left with the problems of housing, slum clearance and urban renewal. We in the North often feel that although we make most of the money and produce most of the wealth of this country we see very little of either as far as amenities are concerned.
One of the problems, of course, is this question of housing and rent. Neighbourliness is a great virtue in Bolton. The people of Bolton believe in the right of a family to have a home, and to have that home without fear. That is what the Bill sets out to do for the people of this country. I think that my right hon. Friend was rather modest when introducing the Bill. He said, of course, that it was a temporary Measure and an emergency Measure. And indeed it is. An hon. Member opposite—I think it was the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies)—asked during the course of my right hon. Friend's speech whether this problem did not only exist in the large cities. Clearly it does not, because my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) gave some graphic descriptions for what is happening in his part of the world.
Only yesterday morning I received a letter from a constituent of mine who is facing the very problem that the Bill sets out to eliminate. He is an un- protected tenant and has received from the landlord notice to quit and a demand for an increase in rent, and that has happened between 16th October when the present Government were elected and yesterday. It is quite clear, therefore, that in all parts of the country there are unscrupulous landlords trying to obtain possession of their premises before major legislation is brought in.
I said that my right hon. Friend was modest because the Bill sets out the proposition that no one shall be evicted from a house unless a court order is obtained. In other words, I consider that it is a major feat of social legislation. It takes us a great deal further, as far as England and Wales are concerned, than any other legislation has done. As my right hon. Friend said, we are bringing the position of this part of the country up to the more advanced position that exists in Scotland, because in the matter of law Scotland has frequently been far ahead and far more progressive than England and Wales. I think that that is true throughout the history of legal reform in this country.
What the Bill really sets out to do is this. It says that unilateral action by either party in a dispute about something so precious and vital as a home shall not be taken, that there must be an independent source to decide between the parties and that that independent source should be a properly trained, qualified, impartial judge. That is all it seeks to do. A good landlord, as has rightly been said, has nothing whatsoever to fear from the Bill. He has no more to fear from it than an honest citizen need fear from the Larceny Act.
The Bill is aimed at the unscrupulous, at those who put personal profit and private greed above social need. It is aimed at those landlords who dare not go before a court of law because they have no right and justice on their side. It introduces penal provisions. It forbids a landlord to submit a tenant to physical violence, mental torture or worse. Some landlords still very often harass their tenants by the deprivation of services. When a landlord does any of these things it is a criminal offence against the persons who are tenants and against society in general, and he deserves to be dealt with as a criminal by a criminal court and to be subject to a fine not exceeding £100 or six months' imprisonment, or both, as laid down in the Bill.
Mention has been made by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, of the question of furnished lettings. Really, hon. Members must realise that if the Bill tried to define what is a furnished letting that could very well kill the Bill. I am quite certain that that is not the intention of the right hon. Gentleman. How much furniture in a letting makes it a furnished letting? Would not such an escape clause be the very thing which would enable an unscrupulous landlord to evade the provisions of the Bill?
Therefore, although it may be, as has been suggested, a little rough, nevertheless, I ask my right hon. Friend that the provisions should remain as they are, because the more complex the Bill becomes the more possible it is for those who are unscrupulous to try to escape its provisions.
The question of the tied cottage was also raised. Let hon. Members be quite clear that this is a major break-through. It is a problem that has concerned the House for nearly 100 years. The Bill states that the landlord of a tied cottage shall go before the county court in order to obtain possession. He did not have to do this under the provisions of the Rent Acts passed before the war. This is a most welcome break-through as far as agricultural labourers are concerned.
An hon. Member opposite asked about those not included in the Bill. There are some, of course. If he would like to introduce an Amendment in Committee stating that certain other tenants who are service tenants should be included in the Bill, I think that it would be welcomed from both sides.
There is one matter in the Bill which I somewhat regret, and I think that my right hon. Friend regrets it too. I think that the House can forgive the fact—because the Bill is a temporary Measure—that Clause 3(2) still allows local authorities to proceed under an Act of Parliament passed in 1838. That Act is not only Victorian; it was passed during the very first year of Queen Victoria's reign, and it affects millions of local authority tenants in the country.
Many hon. Members, I think, will be aware—some will not—of the enormous power which that gives to a local authority. What happens in effect is this. If a local authority makes a complaint to a magistrates' court, not a county court, then the magistrates sitting in that court really have no choice whatsoever but to give possession to the local authority. That, I believe offends in three ways. The magistrates have no power whatsoever. They have no discretion, no matter how bad the case may be as far as the tenant is concerned. No matter how desperately the tenant needs the house, the magistrates cannot do anything but give possession to the local authority.
I have been a member of a local authority for 12 years. I know that, on the whole, local authorities are extremely careful before they apply their enormous power in this regard, but I still say to the House that that power is wrong and that the sooner local authorities are brought in line with the provisions of the Bill which demand that the landlord, be it a local authority or not, shall go to a county court, the better.
It offends for three reasons. First, the principle of the Bill is that, before any eviction takes place, the tenant shall have the right to be heard in a county court and the case be determined impartially. Secondly, it is and always has been a principle of English law that justice must not only be done but must manifestly be seen to be done. Under the 1838 Act it is manifestly seen not to be done. Thirdly, when the prosecution is bound to win the court listening to the case must be held in some contempt by the public, because the magistrates have no power to determine anything, no matter how they may feel. I hope that my right hon. Friend will deal with that anomaly in the major Bill. I think that the House could forgive him for not trying to complicate this very brief, precise, important and effective Bill.
I wish to emulate the Bill and be concise and then sit down. I thank the House for listening to me so very courteously. It has turned what could very well have been an ordeal into a pleasure.
It is a very pleasant task indeed to congratulate no fewer than three hon. Members on their maiden speeches. This task always recalls one's own maiden speech and the absolute horror and trembling with which one stood. Somehow things seem to have changed. I congratulate the three hon. Members on their great fluency, the great knowledge they displayed of their subject and their ability to make their speeches with enormous confidence.
The hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) shares with me a very large constituency, so I entirely agree with him about the intense difficulty existing in a large constituency, even though I was not able to agree with him on some of his later points. My constituency is only about the eleventh largest in the country, but with huge numbers we have frightful problems and they tend to increase as the Member becomes known as the Member of Parliament. I can only offer the hon. Member the thought that things will get worse rather than better.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wan-stead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin) paid a most moving tribute to his predecessor, Sir Winston Churchill. My hon. Friend was able to continue with a very knowledgeable and uncontroversial speech, at the same time making use of some very good party points. The hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Oakes) brought to his subject a very fine knowledge. He was able to deliver his speech without any notes, as far as I could see. We look forward to hearing these three hon. Members again. We offer them our warm congratulations on their excellent performances.
I want to declare a personal interest as a landlord. I am not a landlord who indulges in evictions, the House will be glad to hear, but I must confess that I obtained an eviction order once last year as a trustee against a tenant who had failed to pay rent for six months. The tenant vanished before the eviction order operated. We never saw him again. I agree with the Minister that there are bad tenants as well as bad landlords.
I believe that some further measure of protection is necessary for tenants, but I am not at all in agreement with the Minister that this is necessarily nationwide. There is a problem in large cities and around large cities. This will probably be brought out by the Milner Holland Report. The Government have come forward with a definite undertaking that they will repeal the Rent Act. This in itself has created the emergency which we face this afternoon. This is the crisis. We agree that it must be settled, because some landlords—I do not think that they are necessarily vicious Rachman-type landlords—have a duty perhaps to beneficiaries to get the best terms they can from their houses. If the Rent Act is to be repealed, which is what has been promised to us, the best terms landlords can get will probably be to seek vacant possession of their houses through due process of law and thereafter sell with vacant possession. We can be sure that this will be the future pattern. As vacant possession is obtained, no longer will the house be offered to let. It will be offered for sale with vacant possession. This was one of the reasons why the Rent Act was introduced in 1957.
However, I take encouragement from the Minister's statement that he does no intend merely to repeal the 1957 Act but intends to replace it with something more progressive, realising that there must be a good and proper return to encourage the development of rented accommodation. The vast majority of private landlords—those who behave—serve the country very well indeed. There is a vast amount of rented accommodation. The Minister knows that he wants to encourage rented accommodation and he must rely on landlords. He should give them every encouragement. I hope that they will take encouragement from the forecast he made of his proposal with regard to the Rent Act.
The Bill extends protection to houses never before controlled. Thus, the Government are going far beyond the repeal of the Rent Act. Under the pre-Act position, houses with a value of over £70 in England and Wales outside London were not subject to the Rent Act. These were the equivalent of houses with values of about £200 now. The Bill increases the point at which houses are now controlled to £400. Therefore, many more houses will be covered, but the Minister has not made a case for bringing all these houses under control.
I regard Clause 1 as largely a propaganda Clause. It has received a very good Press. Wicked landlords should suffer penalties of £100. Good luck to the Bill if it achieves that. What I fear it may achieve is to make life extremely difficult for the good landlord and very easy for the bad tenant. There is the difficulty of a repossession. The Minister spoke of landlords evicting. Those are not the words of the Bill. The words of the Bill are
to enforce against the occupier … his right to recover possession of the premises".
"Enforce" is rather indefinite. The tenant to whom I have already referred disappeared owing six months' rent. If he had disappeared before the case came before the county court and had left behind a pair of socks, would it have been forcible entry to have entered the flat? Having found one pair of socks on the floor, who could say that he was not intending to return? We ought to go into this matter rather carefully and find out what is meant. A forcible eviction is already covered by the law. If it is a question of enforcing possession, what does "enforcing" mean? We shall, no doubt, be looking at these questions very closely in Committee.
I regard Clause 2 as the operative Clause under which the county courts are given power, and it is obviously intended that they should use this power, to postpone eviction orders for up to 12 months. As to unfurnished tenancies I have few comments. The provision in respect of unfurnished tenancies is perfectly reasonable in the circumstances in which this Bill is brought forward. With regard to furnished tenancies, I think it is up to the Government to make a case for including such tenancies. They are already covered by the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946. It is possible to exclude those houses which are covered by that Act. It provides for delay in giving vacant possession. It seems to me that furnished tenancies are already properly dealt with and, bearing in mind what my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said, there is sufficient safeguard in that the nature of furnished tenancies is such that a fairly rapid means of repossessing is necessary.
An example of the furnished lettings which I have in mind is the case in which the owner-occupier of a house is perhaps posted to Scotland for a year and wants to let his furnished house while he is away but wants to be sure of getting it back at the end of that time. This is a perfectly reasonable deal and he will not carry out that deal if he fears that under the procedure of this Bill he will be taken to the county court where the judge may say, "Parliament has expressly given me the power to delay this eviction order for a year, so perhaps I should do something about it. Clearly furnished houses were included with intent." In consequence, this sort of owner-occupier will tend not to let his house furnished.
We have already heard of holiday houses which are let at lower rents during the winter, and a series of lettings take place one after the other in summer, so that it is necessary that the landlord shall have the certain knowledge that the tenant will get out and will not try to take advantage of this new law that we are about to pass by trying to get the permission of the court to remain in possession.
When it comes to sub-letting part of one's home furnished, here again a person letting part of his home requires to have considerable control over the tenants. If they are noisy people, the landlord ought to be able to get rid of them fairly quickly. The mere fact that one takes people into one's home and allows them to take furnished premises does not mean that one wants them there for very long periods.
The Minister mentioned lodgers and said that they were expressly excluded, but they have not been excluded under the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946. Lodgings have been expressly taken into account under that Act. A large house which is let in single furnished rooms is a common lodging house, but it is also subject to the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act. Therefore, I think the Minister ought to look once again at the question whether lodgers are or are not covered under this Bill.
As regards agricultural tied cottages, I do not believe there is any emergency case for bringing them within the sphere of this Bill. I agree that the Bill has to got to go through quickly, but we should remember the pledge given by the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs that there shall be no eviction from agricultural tied cottages until alternative accommodation has been found. I am sure that this Labour Party pledge is one that the Government would wish to fulfil, but I cannot see that this Bill fulfils it. A local authority would only consider re-housing a tenant from an agricultural tied cottage when the eviction order had been made. If somebody said, "I am thinking of getting out of this house. Will you give me a council house?", the council would not automatically agree. This is a very real problem and it should be tackled carefully.
This is not clear to me. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that we should explicitly have made in the Bill a proviso excluding agricultural workers who are tenants of tied cottages? If we did not explicitly exclude them, they would automatically be in. The point I made was that we either had to exclude those who were genuine tenants or include those who were not. The most awkward thing would have been to leave some in and some out. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that they ought to be excluded?
Clause 1(5) clearly says that licensees of agricultural tied cottages are to be included. I am suggesting that if that Clause were struck out, there would be time for proper consultations to take place with the N.F.U. which wants to see a change made in the existing procedure, but it has not yet had a chance of being consulted.
It is important that we should conduct our business in our own way. If we had left the Bill without that Clause, the effect would have been to include all those agricultural workers in tied cottages who were tenants. They would automatically have come into the Bill. We could not have excluded them without a special proviso. Is that right? Does the hon. Gentleman mean that instead of having written in a Clause in which we include the licensee, we should have written in a Clause excluding agricultural tenants?
The right hon. Gentleman has fallen into this trap by not dealing with the other licensees. As one of his hon. Friends suggested, he should put in all licensees, those referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames—the railway workers and many others.
The hon. Gentleman is apparently suggesting that Clause 1 should cover all true tenants, including agricultural tenants but not including the others. That would have meant that a large number of farm workers would be in and a large number would be out. I want to be clear what he wants us to do.
Yes, I want the licensees to be excluded because this is logical. The condition of their occupation is that they are there by virtue of their work. This is a logical principle, but I agree that there is a difficult problem with the farmworker. The Minister of Agriculture undertook to consult the National Farmers' Union on any major policy decisions. Here is a matter of great interest to the union, but there has been no consultation whatsoever. No doubt we shall hear when the Government wind up the debate what consultations the Minister of Housing and Local Government has had with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture.
The best part of the Bill is its title. I congratulate the Minister of Housing on selecting a very attractive title which obviously must give many people reason to cheer. The Bill is necessary as a result of the Government's own action in bringing about this misery to various tenants throughout the country. Their action in saying, We are going to repeal the Rent Act" just like that, without saying, "We are going to replace it with something more sensible and realistic" has caused misery. It' the Government had said the latter there would not have been this great urge on the part of the landlords to evict their tenants. This is something which has happened since the election. It is happening at the moment, and the Minister has given us the figures. This is an emergency which has resulted from the Government's own threat of action. I hope that the Minister will co-operate in making the Bill a sensible Measure. It shows signs of very hurried drafting. I wish the Bill well when amended.
I am glad to have the opportunity of making my maiden speech on a subject which is of such importance to hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of tenants, and certainly to thousands of tenants in my constituency of Acton.
I naturally wish to ask the indulgence of the House on this occasion and I should like to pay the customary, but nevertheless sincere, tributes to my predecessors. Since the war, Acton has been represented by two Members, by "Joe" Sparks, from 1945 to 1959, and by Philip Holland, from 1959 to 1964. They sat on opposite sides of the House, but they both worked hard for the interests of all their constituents. I hope that I shall deserve as well as them. Indeed, since both in the course of time came to be defeated, I hope that I shall fare rather better.
