I beg to move Amendment No. 14, in page 3, line 27, at the end to insert:
(5) Where in proceedings for the recovery of possession of any premises the court makes an order for possession but suspends the execution of the order by virtue of subsection (1) of this section it shall make no order for costs, unless it appears to the court, having regard to the conduct of the owner or of the occupier, that there are special reasons for making such an order.
The purpose of the Bill is to protect tenants from eviction and to give guidance to the courts, particularly in regard to the suspension of orders for eviction, and there are two matters which the courts have to consider. The first is the question of the order for possession, and this is a point on which we have spent a considerable time. There is also the order for costs which the courts
have to consider when these orders for possession come before them. This is a very important matter on which we have so far not touched. An earlier Amendment on costs was moved formally but was not accepted.
It seems unreasonable, when a tenant is brought before the courts and gains security of his tenancy for a limited period, that he should then find himself in considerable financial difficulty because costs are awarded against him. While the court has a discretion, the costs are normally awarded to the successful party, and in practice only in exceptional cases does the court exercise its decision the other way. This may bear very heavily upon occupiers, even though the court may suspend the order for possession. We had hoped that the courts would exercise their discretion generously in favour of occupiers who are suffering considerable hardship by the threat of eviction. The object of my Amendment is to cover this aspect of the Bill and to tighten it up a little in the matter of costs.
My attention was first drawn to the hardship that may be involved in this question of costs when we were discussing the Landlord and Tenant (Temporary Provisions) Bill, 1958, which was introduced to try to relieve some of the acute hardship caused by the Rent Act.
A similar Amendment to this one was introduced in the discussion on that Bill, and at that time I had had representations made to me by a constituent who complained bitterly that he had been before the courts. The landlord's order for possession had been suspended for three months, but the tenant had found himself faced with a bill of £20 costs which he had to pay. This seemed to me to be quite wrong. The Minister at that time proposed an Amendment on lines similar to the one which I now move, but subsequently he had second thoughts and that Amendment was omitted in that Act.
It seems to me, therefore, that if there are hon. Members who think that this Amendment is not necessary and that the court's discretion need not be tampered with in any way, the experience which we had with that earlier legislation points to the fact that there is need for something of this kind to ensure that justice is done to tenants.
One of the difficulties of a debate on a Bill of this kind is that we get bogged down in technical details and we are apt to forget the human purpose behind the Bill. We are apt to forget that the majority of tenants who become involved in cases of the kind covered by the Bill are people of very limited means. Indeed, they would not be in this position if they had money to obtain some other kind of accommodation. We are also apt to forget that a great many of the landlords who take them to court in this way are real rogues and villains. It is quite wrong that when these landlords employ solicitors, and, possibly, counsel, and run up a considerable bill of costs the tenant should be expected to pay it.
I hope, therefore, that the Amendment will be accepted. It is not only necessary in order to give additional protection to the tenants but it is eminently reasonable and it is a matter of equity that something on these lines should be written into the Bill. This may not be perfect wording, but I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will consider that it will fulfil a need, and that it is part of the object of introducing the Bill that something like the Amendment should be incorporated.
The two following Amendments, Nos. 15 and 16, in lines 31 and 34, were thought necessary to bring the Bill into line for Scotland. I hope, therefore, that all three Amendments will be accepted in order to cover an important point which, so far, has not been touched.