During the period of about three years when I was the candidate for Acton I found that on many occasions people outside the constituency asked me for which part of Acton I was the candidate. Clearly, people thought that the borough contained within it more than one constituency. I thought that I had left this behind me when I came into the House. I was, therefore, a little dismayed when I was introduced to Mr. Speaker as the Member for Acton, North, and I hope that this does not cast any doubts on my constitutional position. It probably arose from the fact that I was introduced to Mr. Speaker on this occasion immediately following my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds), who, as a very distinguished son of Acton and a former mayor of the borough, all my constituents are particularly glad to see in the Government.
If there is the feeling, even in this House, that Acton, compact constituency with a rather small electorate, is, never- theless, of such importance that it should have more than one constituency, I can understand it. There are probably two main reasons. The first is that we have, as it seems to me, a multitude of railway stations, 10 railway stations in this small area. When outsiders look at a railway map and read about Acton, Acton Central, Acton Town, Acton North, Acton South, Acton East, Acton West and others besides, it may be difficult for them to realise that all these stations are fitted into a constituency which is less than four square miles in area.
I do not want hon. Members to imagine, and least of all my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, that I am suggesting that we should have fewer railway stations. I very much hope, and I believe that there are many hon. Members opposite who will agree with me, that in a short time the Minister of Transport will lift the threat which still hangs over the two Acton stations on the Broad Street-Richmond line.
The other reason why some hon. Members and people outside the House may have this misconception about Acton is that it is reckoned that nearly 50,000 people come into Acton every day from outside the borough to earn their living, making the constituency into what is regarded as the most industrialised constituency in the South of England.
But it would not be appropriate for me to spend my time today in talking about Acton's railways, or the enormous number of industries contained within the borough. I want to talk about the people who live in Acton and the conditions under which they live, particularly the housing.
Acton began to grow, roughly, 100 years ago. This means that a large proportion of the houses in the older part of the town were built at the end of the last century and the beginning of this century. Some of these houses were good houses when they were built and some were not. Some became slums long ago, some are becoming slums now. Despite the efforts of Acton Borough Council, which now has about 2,500 families in properties owned by the council, there is still a massive job to be done in the borough.
Nearly a quarter of the households in Acton live in accommodation where they have to share toilet facilities, where there are no baths and no hot-water systems. It is clear that we need in Acton a vast programme of redevelopment and modernisation. I am afraid that on the basis of the evidence of the lack of interest of most private landlords in the possibility of improving their properties by getting improvement grants, it is quite clear that this job of modernisation will be done only if it is done by the local authority. Meanwhile, tenants are living in these sub-standard houses and, of course, in many others besides. In the borough there are about 9,000 families in privately rented unfurnished accommodation and about 3,000 households living in furnished privately rented accommodation.
Here I should like to take up the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) on the question of who lives in furnished accommodation. It is true that there are many people, single men and single women, who live in such accommodation, but nowadays it is also true that there are substantial numbers of families, husbands and wives and two or three children, who are living in furnished accommodation because they cannot find any kind of unfurnished accommodation. They are paying for two rooms, with meagre articles of furniture, rents up to 9 guineas a week. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames will agree that these people need protection just as much as those people who are in unfurnished accommodation.
What protection have tenants of furnished premises got as the result of the work of rent tribunals? I think that I am right in saying that the maximum period of security which can be granted by a rent tribunal is three months. Clearly, in present circumstances, in London and the surrounding area, this gives no protection of any value at all. How can a man with a wife and two children risk going to a rent tribunal to get an excessive rent reduced if he knows that the immediate result will be that he will be out of the property and on the street in three months?
Since the Rent Act, of course, many unfurnished houses in my constituency have become decontrolled, and I was greatly struck, during the election and before, not so much by the number of evictions taking place, or, perhaps, by the very high rents being demanded, but by the general feeling of insecurity among thousands of tenants, who, possibly, were tenants of good landlords. It is these people quite as much as those actually dispossessed who live in fear, day and night, that they and their families, through no fault of their own, and even, perhaps, when they are willing to pay a higher rent, may be turned out into the street without any reasonable possibility of finding alternative accommodation. Here lies the great virtue of this Bill. It will go very far not merely to control the activities of bad landlords, but to remove the terrible anxiety and sense of insecurity among so many people of all ages and conditions.
Before turning to certain aspects of the Bill itself, I make two comments on what was said by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames. In his opening remarks, he appeared to be a little sad, even a little surprised, that the Government were, in fact, carrying out their election promises. This may be a subject for surprise in some quarters, but we on these benches take pride in the fact, first, that we stated exactly what we should do and, secondly, that so soon after the election we are taking steps to carry it out.
The second point made by the right hon. Gentleman, which was taken up by the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason)—whom I am very glad to follow, as he defeated me at the previous election, and I am glad to have caught up with him now—was that this Measure was required to protect tenants from the effect of the Government's announcement in the Gracious Speech about the repeal of the Rent Act. That is not how most tenants will regard the Bill. They will think of it in very different terms, regarding it as a Measure to protect them from the effect of the former Government's Rent Act.
My right hon. Friend the Minister made clear that this is essentially a stopgap Measure and that we shall have much wider legislation very soon. Precisely because it is a stop-gap Measure, I should myself have liked it to be rather simpler and, perhaps, if I may use the word, rather cruder. Even if hon. Members opposite are not aware of it, it is plain that landlords have been trying to get possession of their properties not just during the past three weeks, but for many months. It is obvious that some of these landlords will redouble their efforts now to get possession because they realise that, in a matter of months, we shall have more extensive legislation which will put a stop to such antics. For this reason, I am not wholly happy, and I should like to be reassured by my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, about some of the points set out in Clause 2(4).
I recognise that these conditions have appeared in previous housing legislation. I hope that I shall not be regarded as unduly lacking in respect for tradition if I suggest that that in itself is not necessarily a good reason for including them now. I recognise that just as there are bad landlords so there are good landlords, and, equally, as has been made clear, just as there are good tenants there are bad tenants. I realise that, if a tenant is in flagrant breach of the terms of his tenancy, the landlord must have rights against him and must ultimately be able to regain possession of his property. Therefore, I have no fears regarding point (a).
I am not, however, quite so happy about points (b), (c) and (d). How is one to judge, how is any county court judge to decide, whether a tenant has unreasonably refused an offer of a tenancy and whether the offer of that tenancy was for a reasonable term and at a reasonable rent? One has two "reasonables" and one "unreasonable" there, very subjective judgments in each case. What kind of evidence will be accepted to show that the tenant has failed to make reasonable efforts to obtain other suitable accommodation?
On the question of hardship to the landlord, how can one really measure the hardship to him as a result of not getting possession against the hardship to a family of being turned into the street? It has not been unknown for a landlord to advance an extremely good and convincing case for getting possession of his property, in order, perhaps, to accommodate members of his own family, it then being found, in a matter of weeks or months, that the property has been put up for sale.
Whoever takes the decisions on these points, that is, the county court judge, will be making difficult and subjective judgments. What I fear most of all is that it will now pay landlords, when they go to court, to employ the best possible—if that be the right term—legal advice and that the decisions in some cases will turn not so much on the merits of the case as on the skill and ingenuity of the landlords' lawyers, on the one hand, and on the timidity, ignorance and poverty of the tenants, on the other. For this reason, I should have preferred to see a Bill which, in effect, stopped all evictions except in those cases where it could be proved to the court that the tenant had broken the terms of his tenancy.
It could be said that this might be a little hard on landlords, but, as my right hon. Friend said, the balance has, on the whole, been rather tilted in favour of landlords in recent years. We hope that the legislation which will be introduced next year will strike the right balance, but, in the meantime, and given that this is only a stop-gap Measure lasting for a matter of months, perhaps less than six months, I should have thought that it would have been right and proper to do everything possible to give the utmost protection to tenants.
I hope that, when he replies to the debate, my hon. Friend will be able to allay my fears on some of the points which I have raised, because I know already that they are fears in the minds of some tenants and people in my constituency who have the interests of tenants much in mind. I hope that he will also be able to give an indication, as, I think, my right hon. Friend already has, that we are not merely passing a stop-gap Measure, but we are beginning to lay the foundations of a complete new body of legislation which, tying in with comprehensive changes and developments in the whole system of social security, will help to restore and to maintain the sanctity of the home and the happiness of countless families.
It is a pleasure to congratulate the hon. Gentleman the Member for Acton (Mr. Floud) upon a really admirable maiden speech. I am sure that the whole House listened to him with very great pleasure. I found myself in profound agreement with a good deal of what he said, more particularly in regard to the sense of insecurity, even fear, which is felt today by many small tenants.
I am sure, too, that on this side of the House we listened with pleasure to the tribute which the hon. Gentleman paid to his predecessor, a member of this party, who, I think, was one of the casualties of the present housing situation in London, as were some other former hon. Friends of mine who, in the last Parliament, lost no opportunity of representing this situation, and the need for some such action as is now being taken, upon my right hon. Friends when they held the reins of government.
Perhaps I ought to start by declaring an interest in this Bill in so far as I own property which will, no doubt, be affected by it. But, as the House will soon appreciate, it is not my intention to oppose the aims of the Bill, although I shall have some observations of a less flattering nature to offer upon some of its parts.
No one can be a London Member of Parliament without recognising that there is a need, and that for a long time there has been a need, for some legislative or executive action to protect tenants from unreasonable eviction. I therefore profoundly regret that it is a Socialist Government, and not my own party, who have introduced a Measure of this kind—or a better alternative.
I also regret that instead of a properly thought out Measure, which might perhaps have been introduced by the late Government or even a new Conservative Government, we have a Measure which, although I personally subscribe to its aims and a good deal of what is in it, but by no means all, until it is corrected, as I have no doubt it will be, and improved, in Committee, is as it stands a bad and clumsy and confused piece of legislation.
It was certainly not for want of urging—and insistent urging—by many hon. Members who today are on this side of the House, and mainly London Members, upon the late Government that something must be done to increase security of tenure of tenants, that it has fallen to right hon. Gentlemen opposite to introduce this Bill. I want to ask my hon. and learned Friend and neighbour the Member for Kensington, South (Mr. Roots), whom I congratulate most warmly on sitting where he is on our Front Bench, and who, I believe, will wind up the debate for this side, whether he can tell the House why it was that the Milner Holland Committee was not set up, not a short time ago, but a year or two, or three, or even four years ago. I hope that he will perhaps tell us that.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister, I understood him to say, had some difficulty in finding evidence of some of the abuses which have taken place recently. I can only say that if he had come to Chelsea we could have shown him a certain amount of evidence, and I hope very much that when the Milner Holland Committee reports, as I believe it will do in two or three months' time, the right hon. Gentleman will find time to read the verbatim report of the evidence submitted to the Milner Holland inquiry by the representatives of my constituency in Chelsea.
I want to give the House two examples of what ordinary, decent tenants have had to face recently in my part of London—just two examples. The first affects working-class tenants in largely decontrolled property, and the second affects middle-class tenants living in some cases on small fixed incomes. The first case was in a rather insalubrious part of London called Lots Road. It arose during the first week of the General Election campaign, and it really made me wonder whether an enthusiastic supporter of the present Prime Minister had not perhaps brought it about.
The first case concerns a block of working-class property, as I say, mostly —nearly all—decontrolled, and occupied by ordinary, decent, hard-working tenants, with children, who, to my own knowledge, took a great pride in their homes. This block of working-class property was bought up a few weeks before the election by a dealer in luxury foreign motor cars in Mayfair, and four weeks after he acquired control of the property, that is to say, in the first week of the recent General Election, he, without warning, without offering alternative accommodation, and without an offer to negotiate new leases, served notices to quit on these people, with a four-weeks' time limit. When I got in touch with his property manager about this, this gentleman said that he did not quite understand what all the fuss was about, because if he were given four weeks' notice to get out of his own flat he would go round the corner and find another one.
This is in London today, in an area of London in which there is a housing waiting list of 1,300. I quote that only to show there must be owners who have no conception of what it means to put working-class people on to the streets in London today. There is nowhere else for them to go except into an L.C.C. hostel, which involves breaking up the family.
Indeed, that remedy was considered, and it is still being considered, but I was about to say that although local authorities, as my hon. Friend rightly points out, do have certain powers to deal with situations like that, and, indeed, those powers in Chelsea, as he knows, have been used effectively on occasions, none the less on this particular occasion this situation arose almost simultaneously with the refusal of my right hon. Friend, who was at that time the Minister, to uphold a recommendation by the local authority, which was supported by the Minister's own inspector, without reservation, that a compulsory purchase order should be made in respect of another property just round the corner. The inability of the local authority to make a compulsory purchase order in this other case naturally created a loss of confidence in the effectiveness of these powers.
It is not that these things cannot be dealt with already—not always, but usually—but my complaint—I am not a lawyer, I am representing people's feelings—is that it is wrong that people should feel this anxiety, because it nearly kills them. I met these people.
I am grateful for that observation, which, I am sure, will be noted by my borough council. Of course, I am not saying that my right hon. Friend did not feel that he had good reasons. I do not doubt that he felt there were good reasons. He was acting in a judicial capacity in this matter, and it is not for me or the hon. Gentleman opposite to attack the Minister on his exercise of these functions. Nevertheless, it produces a sense of insecurity if people feel that they cannot rely on things of this sort, and that is what we have to clear up.
My next point concerns higher class property. Alexandra Mansions was a block of flats occupied by middle-class people living mainly on small incomes. On 29th June, 1960, this freehold block of flats was sold by public auction for £42,000 by a reputable landlord, I think an insurance company. Within the next seven days it was resold three times. On the third occasion it was bought for £75,000, an increase of £33,000 in seven days. I understand that it is now on offer for £200,000.
I give my right hon. Friend credit for having taken a good deal of action to deal with this kind of situation since 1960. In 1960, those profits were untaxed. When the price of a block of residential property increased by such an astronomical extent in such a short time in those days it not only gave an untaxed profit to the owners, which it does not necessarily do now, but the ultimate sale price was inevitably reflected in the rents charged by the owners. It had to be, because no one will pay £75,000 for a block of flats and then not make the rents give him a decent return on his money, and perhaps more than a decent return.
This is not normal property investment, which I think hon. Members on both sides, and certainly on this side, want to encourage. Property investment is a good thing. There are good private landlords. Nearly all the private landlords in my constituency are good, responsible, and human landlords. But a case like that to which I have just referred is not investment. It is pure speculation—and speculation in human necessity in short demand, and it affects people's lives. It is wrong that it should have existed for so long.
I have quoted that case to show that where property changes hands, and the value is more than doubled, that increase must, inevitably, be reflected in rents. We all know that rents and values are going up. We are not quarrelling with that, but I want to be sure that the Bill—although I realise that it is an emergency short-term Measure—will deal with that sort of situation. The right hon. Gentleman is very optimistic about timing. If, perchance, in a fortnight's time a block of property changes hands at an inflated price, and the tenancies fall in and rents have to rise to give a return on the money invested, how will that be dealt with under the Bill? I do not want to pursue the matter, but I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with this when he winds up the debate.
I do not support the argument, which is sometimes used, and has been used to me when I have made representations about these matters in the past, that if a person cannot afford inflated rents in an expensive area, he must just go elsewhere. It is all very well to say that in theory. It may be all right in theory. It certainly is an easy solution to some of these problems, given certain provisos. The first is that in these cases we are often dealing with middle-aged, and sometimes elderly, people who have lived in the same building or in the same area, and have had friends, and contact with the shops, for a long time, possibly all their lives. It is not easy for old people to find alternative accommodation.
The position is even more serious. Eviction notices are being issued from estate agents' offices, with the expiry date a month ahead. Accompanying the eviction notices is a new contract of tenancy, sometimes at rents two or three times the original rental figure. This is sheer blackmail. People who are getting on in years cannot afford to pay the extra rent.
I am aware of that kind of case, and I know that the right hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friends are, too. I am glad that the Bill deals particularly with the problem of pressure on tenants, not pressure of rents, but pressure to get possession by various kinds of devious or unpleasant ways, by making life intolerable for tenants. That is wrong, and it ought to be stopped.
I welcome the aims of the Bill and much of the Bill itself, but this Measure is not the whole answer. It is a temporary answer, but the Bill needs a great deal of tightening up and clearing up before we can be satisfied with it as an Act of Parliament.
Not too much, but some.
I have two questions to put to the right hon. Gentleman. The first is one which worries me, as a sailor. I am not sure what the position is about Service married quarters. I suppose that they are now owned by the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends. This is a problem which needs examination.
My second question relates to a more difficult and serious problem. It is not only officers in the Services who own homes. Petty officers and men own homes in this country, which they let when they go off on foreign service, with an undertaking that they will get vacant possession at very short notice when they return home. A Service man who goes to China, or to Singapore, or to the Mediterranean, or to Germany, often does not receive much warning about when he is coming home. He does not have much leave when he gets back, and he does not know where he is going next.
I hope that some means will be found to ensure that when a Service man returns home after serving his country abroad he will not have to wait for the procedures of a court to be gone through before he can get into his own home.
I think that this point ought to be cleared up. If a Service man, who is an honourable citizen, comes back from overseas—I am talking of the position as it exists now—and finds that his tenant has ignored the agreement which exists between them, and has refused to get out, he has no alternative but to go to the court and get an eviction order, which no doubt he would get. What we are proposing does not alter that one scrap. It does not matter whether the tenant is a good tenant or not.
I thank the hon. Gentleman and I hope that he is right. I am not a lawyer, I am a sailor, and I do not want to intervene between my right hon. Friend, if he has anything to say, and the right hon. Gentleman.
I am deeply interested in trying to get at the truth about this. The hon. and gallant Gentleman knows more about Service people and their accommodation than I do. Has he observed, in the last year or two, a marked difference between Service people returning to homes in Scotland which they had let on short tenancies, and those in England? In Scotland, they have already got conditions which we are to impose in England. When a Service man goes home to Scotland, he cannot get a tenant out without a court order. If there is a great disadvantage the people in Scotland have not noticed it. I do not think that he will find that any difference has been noticed between England and Scotland by those on short tenancies. If there is not I do not think that one should worry about the effect of the Bill on Service people who, quite properly, let their houses while they are abroad.
My knowledge of Scotland is, unhappily, limited and I cannot produce any evidence in reply to the right hon. Gentleman. I do not want to delay the House on this single point. I hope that this matter will be taken up in Committee and that the Services will be taken care of.
Supposing that a person who is going abroad lets his house and subsequently a baby arrives, then the question of greater hardship becomes of great importance. Under the Bill the officer or other rank coming home would have to prove—and it would be very difficult for him to prove—greater hardship.
It is not the right hon. Gentleman but I who am making the speech. I cannot answer for the Minister—and as far as I can see he cannot answer at all at the moment.
I want to look at one more point—there have been quite a lot of interventions—and that is a question which arises in my own constituency, where there is a flower show every year and which is very close to the Motor Show. It also has a large floating population of students of various kinds. It is most important—I ask the right hon. Gentleman to accept this, and I think that he will—that in a place like Chelsea there should be a really flexible turnover of furnished accommodation for many different classes of people, and, indeed, many nationalities. I hope that this point will be most carefully looked at in Committee.
When the right hon. Gentleman comes later to look into further legislation—what he called, I think, the main Measure—in six months' time, I hope that he will study very carefully the evidence given by the London local authorities to the Milner Holland inquiry. In my opinion—the right hon. Gentleman will not agree with this—what is needed is not the repeal of the Rent Act, not controlled rents or imposed ceilings on rents, but a simple Measure such as that which was put up to his predecessor, the former Minister of Housing and Local Government, from Chelsea, which would give established, decent tenants the right of renewal of their leases on reasonable terms, and the right of appeal to the court if they considered that the terms offered them were unreasonable; and, at the same time, would grant landlords also the right of appeal to the courts if tenants rejected what they thought were reasonable terms.
That is what I believe we should be out to achieve, and this, I believe, would achieve what I am quite certain we all desire in our hearts, that is, the removal of insecurity, the prevention of exploitation and a fair deal to both sides.
In rising to make my maiden speech I should like to ask for the kind indulgence of the House and to pay tribute to my predecessor (Mr. FareyJones), who represented the constituency of Watford for the last nine years and who sat on the Government benches—I mean, the last Government. He was very well liked, I understand, in the House. He paid particular attention to, and took a great interest in, the problems of his constituents, and I know that he will be missed by many hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I also want to pay tribute to his predecessor, Mr. John Freeman, the first Labour Member of Parliament to represent Watford, who won the seat in 1945, and again in 1950 and 1951. He had a very great reputation and set a very high standard and an excellent example in this House. It is a great pity that he is no longer with us in this place.
My constituency, Watford, which took its name from a Saxon chief who settled there, is a very thriving, prosperous and busy constituency. In fact, it is so prosperous that it is reckoned to be the second most prosperous town in the country. I do not know which is the first, but Watford is reckoned to be second. It has a wide range of industries, including aircraft engineering products, technology devices and instruments used for atomic purposes. In fact, in this very Chamber and in the rooms around the automatic controls for heating and ventilation were supplied by the Watford Electrical and Manufacturing Company.
By far the greatest or the best known industry in Watford is the printing industry. Watford may be said to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, printing centres in Europe. It leads the world in the process known as rotary photogravure. I have a rather emotional tie with printing, because in my extreme youth I worked for an art publishing company which produced Christmas cards. Unfortunately, that company has suffered the fate of so many companies in this neo-competitive era—it has been taken over by a much larger company. I might add that Watford is a very great regional shopping centre and has the only live theatre in Hertfordshire.
Although the constituency is prosperous—in fact, I might say because it is so prosperous—it has its housing problems. There is a large waiting list. The council has done very valiant work. Fifteen hundred dwellings in three years is no mean feat. Its problems have been accentuated however and its burdens increased by the Rent Act—an Act which the then Prime Minister, Mr. Macmillan, assured us would increase the available supply of dwellings for rent and would prevent landlords from charging high or exhorbitant prices for rented accommodation. What a false prophecy that has been, and what a trail of woe and misery the Rent Act has left behind it.
I have had some experience of its working. I have appeared in court on innumerable occasions, and have heard the same pitiful tale told to the judge. Mostly the people concerned have come from the over-55 group—those getting past middle age—the elderly, the ageing and the aged. They have been good tenants of their premises for 10, 20, 30 or 40 years, but have been turned out under the provisions of the Rent Act. In each case I have heard the judge say that he was sorry he could not help them; he had to apply the law. The judge might have added, as one great judge did on one occasion, "I am here, unfortunately, to administer law and not justice."
I myself have been told heartrending tales when, for the last five or six years, I have given legal aid in my constituency. Each time the story has been the same. A tenant has been turned out under the provisions of the Rent Act and has had nowhere to go. Putting him in touch with the council, as the learned judge in court did, or as I did, was no use.
One case sticks vividly in my mind. It concerns a woman who came to me, who, with her husband, had lived in her house for 40 years. They were being evicted. They had gone outside Watford to try to obtain accommodation and the council there told them that they would have to be separated. The husband would have to go to a man's hostel and the wife to a woman's hostel. The following morning the wife found some sleeping tablets in her husband's drawer, and when she taxed him with it he admitted that he had intended taking the tablets because he refused to be separated from her in life. Luckily, in that case tragedy was averted, but that is only one case in thousands.
In 1957, there were 1,000 people in London who were living in hostels and in 1964 there were 6,000—most of the additional ones being in this position because of the operation of the Rent Act, under the terms of which they had been evicted. It is true that Watford is not as hard hit as some other constituencies. Out of 400 or 500 people who have sought the council's aid every year, perhaps only 60 have been evicted under the provisions of the Rent Act, or have had their rents raised to an exorbitant amount. But whether the figure be 1,000, 50 or even only one, it is too high.
For that reason the Government's intention to re-establish security of tenure is welcomed by many people. Some people, however, try to "jump the gun". They are trying now. In Watford many representations have been made by people who have received notice to quit and have been summoned to court in an effort by their landlords to evict them before the law closes in on them. That is why this Bill has been brought forward, to forestall further ravages under the Rent Act.
It is with some diffidence that I draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend two other matters, and ask him to consider them before the Bill is passed. First, the Bill gives the court a discretion to suspend the operation of a possession order which has been made. This will leave people who have had orders made against them between heaven and earth. They will no longer be tenants. I would have preferred a provision which barred a landlord from bringing an action for possession except with leave of the court. The short-term effect would have been the same, because the tenant would have had protection, but there would have been the added safeguard that he would have remained a tenant all the time, if the court refused leave.
When the omnibus Measure is brought forward, later, such a person would still be a tenant, whereas, at present, those people against whom a possession order has been made but suspended will not be tenants when the new Act comes into operation. It will be difficult to incorporate these people, who are stateless in terms of tenancy, into the provisions of the new Act. I therefore ask my right hon. Friend to consider whether a Clause giving effect to my suggestion might not be inserted in place of the present Clause.
Secondly, I want to draw attention to those cases where landlords have tried to "jump the gun" by bringing actions in the High Court. The Bill does not seem to cover that point. If an action has been brought in the High Court and is pending when the Measure comes into operation, I should like to know whether the High Court has power to continue to make an order for possession. If the court has made an order for possession, but execution has not been levied, what will happen?
Clause 2(1) refers to the power of a courty court, because the word "court" means county court under the definition Clause. I therefore ask my right hon. Friend to consider whether something ought not to be done in cases where an action has been brought in the High Court and where no provision has been made for safeguarding the tenant.
The Rent Act of 1957, in my submission, is a stain on our social history. In the name of social justice it is up to us, as far as is humanly possible, to remove that stain. That is what the Government are now proposing to do. I thank the House for its kind forbearance and courtesy in what has been quite an ordeal for me.
It has never before fallen to me to follow an hon. Member who has made his first speech in the House. I want to tell the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Tuck) how much we have enjoyed listening to him. At least four virtues characterised what I regard as one of the many very good maiden speeches to which we have listened this afternoon—the generosity with which he spoke of his predecessor; the great pride which he showed in his constituency and those whom he represents; the great sincerity with which he spoke, which the House appreciated by the close attention it paid to him, and the sense of humour that he showed. That is something that one would expect from him, because he bears a name which we all associate with good cheer.
The Secretary of State for Scotland will understand me when I say that it is always slightly risky to express the hope that we shall hear a new Member frequently again. The right hon. Gentleman will know what I mean. However, I will take a chance and say that we all hope that we shall hear the hon. Member for Watford again before long, and frequently after that.
I am sure that the House will forgive me if I say, speaking for the first time from this side of the House, how pleased I am to see the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) as Secretary of State for Scotland, and the Under-Secretary of State. I hope that they arc enjoying work in Dover House as much as I did.
As a Scot, I am bound to express my satisfaction that, yet again, the English have appreciated the greatly advanced features of the Scottish legal system, and have adopted as part of the Bill something with which I heartily agree, the principle that the court should be involved before any eviction order is carried out. During the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield) the Minister asked whether there had been any noticeable difference in Service cases in Scotland compared with the position south of the Border. I cannot tell him the answer, but I should say that the sheriff courts in Scotland, to which all these cases go, act much more speedily than do the English county courts, and that, if there is a difference, this may be the reason.
I wish to confine what I have to say to Clause 1(5), which deals with agricultural service cottages. I have been a farmer for 30 years, so I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I say something about the proposals contained in this Clause. The Minister said that the Bill was designed as emergency legislation, that it was a short-term and important Measure. I feel hound to ask him whether any emergency, in the real sense of that word, has been found to exist suddenly in respect of agricultural tied cottages. I recognise that this is a controversial matter which has been discussed for many years. I am not aware of any recent and acute matter of controversy which has blown it up into what could be described as an emergency.
The hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens), one of those who made an excellent maiden speech, suggested that a crisis does exist. He spoke of hundreds of cases of which he knew where evictions had taken place. I hope that the Minister will believe me when I say that although I have for 30 years been farming in a district which can be described as one where farming is widely practised it is not within my recollection that there has been a single occasion when a farm worker has been evicted from his cottage by order of a court. I suspect that the answer must lie somewhere in between my experience and that of the hon. Member for Epping. Perhaps whoever replies to the debate for the Government can give figures of the number of evictions which has made this a matter of urgency.
I think it right to say that the Minister did not give emergency as the primary reason for bringing agricultural tied cottages within the provisions of the Bill. He mentioned an emergency, but he went on to say that the real reason was that an agricultural worker had to be treated in the same way as any other tenant. I doubt whether this would be practicable in a wide section of the agricultural industry, and particularly in Scotland.
I do not pretend to be a lawyer, but I understand that the law relating to tied cottages in Scotland is that a person who is provided with a house in connection with his work is not regarded as a tenant. As a result of the provisions of the Bill, I understand that such people will be regarded as tenants, and that a court order will be necessary to evict them. Indeed, that is the case now, but —this is the point I wish to make—the court will have the power to delay the recovery of a house for 12 months, and I think that that is where difficulty will arise.
I think that there is a great deal of confusion about this which I should like to clear up. As I pointed out earlier in the debate, the issue is whether agricultural tied cottages should be expressly excluded from the legislation. A number of them are, in fact, tenancies, and unless we expressly excluded them they would automatically have come within the provisions of the Bill. I can say with perfectly good faith that this Clause was not drawn in its present form because of anything to do with the Labour Party programme. It was drawn in this way because we had to decide whether to exclude agricultural tied cottages which were tenancies, or whether it was simpler to include both types of cottage or to have some which came within the provisions of the Bill and so which did not.
On balance, and without there being any great sense of principle about it, we thought that it was obviously common sense that, for the purposes of this legislation, the occupants of such cottages should be treated as other tenants, and given security during this period. I am impressed by what the hon. Gentleman says about Scotland. He has lived there for years—
Order. I may have no power to stop interventions, but I would say to the House that a number of hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate have been waiting a long time to do so, and I hope that interventions will be short.
May I say, in one more sentence, that we are relieved to find that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) has lived perfectly happily in Scotland—where the right of eviction without a court order does not exist—for years, and that now we are introducing something similar in England.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is wrong, and if he will give me an opportunity, I will try to tell him why I think so.
The right hon. Gentleman said that there ought to be what he described as a "humble study of the facts before doctrine was allowed to prevail" and that it was important to "know the real situation". I therefore find it incredible that he did not consult those who could have given him some facts about the real situation, namely, the National Farmers' Union and, no doubt, the National Union of Agricultural Workers, and similar organisations in Scotland. Surely, if he wished to find out what he called the real situation, it would have been wise to consult those who must have facts available.
I think that there will be considerable difficulties not only for farmers—that would be a minor aspect of the matter—but for agricultural production, if this proposal to allow the courts to impose a 12 months stay is proceeded with. This will be the case even more so in Scotland, where three particular conditions obtain. The first is the remoteness of a great many Scottish farms from the communities from which it might be expected that alternative labour could be obtained. Secondly, there is the climate in Scotland, which I think far more often than south of the Border cuts off these communities altogether from the farms. Thirdly, one has, north of the Border, livestock farming which is of much more importance to the Scottish agricultural community than it is south of the Border.
If the right hon. Gentleman doubts me, and I see doubt on his face, let me tell him that one sheep in every three comes from Scotland. I can well remember being asked by an hon. Gentleman on the other side, when I was standing at that Box one afternoon, why it was that the maternity grant for animals was larger than it was for human beings.
I think that I could justify this by saying that labour requirements are much more unpredictable in animal husbandry and, therefore, it is essential that those who look after animals should live close to the farm, which means living in cottages on the farm itself, in service cottages.
I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that I have discussed this matter on frequent occasions with the farm workers' union in Scotland and I have never found them to take exception to these views, particularly so far as shepherds and cattlemen, and perhaps grieves and stewards, are concerned.
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point, but he will recollect that he started by saying that there were no evictions, so what is he worrying about? The whole thing will not arise. If it does, will he look at subsection (4,d) of Clause 2, where it says definitely that the court has discretion to consider whether a greater hardship would be caused by the suspension of the execution of the order than by its execution. All these things are surely matters for expeditious consideration and dispensing of justice by the court.
I think that to have introduced into this that the court may take account of hardship, which is a very vague term—[Interruption.] What I am suggesting to hon. Gentlemen opposite is that I believe that the possible inability to get a house available for a key worker within 12 months is something that could have the most serious effect on agricultural production.
I have noticed in Clause 3(1,d) what looks like a possible exception. It mentions that there would be an exception
in the case of an agricultural holding within the meaning of the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act, 1949. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, with whom I sympathise in being perfectly frank in his opening speech and saying that he did not profess to be an expert on Scottish law, will perhaps arrange for someone to explain in the winding-up speech what that means. I looked up the definition of an agricultural holding within the meaning of the 1949 Act, passed by the Labour Party, and I find the definition most obscure. This is what it says:
The expression 'agricultural holding' means the aggregate of the agricultural land comprised in a lease, not being a lease under which the said land is let to the tenant during his continuance in any office, appointment or employment held under the landlord.
If the right hon. Gentleman understands what that means, it is more than I do.
What I have said about the difficulties of remoteness, and so on, applies, I believe, to many parts of England and particularly to parts of Wales as well. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland are both on record as being anxious to see agricultural production expand. The Minister of Agriculture has declared his particular interest in the expansion of production in hill farms. I believe that the purpose of the Bill, as related to agriculture, will, in fact, have the reverse effect.
This is my maiden speech in this House. At first, I was somewhat worried about speaking on a matter of landlord and tenant relationships, which tend to be controversial, but I am relieved to find that save for the matter of agricultural holdings, into which I will not go further, there seems to be a broad measure of agreement on the need for this Bill. Indeed, many hon. Members opposite have expressed the wish that the previous Government had passed this Measure.
I have the honour to represent the Nottingham, Central constituency. This is the heart of the City of Nottingham, and, in common with the hearts of many old cities, it has a number of peculiar problems. The worst of all is the lack of adequate housing. In central Nottingham, there are 15,000 houses which are over 80 years old, which lack inside sanitation, lack a fixed bath, lack a heating system. Of these 15,000 houses, 6,000 not only lack these basic amenities, but are so terrible that they have been condemned. Six thousand houses condemned in one constituency, and not sufficient houses, not sufficient accommodation for the people to be rehoused adequately.
On top of this there is a housing list for the city as a whole of 5,000 families. This is a very serious situation and it is made worse by the attitude and conduct of some landlords—not all landlords but some of them. The creeping decontrol provisions of the 1957 Act continually bring on to the market empty houses and there are profound attempts on the part of the owners to sell them. Sometimes they are successful, but many of these houses are so terrible that no one will pay the purchase price for them and so they are rented to families who are on the housing list and cannot live elsewhere. The rents by Nottingham standards—if not by London standards—are exorbitant, when one considers the accommodation offered.
I have a whole file of such cases and I expect other hon. Members have in respect of their constituencies. May I give the House three examples? In one street where the standard controlled rent is 17s. 2d., four houses which have been decontrolled have rents of £3. This does not seem much, but in the context of these houses it is enormous. In a terrace not very far from the last street I mentioned there are 12 houses, three of which are decontrolled, with rents of £3. The standard rent of the others is 19s. 2d. In another street on the other side of the constituency there are four houses let for between £3 and £3 5s. a week, and the standard rent for comparable houses is 16s. 11d.
I think I should point out that these are not modern houses, nor renovated houses, nor grand houses in any respect. They are houses to which one has access straight off the street, they have two rooms upstairs and two downstairs, they are probably 80 to 100 years old and they have outside toilets. Though £3 may not be much by London standards, in the context of Nottingham it is enormous. What is the significance of the connection between this Bill and these exorbitant rents? I think that the significance is this: if the tenant protests against the size of his rent—and six of the tenants I have mentioned have protested—the landlord merely has to say, "If you do not like it, go somewhere else. I can fill this easily."
This is why I welcome the Measure. It will not bring down rents. Indeed, it may permit some rents to go up, but, by and large, it will hold the situation until we have the more comprehensive Measure to which my right hon. Friend referred. To a great extent it will relieve the anxiety of many people in my constituency and throughout the country. It will give them a breathing space until a more elaborate and more comprehensive code of landlord and tenant law comes in to being.
I hope that this will be only a first Measure, and I look forward to the time when we do not have to regulate relations between private landlords and tenants—because there must be injustice one way or the other. Either the tenant is handicapped or the landlord, trying to do his best, is handicapped. Let us hasten the time when every tenant can look forward to adequate accommodation at a reasonable rent.
I am not very happy about the reference to the county court judges having regard to a tenancy being offered at a "reasonable" rent. How is the landlord to know whether he is offering a tenancy at a reasonable rent? How is the tenant to know that he ought to resist such a letting? How are their advisers to know, and how are the learned county court judges to decide? It may be simple in an area in which there is only one authority, but in London there are innumerable courts. Cannot we have a common standard and a definition of what is a reasonable rent?
Although he was not a member of my party, I should like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Colonel Cordeaux, who represented Nottingham, Central from 1955 to 1964. I disagreed with most of his policies but I had, and have, considerable respect for him as a man. In particular, he would have delighted in this Measure. His record as a constituency Member is second to none, and I only hope that I can do as well as he did. I hope that I have not strayed too far into controversial fields, and I am most grateful to the House for its indulgence.
Ever since I have been in the House, it has been a modest ambition of mine—and all my ambitions are modest—to be able to follow a maiden speaker and to pay tribute to him. I am sure that everyone in the House would like to join with me in congratulating the hon. Member for Nottingham, Central (Mr. Dunnett) on his maiden speech, which he made, I noticed, without any notes and which was a very capable speech indeed. He is obviously a modest man, because he did not mention that he is the chairman of the Brentford Football Club, who have recently won their way into the next round of the F.A. Cup. We congratulate him on that. If he goes on making speeches as good as the speech to which we have listened, he will receive an offer of a transfer fee from the Liberal Party, provided, of course, the cost is not too high.
May I add my congratulations to the other maiden speakers. We have had the unusual situation today of five out of six of our maiden speakers being able to pay tribute—and they all paid tribute—to their predecessors who had been of different political beliefs. The only hon. Member who was not in that position was my hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin), and I am sure that the House was impressed by the diffidence and the proud way in which he paid tribute to his successor, Sir Winston Churchill.
I should like to make it clear that I have no objection at all to the declared principles of the Bill—that is to say, the declared principles of protecting those tenants in rented homes who are liable to eviction by unscrupulous landlords. I will not enlarge on the problems of overcrowded urban areas in which there is certainly a need for something to be done. We have heard a great deal about this from hon. Members representing such constituencies.
May I confine my remarks to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) described as the first of the extraneous matters in the Bill—the so-called tied cottages on farms. We have had an excellent speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) on this subject. He described the position in Scotland, which is apparently somewhat different from that in England.
In England, I feel, the system as a whole has worked extremely well for a very long time, and it is as much to the benefit of all sections of the farming community, farmworkers as much as farmers. May I try to discover exactly how this provision will affect agriculture? I realise that the Bill in no way means the virtual end of the tied cottage system. Although some hon. Members opposite feel that the Government have this intention, the right hon. Gentleman the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs in a speech recently said that it was not the Government's intention to abolish the tied cottage system.
But Clause 1(5) would have the effect of preventing a farmer from resuming possession of a service house without an order, and the court is given discretion in the Bill to suspend an order for twelve months. One of my main objections to this point in the Bill is that it introduces a policy substantially different from that which the Socialist Party announced in their pre-election literature—and all round we have had rather too much of this sort of thing from the Government.
On rural housing, the Socialist Party declared itself in favour of imposing on rural housing authorities a duty to rehouse any person required through no fault of his own to leave a service house. This was the Socialist Party's declared pre-election intention. I have never believed that that would work, and I have always thought that it would put an unworkable burden on the local housing authorities. Perhaps the Government have themselves at last come to that conclusion, but that is not an excuse for suddenly introducing this provision without due warning. I understand that there was no consultation with the N.F.U. or any of the other bodies interested and that they were not informed. The Government are suddenly including agricultural dwelling-houses in a scheme levelled mainly at difficulties being experienced in overcrowded areas. The Bill is referred to specifically as an emergency measure. Agricultural dwelling-houses have been included in it when there cannot be an emergency in that respect. Why could not the Government have had the courtesy to consult all the parties concerned about the matter before suddenly introducing this provision in the Bill?
A notable part of the Bill is aimed at preventing landlords from evicting tenants in order greatly to increase the rents for new tenants, but it is ludicrous to apply this provision to agricultural dwelling-houses where rents are controlled and where very low rents are charged. A Bristol survey recently came to the conclusion in that area that as many as 48 per cent. of the agricultural dwelling-houses were paying no rent at all, and in respect of many others the rent provision was taken into account in connection with wages. It is wrong to take advantage of this Measure to deal with an entirely different issue from that at which it is aimed—the issue of the right, which has worked so well, of a farmer, without unacceptable delay, to regain possession of a service house occupied by a farm employee and the equal right of farm employees to expect to find accommodation within easy distance of their work.
I might be asked why farmers and farmworkers should have this advantage. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West dealt with that point very well. They are in vital jobs. He referred to stock farming, to milking in the early hours and to general feeding and looking after stock. The point refers, in particular, to looking after breeding stock. In remote parts of the country it is essential to have accommodation available on the spot. Nothing has occurred since 1951 which justifies the Government taking action which the previous Socialist Government, from 1945 to 1951, presumably considered was absolutely unnecessary.
If something had occurred during this period—if, in fact, there had been anything other than an absolutely negligible number of cases of hardship to workers and an absolutely negligible number of cases of unreasonableness by farmers—I would certainly not be taking the line I am taking today. I submit, however, that out of the 10,000-odd annual changes in the occupation of service houses in agriculture, the present system of informal machinery between the local branches of the workers' unions and the local branches of the National Farmers' Union has worked extremely well.
If necessary, let us make this informal machinery formal or introduce a better system, perhaps a mandatory one, but let us not destroy it altogether. There is certainly no reason, considering the subject as a whole, why this sort of emergency Measure need be introduced. Will the Minister explain why agriculture has been singled out for inclusion in the Bill? There is no question of applying it to railways, hotel services and the coal industry, all of which employ a great number of people in tied accommodation.
I submit that the Bill could have an adverse effect on the agriculture industry and lead to a fall in production. Let us not forget that production per man from agriculture in Britain is the best in the world. For many years the industry has increased its production at an annual rate of 5 per cent., and if all other industries had done so well and had played such an important part in helping our balance of payments position we would not be facing any economic difficulties.
While appreciating that a maiden speech is normally expected to be non-controversial, having spent three weeks here I am beginning to wonder whether it is possible to speak on any subject in a completely non-controversial way. I speak today because I gather from certain remarks which have been made by hon. Members opposite recently that a notice to quit is due to be given. I would like to get in my maiden speech before a possession order is made.
It is always customary, and an honour, to mention one's constituency when making a maiden speech and I would like at this stage to mention my constituency of Toxteth in Liverpool. Liverpool is a great city which until recently was represented in the House by Mr. Bevins. He was unfortunate in that he was part-architect of the 1957 Act. I wish to pay tribute to him, and although I did not know him personally I am sure that any person who has given 13 years' service to this House, his constituency and his party deserves the best. I am sure that all hon. Members will join me in wishing him good luck.
Toxteth probably has one of the worst records when one contemplates the 1957 Act and I say without hesitation that one of the main reasons why I am here today is because of the injustice and inequalities which were perpetrated under that Act. If I appear to be somewhat controversial I only hope that hon. Members opposite will seek to put the best interpretation on my remarks.
Several hon. Members have referred to the number of evictions, but what many people fail to appreciate is that there is something much worse than eviction, and that is living for years in intolerable conditions because one is frightened to make a legal complaint to the department concerned. I am speaking of people who live in homes without water supplies. Other hon. Members who have served on local authorities will agree that one of the most distressing things that can happen to a councillor is to be confronted with a problem of that magnitude—no water, no toilet facilities and so on—and yet have to say to the person concerned, "I can get that remedied but you might get evicted from the premises. What do you wish me to do?" Time and again we are told, "No. We will have to put up with it. We will be without a toilet, but, for goodness' sake, do not do anything which might get us evicted".
For every eviction one can cite 100 cases of people who for four, five and even more years have been living in such conditions. Examples are easy to quote, but I have heard remarks passed by hon. Members opposite today which make me wonder whether they really think that this problem does exist or whether it is a figment of our imagination. I am referring to houses in which the six bedrooms are occupied by 42 people, where not a single toilet works and with the nearest public toilet being 300 yards down the street. One can imagine the conditions in such premises.
During the last 18 months I came across a case where the drinking water was being taken from the lavatory bowl. This is happening as a result of the 1957 Act because, apart from evictions, it has prevented people from daring to complain because they know what happened to their neighbours who did just that.
It makes me happy to know that, for the most part, both sides of the House are agreed that this state of affairs must come to an end. I only wish that the party opposite had thought of it before. Several hon. Members opposite have said that they did press for such a Measure, but I am sure that if they had pressed more keenly it would not have been necessary for us now to have to bring forward this Bill, which is seeking to tide things over until we can introduce a more comprehensive Measure.
The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) remarked that the Bill gave the impression of having been rushed. Anyone who knows anything about the Rent Acts knows that they have come in for the same criticism. Indeed, High Court judges have criticised the language of these Measures. It has been pointed out that the language was not legal language but journalese, as a result of which generations of lawyers have made a lucrative living out of that sort of legislation for the last 40 years. Many courts have tried to decide just what the language was meant to mean. I urge my right hon. Friend to remember that it may be better to keep language which is not necessarily legal but which at least has been given legal definition than to introduce a new Measure, bringing in so much legal jargon which will again result in people going before the courts in an effort to find out exactly what Parliament was trying to say.
Protection is an aspect of this problem that is often forgotten. We should ask ourselves, first, what we are seeking to do by these measures. I am quite certain that we are not seeking to penalise the landlord—let us be quite clear about that—and I find it one of the most hopeful things about this whole issue. We have to break through the curtain that comes between landlord and tenant, because each is vital to the other. Nevertheless, a landlord must make up his mind whether he wishes to let his property or not.
When the landlord lets the property to a family, when does that family cease to get protection? As things now are there are some tremendous anomalies. It is just the toss of a coin whether two landlords, letting identical houses on a certain day, can get their houses back within two or three years or, dependent on when people die, whether it will be 40 or 50 years. Is there not a need now to decide that when we talk about protection we are talking about keeping the home together?
Does a home cease to exist merely because the father and mother die? We know that some of the most distressing cases coming before the courts are those in which an unmarried daughter has devoted her life to looking after her parents—has probably given up the prospects of marriage to look after an ailing parent, and then, at a time when, perhaps, she is herself getting towards retirement, the remaining parent dies and she is thrown out. Should we not decide whether we are talking about a home or a tenant? If we are talking about a home, does not that home continue to exist while any of the original members of the family live in it? There is only one answer to that question.
Is it right that whether or not an unmarried daughter who has looked after her parents is allowed to continue in the premises should depend on whether her mother died before her father? If the father died first and the tenancy went to the mother, the daughter now has no protection. Is that logical? Is that what we are really trying to legislate for? Or should we not, here and now, say that, at least until the further Measure is brought forward—in, I hope, the near future—each and every member of the family who has continued to reside permanently in that home should receive protection? I believe that to be the only humane way in which to deal with the problem, and I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing to take that thought into consideration when the other Measure is being prepared.
I hope that I have not overburdened the House, or overstepped the mark of tradition, and I thank all hon. Members for the great courtesy with which they have received my maiden speech.
It is a great pleasure for me to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) and to congratulate both him and those other hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today on the manner in which those speeches have been presented. The hon. Member is obviously a master of his subject, and he brought to it a very pleasant balance of give and take.
I am active in housing matters, both in private practice and as a member of a local housing authority. It is distressing to hear of the difficult circumstances in which people find themselves in areas similar to Toxteth; and of the many grave personal circumstances arising from the housing conditions. I am sure that we all noticed that the hon. Gentleman felt that he already had a notice to quit from this House. That is premature. Indeed, when the hon. Gentleman appears to contest the order, I wonder under which of the relevant provisions of Clause 1(2) he will seek to enter his plea. However, perhaps we all share with the hon. Member the assurance that none of us will be facing a judicial procedure when we present ourselves for re-election.
Much has been said about the terms of the 1957 Act, and a number of speakers have laid the blame for many of the existing circumstances at the door of that Act, but that can very easily be over-emphasised. We are bound to have difficulties, many of them resulting from a rising population and the pull towards the great centres of industry and commerce—regardless of other differing circumstances and the operation of the 1957 Act. When we were in Government, our housing record was a tremendous achievement, and I think that we shall see the present Government enjoying much of the benefit of the spade work put into house building by a Conservative Administration.
That applies particularly in the realm of industrialised housebuilding, in which we must make great steps forward. We must also press ahead with the simplification of the materials and the methods used in making window frames, roof trusses, and so on. We can ensure tremendous cuts in the cost of production if we can have long runs of a similar type of house design, and we can avoid the monotony that some may say similarity will bring by the adoption of a variety of cladding materials. In this connection, I welcome the development of consortia, which I am sure will receive encouragment from the present Government, and which will make possible tremendous progress.
In this context, I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider that consortia may be overlapping in much of what they do. Some of them are well forward in their plans for industrialised methods, and bulk ordering of building materials and supplies. I have seen several very good prototype houses of this kind. When other consortia are being formed, I hope that they will be encouraged to take advantage of the information which the earlier developed consortia had to have, so that we can avoid duplication—
To dispose of that point here and now, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, in discussions I am now having with the Greater London boroughs in this connection, I am placing great emphasis on consortia going forward with industrialised building where that is possible. We take the point, and I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for making it.
I am very grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary.
As I represent an agricultural constituency, I had considered it important to deal with agricultural tenancies, but these have been dealt with most adequately by other speakers. However, as the agricultural industry has been pointed at particularly in the terms of this Bill, I must point out that although there are something like 10,000 agricultural changes of tenancy each year, we hear very little of any hardship to tenants. The reflection on the agricultural industry is unfair, unjustified, and an affront to those in it. Continuity of labour, particularly in relation to livestock and replacement of stock, is essential. It is an immediate requirement if stock is to be looked after properly, especially breeding stock.
This kind of thing applies to many other housing requirements for essential services. What is to be the position over police houses, houses for those employed at sewerage works, by water boards and so on? Exceptions need to be made in regard to local authorities and British Railways. To go through the tedious process of county court procedure will be a hardship and tenants will feel that there is a greater measure of protection in this Bill than the Government in fact intend. Mention has been made of short period lettings and an example has been drawn from holiday resorts. In my profession we often find that we are letting accommodation to people who are in the process of buying houses and who want the accommodation only for a short time.
The question of student accommodation is essentially important, as also is the question of houses let in lodgings. I take the point made by the Minister about lodging houses. The Government would he wise to recognise that the application and implications of the Bill will lead to greater difficulties for local housing authorities. People will be hesitant to make accommodation available. Before doing so they will need to satisfy themselves that they will get possession when they require it. They will have to make estimates and assessments of whether when they wish to get possession there is any chance of their succeeding in the county court.
I hope this question will be linked with housing policy generally and that some guidance will be given to local authorities. I hope greater encouragement will be given to the establishment of student hostels, not only in university cities but all cities. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will give us some hope of that. I emphasise the greater difficulties which I am sure local authorities will find devolving upon them in substantial additional demands. We shall find less good use made of the existing pool of accommodation and there will be less mobility among all sections of the community if this Measure operates in harsh terms. We should ensure that the greatest possible encouragement is given to the expansion of house building. I have mentioned some of the possibilities which lie in that sphere.
I welcome the Bill, with the qualifications I have made. I find it difficult to accept the Minister's assurance that it was brought in solely to deter landlords. I also cannot accept the statement he made that speed is the essence of this Bill. One must make a complete assessment of the result of legislation before the introduction of a Bill such as we are discussing. I give my qualified acceptance to the Bill and I hope that we shall see substantial improvements made to it in Committee.
In any modern democratic State it is a considerable achievement for a political party to put out of office a party which has been established for as long as that of the late Government in this country. It says a lot for the Prime Minister's political acumen and management that this was done. I was never one who took the view during the long forecasts by the various polls that this would be other than a very close election result, but it was even closer than I surmised it would be. A majority of four justifies the Bill which has been brought before the House today. Even if it were a majority of one, it would still be full justification on a mandate from the electorate to put an end to the hated 1957 Rent Act which was put through by the last Government.
I am fully aware of the implications of this Measure, but I wonder if the House as a whole is. I should have liked to have heard many more back bench speeches today. There is a very large watershed of wisdom which now occupies the Treasury Bench, but surely the possession of a Ministerial salary does not give entitlement to a monopoly of House of Commons time, yet today we have had 22 interventions from the Government Front Bench. I hope this will not continue for the rest of this Parliament or there will be many grumbles. I think the criticism is quite justified.
To get back to the essence of the Bill and to allow the House to understand what is to happen in the short period before it becomes law, I should point out that every hon. Member who represents a city constituency, and especially one in the Metropolis, has spoken of the speed with which landlords and estate agents are taking steps to avoid the implications of the Bill before they are finally faced with the abolition of the 1957 Act.
In my constituency—a typical London constituency, a large dormitory borough—since election day I have had calling at my party offices no fewer than 47 people who have been given notice to quit. They have brought with them the new contractual rent form, which in most cases meant an increase of up to three times the existing rent. This is sheer political blackmail in an emergency with which people are confronted and in which landlords are taking advantage of their position in law.
The sooner the Bill becomes law the sooner we shall get down to a realisation that in any modern democratic State the essentials of existence must have a planning content in their operation, in their performance and in their reason. This became obvious less than two years ago when the late Government suddenly found themselves favouring proposals of a nature which meant some kind of planning in their policy, at least Parliamentarywise, of which formerly they had complained and which they abhorred. The South-East Study was one instance of the necessity for planning the social aspects of the nation's existence.
There are some things which are priorities and the first priority of all is that a man should have a reasonable assurance of possession of a home in which to bring up his family, which is an essential unit of any modern civilisation. That is something which modern political parties have got to guarantee in one way or another. If it means planning, planning there must be. There has been a belated recognition of this by the Opposition. Everybody has given a ready acceptance to the Bill so far, except for qualifications as to agriculture. It is a little late in the day. Many people have been made intolerably miserable by the operation of the 1957 Act.
The Bill, so far as it goes, is admirable for the purpose for which it is designed. It is an emergency Bill, short-term at that, but it contains words operative in existing legislation with regard to landlord and tenant which will have to be reconsidered when the main Bill is introduced, probably in January or February. For instance, in Clause 2(4,b), (4,c) and (4,d) one can foresee, even though one is not one of Her Majesty's judges, the widest variations in judgment as to what "reasonable rent", "other suitable accommodation" and "greater hard- ship" mean. A "reasonable rent" is determined by what—by what a willing tenant can pay, or by what a notional tenant can pay?
"Suitable accommodation" means what—suitable to what and to whose needs? Surely the phrase should be "comparable accommodation"? Who is to determine what "greater hardship" is? With the nation chronically short of houses, who is suffering the greatest hardship—the landlord with his demand for a house or the tenant faced with eviction or the possibility of not being rehoused by the local authority? These three aspects, which are the effective portion of the Bill, will have to be given very detailed study.
Even with my scanty knowledge, I know how involved landlord and tenant matters are, but I have tried to understand the subject. Most Members of Parliament who operate to some extent welfare offices in their constituencies have to understand the subject. It is the task of the House to make the Bill as foolproof as possible, in the realisation that from now on the provision of homes as national capital is a first priority and a first charge upon the time of the Legislature. If we do that, we will go some way towards solving our difficulties.
Viewing the matter objectively, to have immigration and the 1957 Act at the same time is a tremendous thing. My experience extending over 13 years has made me aware of many problems. It has also made me aware of the varying characters and personalities of men. I know how much courage is required before these problems can be faced. A friend of mine who left the House in 1956 over Suez once said to me that courage in the House of Commons is as scarce as rocking-horse manure, except that he used another noun instead of "manure". What he said was a fact. Because of these factors which impinge so much upon the happiness of our people in the prime needs of their existence, we should have had the courage long ago to take the decision which the Government have now had the courage to take. This action has been long delayed.
I pass to other things which will arise from the Bill and from the passing of the major Act. I took a note of a few of the things said by the hon. Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones). I, too, think that in the long term the solution to the problem is a higher investment in industrialised building. So far as I know, only about six types have been finally chosen by the Minister. Even with the advice of expert staff such as architects, technicians and builders, difficulties always seem to arise because of the costing systems which are imposed.
There is another bottleneck when the matter reaches the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Treasury—the difficulty in the supply of the money. If the problem is to be tackled through the agency of new building systems, which will itself lead to the provision of more houses, all these difficulties must be tackled at source.
My right hon. Friend the Minister when introducing the Bill was expert. His explanations were full and conclusive. I did not see any need for all the interjections and interruptions. My right hon. Friend is nothing if he is not plain in everything he explains. He made the very definite promise that, despite the short period which will elapse before the Bill becomes law, landlords who think that in the intervening period they can jump the gun could find themselves in for a very rude shock. This should be made generally known, because there are hundreds of Londoners tonight faced with the prospect of eviction, and they are very unhappy about it.
It can be said that they can go to court, which will be a delaying process. But ordinary people do not like court actions. My advice on this occasion would be, "Go, and stick". In fact, my advice would be more dramatic—"If you have to, barricade yourself in rather than be evicted". A section of the community which, knowing the painful nature of eviction and the splitting up of homes, wants to take advantage of the few remaining days before the Bill becomes an Act must be faced with equal determination by those whom they wish to evict.
These may be strong words, but Londoners in particular have had this problem on their plate for 15 to 20 years. They have not been able to obtain any satisfactory answers. In most cases, the wrong answers have had to be given for the right reasons. The misery which is caused is beyond comprehension. Even in this small island the problem has not been equally distributed between shire and shire and county and county. The burden has been felt mainly in the main centres of population. If this short Bill can remedy the situation at this time it will more than justify itself.
I shall speak for no longer. I know that hon. Members on both sides wish to speak, because we are all concerned. I wish the Bill an easy and speedy passage. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), who on behalf of the Opposition said that they will facilitate an easy passage. The right hon. Gentleman was right to draw attention to the complex nature of the legislation which will flow from the Bill and from the main Act. The right hon. Gentleman was right to reserve his position to argue it line by line and Clause by Clause, but if we can get from the Opposition tonight the promise of an early passage I am sure that the House of Commons, as distinct from anything that passes between party and party, will earn the gratitude of the people.
I agree very much with what the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) has said. I should at once declare my interest. As many hon. Members know. I am a property owner and I am connected with the Property-Owners' Association.
This Bill sets out to achieve a proper objective, namely, security of tenure, but, of course, the long-term problems that will arise in connection with what is called the omnibus Bill are the most important matters to which, eventually, we shall have to direct our attention.
I was very pleased to hear the Minister say that in legislation he would take into account the fact that we live in conditions in which there is, and I think there will continue to be, a degree of inflation. If that fact is taken into account I think that property owners will be satisfied, for it will ensure fair rents. It is no fun for property owners to have to bring the law into these matters. I do not believe that 90 per cent.—indeed more than 90 per cent.—of property owners want to do it.
I am very pleased with the atmosphere of our debate today. It differs very much from the conditions which we have previously had in this House. It was a great mistake on the part of the Conservative Party—and I believe that it will be a mistake that will be repeated by the present Government—that, because of the ingrained dislike of a few property owners, nothing has been done to encourage the owner of of private property to build houses for rent. The theory seems to be that rent, being profit, is anathema. The truth of the matter is that capable and competent property owners can do a great deal to help in this very difficult position if allowed to do so. There is no real answer to the problems about which we have heard today except to build more houses and I believe that all hands should be turned to the pump to deal with their construction.
Coming to the Bill itself, all the difficulties that arise on it are due to the extension of the areas contained in the Bill. The lack of freedom that applies under the Rent Act, 1957, does not arise under this Bill, because it is specifically excluded. But the use of the words in Clause 2(4,d),
whether greater hardship would be caused by the suspension of the execution of the order for possession than by its execution without suspension or further suspension.
seems to me, as applied in the full sense of the extensions of this Bill, to present considerable difficulties. Let me mention a few of them. Take the question of letting houses for holidays. On many parts of our coast this is a useful and satisfactory way for the ordinary person to take a holiday without going to a hotel or using a caravan. The lettings are either weekly, fortnightly or monthly.
It may be that a tenant is not as co-operative and helpful as he might be. Of course, it may not be his fault—I make no comment—but suppose a person books for a fortnight in July in a holiday house and then determines to stay on. I agree that such a person would not get much sympathy from the county court judge or from the registrar. I would mention that I am not sure that these problems should be dealt with by a registrar, because they are of such vital importance.
With respect, I disagree. They are tenancies, though they are tenancies for a fixed period. There is quite clearly a relationship of landlord and tenant. In most parts of the country it would take at least three months to get these trying people evicted because of the time factor and although the judge would not be sympathetic towards such people, as I say, it would mean that the whole set-up of holiday arrangements for the season would be completely broken.
Then there is the case of the serving soldier who, going abroad, lets his house to a person, giving a tenancy for a limited period which he thinks will enable him to return to his own house when he comes back from service. But suppose the tenant becomes ill, or a baby arrives, or he becomes unemployed. How are we to get a judge to make a satisfactory decision as to who suffers the greater hardship—the tenant who experiences these misfortunes or the person who has let the house only for the period during which he would be away?
A similar situation arises in connection with letting houses to students. Students require houses during the university term. Suppose they cannot find accommodation. This is a problem which might involve immigrants. Who suffers the greater hardship, the person who wants to come back to his own house or the student who is in occupation only as a tenant during the university term and who is liable to be evicted? The danger—and I wish to emphasise this—is that we are drying up accommodation which might be available, and that is the last thing that any of us wants to do.
I wish also to speak of the position of farm workers, though they have already been mentioned. There might be a case of a farm worker who ceased to be employed because he was not efficient. During the time of his occupation or tenancy of the tied house his wife has had a baby and there was nowhere for them to go. Once again, we are back in the position where the agriculturist has to decide what to do. If he goes to court the terrible question arises again which many judges have said they have found so difficult to decide: whose is the greater hardship? This is all due to the extension of the Bill over and above the cases covered by the Rent Acts and dealt with by the 1957 Act.
A further matter about which I should like to hear more is the question of mortgage control. What is the position of the mortgagee under the Bill when it becomes an Act? Is it open to him during the period of the extension to take action to obtain his mortgage money? Does the Bill affect this person and, if so, what is the effect?
I do not like the limit of £400 net annual value in the Bill. Speeches during the debate have indicated the importance which I have stressed many times to the previous Conservative Government of dealing with these matters on a regional basis. The £400 limit in London is unexceptionable. A lesser limit in Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool would be more appropriate and the limit in some other parts is of comparatively small moment. It could be something like £50 to £100. This is the way in which problems thrown out by the housing situation should be dealt with.
In conclusion, I commend to the Government the regional approach and the provision of opportunity for private owners of property to build property with a view to having it available for rent.
I am very glad to find myself again in the House and speaking for the first time in the new Parliament in a debate concerned with housing, because all of us who represent London constituencies, in particular, have a heavy burden of responsibility laid upon us in this connection. I am glad also that we are at last to make unwarranted evictions, which I have always considered the most brutal form of human misbehaviour, a crime in this country. We have had on the Statute Book more considerate legislation relating to the treatment of animals than we have had concerning some human beings. It is an offence in this country to put a dog out on the street and abandon it, but it has long been possible to have irresponsible eviction. Tonight there are 1,000 families who are technically homeless, being sheltered by the London County Council.
I say "technically homeless" because there are thousands more families homeless in everything but name, putting up with intolerable conditions. Over 1,000 of the 9,000 children in the care of the L.C.C. are in care only because of the homelessness of their families and not because the families have broken up or have deserted them. This accumulation of human misery and the breaking up of families which is caused by homelessness and unwarranted eviction lies heavily on the conscience of the nation.
I am glad that my right hon. and hon. Friends have taken such speedy action, but because we appreciate the speed and energy with which they are tackling the problem I hope that the Minister will not regard me as a little greedy. The Government having given us so much reason for hope, they cannot blame us for hoping for a little more from them. The Bill is necessary primarily because there are bad landlords. I pray the forgiveness of the House if I concentrate on the bad landlords.
It may be that in central London our experience of bad landlords is unfortunately more frequent than of any other form of landlord. It may also be that in central London, particularly, there is very little of the good landlord-tenant relationship because so much property is owned by property companies. These companies own the property purely as a speculative investment and when it becomes more profitable to redevelop and get vacant possession than to collect rents the only factor which is important is the money motive. I therefore have to approach the Bill in a perhaps slightly more suspicious spirit than have hon. Members who represent some happier constituencies.
I find that there are no limits to the chicanery, dishonesty and callousness with which this matter of obtaining vacant possession is approached. I am not talking of what we have come to call Rachmanism in its most violent forms and I should like to give one or two examples of the kind of action I mean.
I have received a letter from an old lady who was approached by the agent of her landlord, a property-owning company. This man had a kind face and he suggested to the old lady that as she was getting on in years it would be better for her to move downstairs and take a couple of rooms on the ground floor. She did this and now she has had notice to quit. While she was upstairs she was a controlled tenant. By moving downstairs she was deceived into becoming a decontrolled tenant. "Destatting" is the word used in the trade.
The Bill alters that situation, I hope, by making it the law that the old lady cannot now, as a decontrolled tenant downstairs, be given notice to quit by the landlord.
I had another example, this time of an elderly woman looking after an invalid husband. The landlord had for a long time tried to get her out, but she had managed to hold on. He suggested that it might help her with the rent, as she was rather hard up, if she would scrub down the stairs for him regularly, and he would remit the larger part of the rent. Not long after this arrangement came into effect, the tenant was given notice to quit, and it took a lot of lawyers to decide that she had unwittingly been transformed into a service tenant instead of a controlled tenant.
I shall not take up the time of the House with more examples, but, because we face this kind of situation, we are most anxious that, wherever in the Bill the benefit of any doubt can be given, it should be given to the tenant. There is the leeway of years of exploitation of tenants to be made up.
One or two points in the Bill are almost too modest. I draw attention particularly to Clause 2(4) which I regard as altogether too harsh on the tenant. For example, in paragraph (a) there is a reference to the occupier's failure
to observe any terms or conditions
of his tenancy. Does that mean that if there is something in very small print about painting the place every so often or mending all the broken sash cords, and for some reason the tenant fails to comply, he will then lose his protection? The words are
to observe any terms or conditions".
I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider the possibility of using words similar to those in Section 30 of the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1954, where the reference is to "substantial breaches" by the tenant, a much more suitable form of words.
Other speakers have referred to the great difficulty in which we shall put the courts by too frequent use of the word "reasonable". What is a reasonable rent? Will the Government give an indication of what they have in mind, if only for the benefit of the courts, let alone for the benefit of landlords and tenants? Is a reasonable rent a market rent? I could take my right hon. Friend to a dirty basement in St. Pancras where the rent is 4 guineas a week, and the landlord can say, "This must be a reasonable rent because I am getting 4 guineas for the place, and if only I could get rid of this chap I could get 4½ guineas". Is that the interpretation we want the courts to put on the word "reasonable"?
We must look with great suspicion also on the paragraph which provides that where greater hardship would be caused to the landlord he should be given access to his property. I have known cases under the old legislation of the court giving possession to a landlord who has, for example, said that his poor old mother was coming to live with him and he must have the tenants out of the top floor for that reason. The court having given possession, the old mother never came, and, a few weeks later, there was a board outside saying that the house was offered for sale with vacant possession. It is very difficult to follow up these cases, but we must be careful that false reasons are not accepted in this context of hardship.
I put it to my right hon. Friend that the compulsory purchase order procedure needs speeding up in his Department. After my experience as a member of a local authority, it is a great mystery to me what happens to a compulsory purchase order between the time when the local council sends it to the Ministry and the time when it comes out at the other end of the machine. If we are to use the compulsory purchase order machinery to deal with cases of threatened eviction, we must ask the Minister to discuss with his Department ways of hurrying the process along.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will not be influenced by any arguments suggesting that furnished tenancies should be taken out of the Bill. In my view, as the words do not appear in the Bill at present, I should like there to be an Amendment making it explicit that it relates to both furnished and unfurnished tenancies. The furnished tenancy sector is the thickest jungle of all. I often feel that the legislation which exists at present is very much of a dead letter. The rent tribunals can give protection only for three months. The rent is registered with the local authority. I have tried very hard to find out how the local authorities follow up these cases, what machinery they have, and how many are using it, to ensure there are not subsequent lettings of rooms above the registered rent. It is very difficult for them to get this information, and many of them certainly have taken no steps of enforcement. There will be another duty which this Bill will lay on local authorities.
I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will do all they can to encourage the local authorities to make very considerable efforts at publicity in this connection. It is essential, in my view, for local authorities to see that they have easily available in the town halls people who can give advice to the many tenants who will want to know their rights under this Bill. It is all too easy for local councils to concentrate their housing thinking on council tenants only. We have in St. Pancras set up a service in our town hall which is freely and fully available to tenants of private landlords who have any problems at all in connection with the law and their rights under it, and it has been of great help to many people. I hope that that will be a service which will be repeated elsewhere.
Whether there are any ways in which, without holding up the passage of the Bill, we can make more explicit the rights of tenants is a very difficult problem. 1 would only say that speed is really essential and that none of us on this side of the House wants any hesitations which we have expressed, or suggestions which we have made or will make, to hold up the Bill. We want it to be a good Bill and we want it to be an effective Bill, because it is dealing with one of the most serious social problems of our time.
It is always a great pleasure to follow an hon. Member who has made a maiden speech, though I know very well that the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) is not really in that category; but, nevertheless, I should like to offer my congratulations to her on a most admirable maiden speech for the second time running.
I am sure that the House will look forward, as it has in the past, to hearing the hon. Lady's contributions on many occasions. Quite obviously she knows and understands the problems of her constituents, and, indeed, has put them forward with force and sincerity and with much effect, and I should like to repeat my congratulations to her on the way she has put her points and made her maiden speech yet again.
I am sorry that the Minister of Housing is not here, or the Minister of Agriculture either, because while I do not want to detain the House for more than a few moments I do want to refer once again to the rather difficult problem of tied cottages in the agricultural field. Several of my hon. and right hon. Friends have mentioned this already. There seems to be some confusion concerning it. I find it particularly difficult to understand. Here we have in this Bill a completely new departure from the existing position. I am not, at the moment at least, expressing any view about the rights or wrongs of it, but it is a fact that this is a new departure.
As the Minister will agree, there has been no consultation whatsoever with any of the bodies concerned or interested in this problem of tied cottages in agriculture. As I understand it, he has not at any stage consulted the N.F.U. He has not consulted the Rural District Councils Association which, after all, is intimately connected with this problem. Perhaps this non-consultation is something that we shall see quite often. This is not the first time that this Government have failed to consult those who are particularly involved and interested in the moves which they are making in their dynamic 100 days.
What the Government are doing, and what the right hon. Gentleman has put forward in this Bill, will have great ramifications, and I repeat that I deeply regret that there has been no consultation at all with the interests concerned. Indeed, I doubt whether there was any consultation between the Minister and his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. Neither right hon. Gentleman is here, so I cannot question them personally, but I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will pass on my remarks to them.
Some rather curious statements have been made today, particularly by the Minister. He asked my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) whether he wanted all licensees to be excluded from the scope of the Bill. The Minister seemed to be saying that in logic one could not do that, or at least he could not do it. There must be some misconception of the type and kind of tenancy about which we are talking. The tied cottage is a term which refers, or ought to refer, to houses which are occupied as a condition of employment. These are service occupancies, and the workers are licensees. It is to this, and this alone, that I am directing my remarks.
The other category to which the right hon. Gentleman referred is the service tenancy in agriculture. As he knows, and indeed he said, this is rather a rare bird. There are very few service tenancies as such, but they exist, where the occupier of the service tenancy is employed in agriculture, usually on the farm of his employer, but his tenancy of the cottage is not a condition of his employment.
People with service tenancies would gain the protection of the Bill even if Clause 1(5) were excluded. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to be in some doubt about this. If he excluded Clause 1(5), agricultural service tenancies would still be protected. What I am seeking to argue is that the licensee, as opposed to the service tenant, should be excluded from the operation of the Bill.
I do not think it is illogical to say that if one excludes the licensee one ought to exclude the service tenant as well, or one ought to include them both. I do not believe that this is necessarily so, because the service tenant does not occupy the cottage on the condition that he works on the farm, whereas the licensee does. There is a great distinction between the two points. On that narrow point I think it should be possible, at a later stage, for the right hon. Gentleman to see the light of reason and to exclude one type without breaking the logicality of his argument. I hope that he will see reason for excluding the licensee of the service cottage.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) referred to the effect which the Bill will have in Scotland on agricultural licensees and the farmers who employ them. It is not, as he suggests, confined to Scotland or to the Highlands there, or to the uplands in England, or to Wales and elsewhere. The service cottage and the agricultural licensee problem is over the whole field of agriculture. This problem exists on a national scale.
Another thing I deprecate greatly, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead brought this out, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), is that in this Bill the agricultural licensee has been singled out for attention. Why is this so? Why is it that the railway worker, the mineworker, and so on, and, indeed, a whole host of other licensee tenants are not mentioned? My hon. Friend suggested, and I should like to suggest to the House as well, that this is a deliberate attack on the tied cottage system. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to hear hon. Gentlemen opposite saying "Hear, hear" because that at least clears the air. I find that odd because the Minister of Housing and Local Government says that all he is trying to do is to protect the tenant, no matter what he may be, and that there is no attack on the tied cottage system. That is the sense of what he has been saying.
I find this strange when various pamphlets put forward by the Labour Party before the election show quite clearly that there is to be an attack on the system of the tied cottage in agriculture. This is not at all on the lines which have been put forward in this Bill or argued here this evening. I have a pamphlet here called, "The Tied Cottage, Labour's Aim".
I will not weary the House by reading the whole of it, but if the hon. Gentleman wishes me to read it, I will.
In this particular passage they are going to revolutionise the system of the tied cottage; they are going to register it with the local council and put the burden on the local authority—the obligation of finding alternative accommodation if a tenant is evicted or leaves the tied cottage. In this pamphlet they are virtually going to maintain the tied cottage system. This is a very different thing from what is being done here this evening.
I should like to put before the House the effect of what the Government are going to do this evening. The Secretary of State for Scotland appears to shake his head. Does this mean that he intends to maintain the tied cottage system? If that is the case of the Government, I hope that in slamming up it will be put forward clearly so that the House will understand what is done by Clause 1(5) and what also is the intention of the Government concerning the tied cottage and the agricultural licensee in the future. In this future Bill that we have been hearing so much about and which we have been threatened with, this will be an extremely important point. I agree with every word that was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart), who was talking earlier for Scotland, when he said how important it was for the future of agriculture that there should be in existence a system of tied cottages, and he put forward several reasons with which I would not disagree.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware in the references to Scotland that many of the local authorities have eradicated the need for tied houses almost completely in their areas because of the agricultural workers' houses built by the local authorities?
I am glad to have the hon. Member's attention for a moment. Perhaps he will stop talking. He might not be aware of the situation in this country; there is no reason why he should be, since he has not shown any interest in it in the past.
I assure him that these problems do exist in England and Wales, as he will find if he takes the trouble to investigate.
The Bill proposes to abolish the High Court procedure. There will be no question of a farmer or landlord being able to use that procedure, by which at present he can remove a tenant from a service tenancy within a reasonably short time. This course will be denied to him. The county court procedure, about which we have had a lot of speeches, will replace it. I do not know how much congestion there will be in the county courts, and how long it will take for a case to be heard there, but I am told on the best advice that it is more than probable that in the rural districts, where this provision will bite particularly, there will be delays of up to two, three, and possibly four or five months before cases are heard.
This could impose an intolerable delay, which could act very adversely to the interests of agriculture, to say nothing of the interests of the farmers concerned. I therefore hope that the Minister of Housing will consider this point. He has been asked to do so by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames. This is a very pertinent point. It is absolutely vital to farming interests.
It involves the question of cruelty to animals. The farmworker on a livestock farm, or even on a milking or dairy farm, must live very near his work. It could easily be the case that under the provisions of the Bill a new farmworker would not be able to take possession of a cottage near his work and would have to seek other accommodation, which might be a long way from his work.
My last point concerns Clause 2(4) This subsection does not mention agricultural interests. The courts are not instructed to take into account agricultural or industrial interests as reasons which should weigh with them in coming to their decision whether an extension should be granted. My right hon. Friend mentioned this matter. It is something that we will have to press strongly later on. We must try to see that this point is covered. Agricultural interests should be taken into account by county court judges.
No. It refers to the question of greater hardship being caused, but I do not think that it includes the specific point of agricultural interests and the damage that could be done if a farmer is not able to gain possession of a tied cottage from a licensee. This is why I should like to see something added to the Clause to include agriculture and industry.
I have indicated that in my view this Bill has not been well thought out, that insufficient thought was given to it before it was drafted. I hope that the hon. Gentleman who is to reply for the Government will find it possible to look again at the question of tied cottages and particularly the differentiation between the licensee and the agricultural tenant. I warn him that unless there is flexibility in the attitude of the Minister, I shall do my best to see that this part of the Bill is removed at a later stage.
I hope that the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his discussion on agricultural holdings. Unfortunately, we have none of those in my constituency of Stoke Newington and Hackney, North. Having listened to the able maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Newens), I am perfectly certain that the arguments he used about tied cottages provide an effective answer to the criticisms of the hon. Member for Cornwall, North.
This is an amazing Parliament. I remember in the years since 1957 that the then Labour Party Opposition made attack after attack upon the Government over the Rent Act. We made persistent efforts to obtain some amelioration from the results of that Act. I remember the resistance of the then Ministers of Housing, one after the other, and the way in which they refused to do the slightest thing about the situation. Now, as I say, we have an amazing Parliament, because we find that the present Opposition agrees in the main with the provisions in this Bill. Hon. Members opposite do not propose to vote against it. Apparently, their criticism are directed to minor questions, such as tied cottages, and so on.
I grant that the hon. Member has a very important point in respect of tied cottages. It is but one of the many problems arising from the Rent Act. Hon. Members opposite will not oppose this Bill. They recognise that in principle we are right to bring it forward as an emergency Measure. I am very happy to observe that attitude on the part of the Opposition. I merely comment on the fact that it is a very different attitude from the one which they adopted not so long ago.
I cannot give way to the hon. Gentleman. I have only five minutes and I wish to say a good deal.
During the debate on the Gracious Speech, I expressed the hope that the Government would bring in legislation to prevent landlords from "jumping the gun" and evicting tenants. I am glad that they have done so at the earliest possible opportunity. I am concerned at the many cases in my constituency during the last month or so of landlords attempting to evict tenants. I have had many letters from my constituents indicating that landlords have served notices to quit upon them. The notices expire in the middle or towards the end of this month. I had brought to my attention today a High Court case where an order for possession was made in August or July of this year. I am glad the Master suspended the effect of that order. I hope that the result of this Bill will be that because of that suspension the tenant will not be turned out. I am afraid, however, that there might be difficulties in that direction. That is one of the points I want to mention to the Parliamentary Secretary, because I hope some action may be taken with regard to this matter.
Quite obviously, if a notice to quit is served upon a tenant and expires before this Bill becomes effective and the landlord chooses to adopt the course of putting the bailiffs in, as he can do, there will be no redress for the tenant. It is all very well to say that we have good landlords, but there are bad landlords and they may do it. There are many cases of notices to quit that have been served in this way.
I listened with interest to what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing said about the powers of the borough council with regard to a compulsory purchase order and the steps the Ministry would take to assist them in that direction. I hope that at the earliest moment a circular of some sort, or some advice, will be sent to every local authority to make certain that that local authority acts in drastic fashion in any of the sort of cases I have mentioned where the landlord endeavours in the interval that must elapse before the Bill becomes law to execute an eviction order and to obtain possession in this way.
Having said that, I want to make one comment about an observation that fell from one of the hon. Members opposite. He said that he did not think it was right on our part to lay the blame on the 1957 Act. I can only say that that hon. Gentleman can have very little experience of what has happened in boroughs in London. From a practical point of view, we know that right through these years since 1957 the most acute hardship has been caused as a result of the provisions of the 1957 Act. When we remember what my right hon. Friend said about what was stated to be justification for the Act at that time—the fact that before very long the supply of housing would apparently be meeting the demand and there would be no real difficulty—and when we realise the position that exists today in London alone, we must see what a terrible mistake that 1957 Act is, and I am very glad indeed that we have, first of all, this emergency Measure against a background of a "Rent Act" Bill which will do away with the effects of the 1957 Act. I hope that what we will have is a Bill that will codify the law. For far too long, since the early 1920s, in fact, we have had Rent Acts almost every three or four years, one continuing the other. It is time that the whole of that landlord and tenant law was codified and put upon a proper basis.
In passing, I would like to say that I hope that when that is done attention may also be paid to the tenancies with a net annual value of over £400. There are a great many professional and middle-class people today who are suffering acutely from the fact that the only premises they can obtain are premises at extortionate rentals—£500 a year, £750 a year, £1,000 a year. They are a class we ought not to forget, and I hope that their needs will be taken into consideration.
I want to turn for a moment or two to the question of the provisions of this Bill. I want, if I may, to deal with one or two of the points raised by Members opposite. The Bill is meant to deal with cases where tenants have been in possession of premises for many years, paying what on the face of it is a perfectly reasonable rental, but landlords desire to obtain possession either to secure a higher rental or to sell the premises. This is the sort of case with which the Bill is intended to deal. In some cases in my constituency people have been in possession for 20 or 30 years and are being given notice to quit by the landlord.
In such a case, as an emergency, what more can we want, in fairness not only to the tenant but to the landlord, than the provisions set out in Clause 2(4)? We are not saying that a tenant who does not pay his rent may stay there. We are not saying that a tenant who has broken the terms of his contract may stay there. We are not saying that in a case in which there is greater hardship on the landlord, the tenant may remain there. We are specifically legislating for the fact that the county court judge will take into consideration the matters set out in subsection (4)—
whether the occupier has failed … to observe
the terms or conditions of the tenancy.
whether he has unreasonably refused an offer of a tenancy … at a reasonable rent,
whether he has failed to make reasonable efforts to obtain other suitable accommodation
whether greater hardship would be caused by the suspension of the execution of the order … than by its execution.
How can we put it more fairly than that.
I cannot give way because I have to sit down in three minutes.
I know that some hon. Members have said that the use of the word "reasonable" is somewhat vague. No doubt we can discuss that in Committee. It seems to me that in presenting an emergency Bill to the House the Government have put forward very proper provisions.
I, too, recognise, that there may be a difficulty about furnished premises, particularly in the letting of furnished houses at a seaside resort which are let for perhaps two weeks or a month. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) mentioned furnished premises occupied by students. I do not think that a difficulty arises here, because that is a question of a licensee rather than a tenant, and I do not think that the Bill would apply in that case, but there may be a difficulty, which must be met, about the furnished premises mentioned by the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies).
There is some answer to it in my intervention, in that the learned county court judge can take into consideration the matters set out in Clause 2(4), but I recognise that the procedure may be long and that there may be some delay. There is force in the argument that the county court judge in some country districts sits only at long intervals. The point might be met by some provision for a speedy trial or a suggestion for the adoption of Order 14 procedure in the county court as in the High Court. Nevertheless, these are matters which ought to be studied, and I recognise that there may be some difficulties.
I should like to draw attention to the fact that the word "court" as used in Clause 2(1) refers to a county court. If an order is made by the High Court, clearly that is not envisaged by the subsection. This point must be considered.
There is a great deal more that I wanted to say, but I recognise the calls of the Opposition Front Bench. I am certain that they are straining at the leash to give us the opposition which they ought to have given in the first instance, had they been true to their record. I welcome the Bill. I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) sitting on the Government Front Bench and putting forward this Bill, for which he has fought on many occasions. I hope that before long we shall have a Bill which will codify the law of landlord and tenant and give us some chance of putting that law in regard to these tenancies upon a proper basis.
The debate appears to have been characterised on both sides by a vigorous growth of what in legal circles is known as that pernicious weed the olive branch, but it has been remarkable for a number of excellent maiden speeches: by the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens), my hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin), the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Oakes), the hon. Member for Acton, (Mr. Floud), the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Tuck), the hon. Member for Nottingham, Central (Mr. Dunnett), the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) and the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger).
The points which they made—and I will comment on some of them—were varied and interesting and I hope that I will be permitted to single out two of their speeches, one from the Opposition and one from the Government side of the House. The hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South demonstrated the charm of rejuvenation with a most apposite speech, while my hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford distinguished himself by paying a tribute to his predecessor, Sir Winston Churchill, which was both charming and novel. I would have thought it impossible to make such a charming and novel tribute in view of the many tributes which have been paid to Sir Winston in, I was going to say recent times, but, in all times.
I will, first, mention the important point of clarification which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister indicated—I will not say entirely elucidated—in his speech. I was interested to learn that he regarded the powers of the county court in Clause 2(2) as including the power to decide, on an application, whether rents should be increased or decreased, which, I feel, would certainly be an important power. I must confess that I had not thought the subsection to be so clear, but, since that is the right hon. Gentleman's view of what should be the effect, no doubt we will be able to deal with the matter on a subsequent occasion.
The Minister also made it clear that only what he described as true tenants—those with agreements and not lodgers and others—would be affected and, as I understood it—although this became somewhat complicated—the exception to that was that all agricultural occupiers would be affected by the Bill whereas service tenants, as distinct from service agricultural tenants, would not be so affected. But I will deal with that later, though not at great length, because it is a matter of detail which we can discuss on a subsequent occasion, particularly since there appears to be a mutual desire to make this as adequate and efficient a Bill as it can be.
Another point which is obviously regarded as important by hon. Members is the question of what I might conveniently refer to as seaside lettings, or alternatively, winter lettings of furnished premises where the giving up of possession is of primary importance to the letting; in other words, it would not have been undertaken for that term and at that rental if it were not on the basis that it would cease promptly at a specified date.
I was also particularly interested in the Minister's recognition, which will be of vital importance in the effectiveness of the Bill, of the fact that if one freezes rents other difficulties occur. This was a recognition of immense practical importance, because I have no doubt at all that he was absolutely correct in that assertion, and I certainly would not quarrel with it.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield) asked why the Milner Holland Committee was not set up earlier. I have had an opportunity of checking that, and the direct answer is that the reasons for the setting up of that Committee will be found in the OFFICIAL REPORT Of the debate in July, 1963. I must confess with a certain element of diffidence that, for reasons that it is not easy to explain, I was not then responsible for the setting up of the Committee, but the general background to its setting up will be found in that debate.
I need not reiterate what I might call the general approach of the Opposition to this Measure, which has been so fully and lucidly expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). I could summarise it as a necessity in the light of the unknown—and I do not speak of the unknown in any term of criticism of the Government. I appreciate that the Government have to proceed step by step. but it is clear that if legislation on lines that have been indicated in general, but not in specific, terms is contemplated, there is a necessity, as my right hon. Friend pointed out in the debate on the Address, to get some sort of certainty, if only for the temporary period, and he himself called, in effect, for a Bill of a similar type to that now before us.
I think that it is acknowledged by the Government, and we recognise, that this is an emergency measure, and falls to be judged, to some extent, at any rate, in that light. It is clear that its essence is security, and not really rent control at this period.
A number of points that we shall have to pursue in detail have been mentioned by hon. Members on both sides. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) called attention to the possible difficulties in respect of mortgages, and the difficulties that are liable to occur—and, I think, will occur—in respect of furnished lettings. Perhaps the salient point that has emerged there is that there has been absolutely no suggestion—I was about to speak of evidence, but I do not want to be too legal—of any emergency measures being necessary in respect of furnished lettings, which already have a legal procedure. If duplication is essential one must possibly accept it, but I would suggest that, as a general principle, a duplication of legal powers and duties in this as in many other aspects of local government has proved of considerable detriment to effective action, particularly by local authorities.
The hon. and learned Member has spoken of duplication, but I am sure he would remind the House that once a tenant of furnished letting is under notice he cannot go to the tribunal.
No, but the hon. Member knows from experience in his constituency that that tenant has considerable powers for going to the tribunal if and when the need occurs.
It is very striking that no speech this evening has produced any kind of evidence for emergency action. After all, the Bill was put before us as an emergency measure. There has been no kind of suggestion that emergency provisions are needed for lettings. The point has already been made that the position of a furnished letting, possibly two rooms in a private house, is probably in most cases very different from the letting of an unfurnished flat or house.
The House would be unwise not to recognise the practical difficulties which exist, and simply to try to deal with this in terms of, I was going to say some form of dogma, and that it must apply to everything within sight, I do not believe would be in the long-term interest of this or any other legislation.
Another point on which we have heard remarks—I do not wish to indulge in repetition—is about tied cottages. It seems that we shall need to consider this very carefully, because here we are making a complete differentiation for which, curiously enough, there has not been any case put forward. For every other kind of service tenancy, whether for a domestic servant or any other, it is rightly recognised that a so-called service tenancy comes under a rather different category. For example, I had a case in my constituency where a so-called service tenant, who was not, in fact, either a tenant or a service tenant, had elected to continue in occupation claiming to be a caretaker, which she was not. She took the opportunity to shut off the entire supply of hot water from all the other tenants. Obviously, there was going to be a great deal of litigation. The Bill is right to recog- nise that there is a peculiar position for a service tenant, although, in fact, in law they are tenants in the ordinary sense.
On the question of an agricultural service tenant, I remind the Government that on the last occasion when they formed the Government they recognised this principle very clearly. It was they who, I think rightly, established the principle—I am not sure whether it was the present Lord Silkin or his successor who did it—that there was a form of service agricultural tenant who was entitled to consideration in this particular case. It was in connection with town and country planning. Permission would be granted, for example, to a cowman to have a cottage in a green belt area immediately adjoining the cowsheds. There are many other cases, but the case I mentioned was one of cattle breeding.
The hon. Member is tempting me beyond the particular point I am making.
I quote, because it concerns a body composed of those of the same political thinking as the Government, the Metropolitan Water Board. It may employ a turncock to live in one of its houses. There are other examples such as lock-keepers. There are a hundred and one cases. I thought that the Minister had recognised that there is this separate category of a service tenancy, whether an employee of the Metropolitan Water Board or a caretaker of a block of flats who, if he leaves his job, but continues in the occupation of the premises which are absolutely essential to the job, can nullify possibly a very important or less important undertaking.
I was not dealing so much with that. I was dealing with the service agricultural tenant and reminding the right hon. Gentleman that his own party, as I think rightly, had recognised that a service tenant for agriculture is at least as important as, if not more important than, a service tenant in other spheres. Therefore, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider this and realise that there are certain agricultural tenants whose occupation of particular premises is vital to a very important undertaking and that it is part of that post.
One case which has subsequently occurred to me is that of a market gardener not very far from an industrial area who would like to erect a modern house for his foreman. If he does that at a cost of £4,000, it would be disastrous if the foreman then took employment with a nearby industrial concern. Even if it took only a matter of months to get the man out, it must be realised that it is a major disincentive to someone to do what I think he should do—erect or acquire premises for key agricultural personnel—if he is to be subject to delays in getting the man out because of an action in the county court. This distinction between the service agricultural tenant and what I call the general agricultural tenant was rather brushed aside by the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that, in the light of the very reasonable approach which the right hon. Gentleman took, he will examine this very real point.
Hon. Members on both sides support the necessity for the Bill in the light of the unknown, but just what is foreshadowed should be made clear, because the facts which have rendered the Bill necessary afford ample evidence of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) continually reiterated to the House, namely, that there would be, and there will be. a pressure to reduce the number of premises to let. This is inevitable. The Government may think that worth while. I believe that I am right in saying that the number of premises at present controlled becoming decontrolled is about 300,000 a year and that about 80 per of those are relet.
It must be recognised that what has already started to happen is liable to continue. When controls are started, there is every kind of disincentive to letting at rack rents. There is every kind of incentive to selling. The figure of those which are becoming decontrolled is known, but it must be remembered also that although they as far as possible will go off the rack-rental market —this affects London perhaps more than most places—the same principle will apply to the much larger number of premises with net annual values up to £400.
We then bring in a very large category. It is problematical what the result will be, and no doubt that will be appropriate to go into in detail on a subsequent occasion. But we must all face the fact that the effect of these emergency measures which do not cover those cases is bound to be of that order. One must also recollect what my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) said in a debate, I believe, in 1962, that many of the big building developers would welcome the opportunity to develop premises to let—it is common ground that that is the great need—if they could be sure that unknown controls would not be imposed upon them in the future. We must accept that the more we control the less incentive there is for houses to let.
Finally—and I should have thought that this was a point which would have struck the Joint Parliamentary Secretary very strongly—the Bill, unfortunately, can have little or no effect on what has been commonly called Rachmanism. The tendency will be to the contrary, because the essence of Rachmanism is to get a family or an occupier into one part of the premises, to achieve vacant possession of the remainder and then have the whole premises to sell.
While accepting the need for the Bill, it would be foolish simply to live in a sort of golden paradise and not to recognise that this Bill does nothing to prevent Rachmanism but, in fact, because there is no incentive to let, encourages people to try to get control of the whole house so that they can sell it. [An HON. MEMBER: "Thank you for the warning."] I am happy to give it, because I certainly—and I think that this goes for all my hon. Friends—have never at any time countenanced Rachmanism and its evils. It would be madness to let the public think that any kind of step will be taken tonight which will do anything to stop Rachmanism. In fact, the contrary is the case. It may be that the Government will produce an Amendment in Committee which will deal with Rachmanism. I cannot tell, but in subsequent legislation they may do so.
Subject to those major points, we recognise the necessity for the Bill at present.
May I at once say to the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Mr. Roots) that if he feels that this Bill is inadequate to deal with Rachmanism and cares to put down an Amendment to strengthen it to that effect, I give an assurance that we shall give it all the consideration of which it is worthy.
The point is that the hon. and learned Gentleman said that he did not think our Bill went far enough in this respect. I say to him frankly that if he puts down an Amendment it will receive our consideration and support. In fact, we do not accept his view.
This occasion for me is a double pleasure. It is an honour and privilege to speak from this Front Bench as a member of the Government. Indeed, it is a great joy and thrill for anybody to receive office for the first time. I do not know how I shall feel about it in a few months' time if we continue to work as hard as we have done in the last three weeks.
I am speaking on a Bill which is the death, or the beginning of the death, of the Rent Act, 1957, an Act which has caused so much misery and unhappiness to so many people. I find the attitude of the Conservative Party quite extraordinary. I never thought that I would live to see the day when such a change would come over so many people. Not only have hon. and right hon. Members retracted the position which they took up to the eve of the General Election, there has been almost a complete rout. Speech after speech from the benches opposite congratulated us on this Measure and said how glad hon. Members were to see it before them.
Like the hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South, I should like to congratulate those who have made their maiden speeches today. There are a number of them. My hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) spoke of the drift to the South-East and the effect on his own constituency. On this matter we are doing what we can at the Ministry to discover what can be done to deal with overspill, etc. I hope very much that the results of our efforts will give him a great deal of satisfaction.
We had an extraordinary and remarkable maiden speech from the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Patrick Jenkin). All of us would wish to share his references to Sir Winston Churchill, because we all recognise Sir Winston as one of the great Parliamentarians of our day and age. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Oakes) made a remark which appealed to me very much. He spoke of the right of a home without fear. This is what the Bill is about. Its aim is to remove fear from among many thousands of our people, a fear which has existed for a long time. There is not only the fear of eviction at this time, but the fear of losing homes in future under some new landlord.
My hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Floud) has various housing problems. His constituency suffers from one of the worst problems in London, that of multi-occupation. This again is a matter which my right hon. Friend is giving careful attention to see whether existing legislation is strong enough to meet the problem. We shall be visiting Acton to talk about that. My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Tuck) has been known to me personally for a considerable time and he has given legal aid to many Rent Act victims. I missed the maiden speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, Central (Mr. Dunnett), but I am told that they were of the same high quality as the rest in the debate today.
I should like to deal at once with the major criticisms made in the debate. It was interesting to note that in almost all the speeches from the Opposition where there was criticism it hinged on two parts of the Bill. First, it was asked why we were bringing within its provisions the agricultural worker in the tied cottage. The other criticism dealt with the whole question of furnished accommodation. We were asked why this came within the ambit of the Bill. We were asked what was to happen to those who let seaside property. Points were also made about people who went abroad for a short time and what their position would be when they returned and wanted to reoccupy their homes. These are genuine, fundamental questions. I shall do my best to answer them.
The speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Captain Litchfield) was a remarkable speech from a Member of the Conservative Party. It was interesting to watch the faces of those hon. Members opposite who were present while he was making it. He criticised the whole of the Conservative Party for not having brought this Measure forward some months ago. He spoke on behalf or all London Members, Labour and Conservative, when he condemned his party for the plight in which it had left so many thousands of people in London. It was a great joy to hear these remarks coming not as one would expect from my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) and others of my hon. Friends who for years have defended these victims of the housing situation. I cannot tell the hon. and gallant Member how grateful we are to him for casting such a light. I hope that on the Committee stage, which I am told will be very soon, the hon. and gallant Member will be one of the first to rise and stop any individual hon. Friend who may play about and try to prevent the passage of the Bill. I have no doubt that with his spirit, and with the desire which he has expressed on its subject matter, the hon. and gallant Member will want to see the Bill on the Statute Book as soon as possible. I am obliged to him for what he said.
One would expect a bit of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech not to be helpful to me.
If ever there was a case shown for the introduction of this Bill, it was shown in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney). He told the House that in his constituency there have been 47 cases of notice to quit given during the past fortnight. This is in a typical metropolitan borough, with a great deal of multi-occupation, and, of course, a great deal of property having passed into decontrol. My hon. Friend made an important point, which my right hon. Friend will take up, suggesting that local authorities should be told of the announcement my right hon. Friend made about his intention to entertain compulsory purchase orders if some landlords, in spite of the warnings given, still go on trying to take properties over by the sort of means which have been described. My hon. Friend was quite right to urge that the Minister should send a notice to this effect to local authorities, and I assure him that my right hon. Friend will readily consider doing so.
The hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington)—I shall be quite fair here—spoke on behalf of good property owners. I say at once to the hon. Gentleman and others like him that the Bill is not designed to hurt the good property owner. It never was. It has never been our intention as a party to attack those who own property and who do a good job for their tenants, and there are many thousands of good property owners who do just that. It is not for them to be concerned about the Bill. We have had to bring in an emergency Measure to deal with the minority. How many there are we cannot estimate, but the hon. Gentleman knows about them and he knows what they are like. It was necessary for us to deal with them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger)—it was not her maiden speech as she has been in the House before—asked for one or two assurances. First, she wanted us to write into the Bill an explicit reference to furnished accommodation. I have taken legal advice on this, and I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the opening words of Clause 1:
Where any premises have been let as a dwelling …
I am advised that those words "let as a dwelling" cover furnished and unfurnished accommodation and there is no need to have any unnecessary words written into the Bill to do what my hon. Friend wants.
My hon. Friend referred also to the compulsory purchase order machinery, which is, of course, closely relevant when we are considering measures of this kind. If I may put it in this way, the C.P.O. machinery is one of the consequences of democracy. One must not acquire property without giving people a right to object. However, we are trying to see whether in our own Department we can speed up the whole compulsory purchase order process.
I come now to the major criticisms of the Bill, and I take, first the argument that furnished accommodation should be excluded. Rent tribunals have jurisdiction only over lettings with a pre-1957 rateable value of £40 or less in London or £30 or less elsewhere in England and Wales, but the Bill covers all lettings of premises with current rateable values of £400 or less. Thus, it covers a large number of lettings outside the jurisdiction of the existing tribunals. Landlords of furnished accommodation, we feel, may be tempted to take the law into their own hands, and it is not every tenant of furnished accommodation who knows of his right to seek security from the tribunal. The Bill, by making it a criminal offence for a landlord to take matters into his own hands on the question of recovery of possession, will materially help the authorities in keeping the peace, because they will be able to call on a landlord found to be evicting a tenant, to produce the order from the court entitling him to do so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North rightly interrupted the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kensington, South to remind him that those who live in property in London which is still controlled and of pre-1957 rateable value of £40 and which is furnished, if notice to quit is served on them, can go to the tribunal. All of us who are London Members know, and he should know better than most, that furnished accommodation has been a racket for many, many years What is the definition of furnished accommodation—in most parts of London? Everybody knows what it is—one little piece of carpet, one broken down chair; just an excuse to get behind what rent control exists. I say frankly that we could not possibly bring in a Bill to deal with properties of a rateable value of £400 and below and exclude furnished accommodation where so much of the trouble, in my view, has come about, and I seriously warn those who want to defend this position to remember the homeless families so many of whom are evicted from furnished accommodation.
It has been suggested that there will be far fewer lettings to university students and other single people as a result of the Bill. I am advised that most lettings of this kind are licences and are not tenancies—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—and I will explain to the House why. The hon. Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) should know much better than I because he is a lawyer, but I am advised by people who, I think, are better lawyers than he is. I come to this question of the students, because the right hon. Gentleman quite properly put a fair point to us. What happens, he said, to furnished accommodation for such students? I am advised and I understand that these are more likely to be licences because access is granted, in almost all these cases, to the rooms themselves. These are open, almost invariably, to someone who has control over the property, and can go into the rooms to clean them and so on. I am advised that students come into this category and will be exempt from this Bill in many cases.
Let us have a look at the case which has been mentioned of the seaside flat which is let for the winter. It is our belief that such a letting might well come within the jurisdiction of the local rent tribunal. This is because almost entirely, I understand, these are properties under the pre-1957 rateable value of £30—outside London—and the local tribunal can be used. I would put this point to those who have raised this matter, and raised it, as I quite understand, most sincerely. What happens in the case of a man who lets his flat to a tenant and then comes back after six months to find that the tenant will not give up the accommodation for one reason or another? Of course, our Bill does not alter the position as it is at the moment. If now such an owner comes back and finds that sort of tenant in the accommodation he has got to take him to court. He has still got to take him to court. But he can still find that it takes five or six weeks before he gets him into the county court.
Surely the hon. Gentleman is not quite right in saying the Bill does not alter the position, because, as I understand it, today a person coming home can take the matter to the High Court and in a matter of days, but that right will be abolished by this Bill.
I concede that at once to the right hon. Gentleman. I quite accept that. I agree that that is a problem for all of us here, about how quickly the county court can deal with the matter. I do not deny that it is a problem, but as my right hon. Friend said, this is an emergency Measure, to deal with certain types of people who have got to be protected, and in view of this it is inevitable that there may well be individual cases of some hardship, but I repeat again that under the High Court procedure there are instances of some delay and parties do not just automatically get settlement. What I am saying is that we believe that many of these people with seaside flats will have the right to go to their local tribunal.
Because this is so important and time is slipping away I want to deal now without further delay with another question, that of the tied cottages. There can be no real grounds for surprise that this Government have decided to include the agricultural tied cottage. I believe that if we had not included it we should have had scorn poured on us by hon. Gentlemen opposite, because of what we have been saying for decades. Everybody in this House, and everybody in the country, knows that we have said that we believe the time is overdue when the farm worker should get some protection.
As things stand, it is possible for farm workers to be evicted from these tied cottages on the whim of the employer, and it is undeniable that such evictions occur. Admittedly they are rare, but we believe that it is right and proper that this provision should be included in a Bill which gives general protection from eviction. It is true that the job-house tie exists in other industries and occupations outside agriculture, but nowhere else is the sense of grievance felt as strongly as it is in agriculture.
In England and Wales about 50 per cent. of the regular full-time men, and about 70 per cent. of all married men in the agricultural industry live in tied cottages. That is to say they occupy their homes as part of their contract of service, and the sense of insecurity which these people suffer is something which the Labour Party has always understood, and something with which we have promised to deal.
When people ask about other industries, for instance coalmining and the railways, my answer is that the difference is that in these cases there is ultimately only one employer, whereas, as I have said before, in the agricultural industry there are literally hundreds of employers to whom these cottages are tied.
We have had a brief from the N.F.U. We know how upset it is about the lack of consultation, but I give this assurance on behalf of my right hon. Friend, that before the main measure to repeal the Rent Act is brought in there will be full consultation with the interested parties and we shall discuss with the N.F.U. and others what should be included in that Measure. We do not retract from the fact that in this Measure, which gives security of tenure, we have included the agricultural farm worker who we believe has asked for this protection for a long time. We feel quite strongly on this issue.
In the few moments that are left to me I can do no better than quote from two letters which I have received consequent on the introduction of this Bill. The first letter is from a tenant who lives at Bow in east London. I shall read only part of the letter, but I am prepared to let the right hon. Gentleman see the whole of it. The writer says:
As tenants who has been so threatened with evictions as to be nearly driven out of our minds and made ill with worry, I cannot say how thankful we were to see about the present Government's laws to stop evictions; it is like a hideous nightmare coming to an end.
Another letter comes from Chelsea. I will send the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea a copy of it—perhaps he has already seen the letter and it has pricked his conscience. It reads:
We were all so happy to hear of the new bill being passed to stop tenants like ourselves being made homeless … Many families in this road over 60 of whom … had received quit notices from our new landlord … after being here for two to three generations. The passing of the new laws means everything to tenants here, and the relief from tension can be seen in their faces.
If we on this side of the House do nothing else, this Bill will give relief to the sort of people who were wide open to pressure, about which we have complained before to the party opposite.
My right hon. Friend has been in office for about three weeks. In that time he has done more good work in housing than the party opposite did in 13 years.
The right hon. Gentleman will not get too far on that one after what we have found in some of the cupboards that we have opened with regard to housing policy.
The Conservative manifesto at the election said:
In the new Parliament we shall take no further steps to remove rent control. Additional safeguards for tenants will he provided if shown to be necessary by the inquiry into rented housing in London.
We were not prepared to wait for the results of such an inquiry. We knew what was happening and did not expect the Milner Holland Committee to tell us anything about hardship that we did not already know. Every one of my hon. Friends who represents a city or a town can prove this. In the light of the debate and what has been said here today, I ask the Opposition for their help and co-operation in Committee. I know that my right hon. Friend would like both the Committee stage and the Report stage to go through in one day. There is no reason why this should not be done. This is a test of sincerity—it is not what one says, but what one does.
I can tell the party opposite that literally thousands of our people will be looking to see how the Bill is handled. It is right and proper that the Opposition should put down constructive and helpful Amendments. We shall welcome them, and we shall want them to be put down. But let it also be understood that as a Government we want this Bill on the Statute Book before Christmas. We want it to be the best Christmas present that our people have ever had.