Clause 1. — (Regulated Tenancies.)

Orders of the Day — Rent Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th June 1965.

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3.15 a.m.

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 7, at the beginning to insert: In every registration area (as defined in Part II of this Act) in respect of which a rent officer has been appointed to act in accordance with a scheme under the said Part II and a rent assessment committee has been constituted in pursuance of section 20 of this Act and in respect of which the Minister has thereafter (by statutory instrument laid before each House of Parliament) designated the date on which this section shall take effect".

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

With this Amendment I suggest that we also discuss Amendment No. 11, in Clause 3, page 3, line 11, leave out from first "Act" to third "the" in line 12.

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

That will be satisfactory.

This Amendment is designed to insert certain words right at the beginning of the Bill. We are pleased to see the Minister and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on the Government Front Bench. They have no doubt been informed that we made some complaint about their absence and the fact that no one from the Ministry was here to look after the Measure. We have great respect for the Attorney-General, but we would have liked to have had the representatives of the Ministry here in charge of the Bill.

The Bill imposes a system of so-called regulated tenancies on about 800,000 houses before setting up the machinery for regulation. It professes to set in motion a new form of regulated control, but it does not, at the outset, set up any machinery for carrying into operation the vital part of regulation. This is putting the cart before the horse.

The vital part of the regulation system or procedure is the determination of a fair rent, and that cannot take effect when the Bill comes into operation. We do not know how soon that machinery will be set up. We have been given certain assurances by the Minister—that he hopes to set up the machinery in some areas quite quickly, but in respect of other areas he has given no assurances. The effect is that for a period after the Bill has become law hundreds of thousands of dwelling-houses now uncontrolled will become strictly controlled.

I use those words deliberately. They will not become regulated tenancies because the whole business or regulation will not be capable of coming into operation. They will for a period of time between the Act becoming operative and the rent officers being installed be strictly controlled properties. Let us make no mistake about that. There are elaborate Clauses, Clauses 4 to 8, for adjusting rents, but those Clauses really boil down to adjustments similar to those which already exist under the Rent Act, 1957, for controlled rents and so the immediate effect of the Bill will be that all dwelling-houses up to a rateable value of £400 in London and £200 in the provinces will be recontrolled. It is really a fraud on the public to call them by any other name, to call them by this fancy name of regulated tenancies, when they have not become regulated tenancies. Merely renaming them does not translate them into something other than strictly controlled tenancies.

This Amendment would delay the operation of the Bill when it becomes an Act till the machinery for regulation is set up and till it is possible to have a fair rent registered for any property which comes within the Bill. These words of the Amendment would open Clause 1, and would control the remainder of the Clause, so that in every registered area in respect of which a rent officer has been appointed to act in accordance with a scheme under Part II of the Bill, and a rent assessment committee has been set up, and in respect of which the Minister has by statutory instrument designated a date upon which the Clause shall take effect, the Bill will apply, but not till then. So there would be a condition precedent to the Bill's biting, that, first, the rent officer should be appointed in the area in which the house is situate; second, that there should be an assessment committee operating in that area; and, third, that the Minister, having satisfied himself that this machinery is operating, would bring the Bill into operation in that area.

The Minister has told us that he proposes to set up this machinery and the system of registration and the rent officers and the rent assessment committees, and so on, in London and the major cities first. That means that he will be moving the dwelling-houses brought within the Bill from a strict control in the first months to regulated control first in London and the major cities. The result will be that in the country towns where strict control is least needed it will last the longest, and this really is ridiculous, because it is likely to last, so far as I can see, for an indefinite period, with properties controlled and rents frozen for this period till the rent officer is installed. The proper order of doing things is surely to provide machinery for operating legislation before trying to bring the legislation into operation.

It is quite wrong, and ridiculous, to impose strict control on property, to call it regulated property, but not to set up the regulation, not to set up the registration procedure, and the methods of obtaining a fair rent. In these circumstances, the Minister is like Hamlet without the prince—if that is the right phrase. He is trying to drive a motor car without an engine in it. He is sitting in a bath without any water in it; and without any soap, either. It is just a framework under which he is strictly controlling certain properties without applying the procedure for obtaining a fair rent.

Under this Amendment we would see that as soon as a dwelling-house became subject to the Bill, that machinery would be there for the landlord and tenant to apply to have a fair rent fixed. The Minister should be satisfied, before he imposes control on all properties up to £400 rateable value in London and £200 in the provinces, that there is machinery for fixing a fair rent.

Photo of Mr James MacColl Mr James MacColl , Widnes

The whole idea behind the Bill has, from the beginning, been that there should be protection for tenants until such time as regulated rents can be made available for them. The Protection from Eviction Act was passed on the assumption that it was necessary to act before the whole machinery could be brought into operation and the ultimate solution found on rent fixing. The Protection from Eviction Act, by general agreement, has been extremely successful in preventing people, in the interim period, taking advantage and raising rents or indulging in wholesale evictions.

It is true that the Act runs for another six months and that, therefore, there is not a complete lack of protection for tenants. Nevertheless, it is not desirable to have nothing done about rents. My right hon. Friend hopes very much, and expects, that over the great part of the country he will have his machinery in operation before the Protection from Eviction Act expires. But it is desirable, in any case, to make quite sure that there is stability in the landlord and tenant relationship until the whole operation is completed.

It would be against the whole idea of the Bill to have a period, or a risk of a period, in which there was no machinery for controlling rents or providing security of tenure. What is proposed in the Bill is that there should be a freeze—which we hope will be short—and as the machinery of rent fixing comes into operation there will be a thaw and fair rents will be achieved. It would be extremely dangerous and unfair to tenants, and extremely disturbing to the landlord and tenant relationship, to have a period of anarchy before the final arrangements are made. Therefore, I could not advise the House to accept the Amendment.

3.30 a.m.

Photo of Mr Alexander Hendry Mr Alexander Hendry , Aberdeenshire West

We have just listened to an extraordinary speech from the Parliamentary Secretary. He says that he is not ready to put this legislation into effect. That is amazing. It is now about eight months since the Government took office, after 13 wasted years in which they apparently did not prepare any legislation at all to put their ideas into practice.

Then, sometime after the General Election, they came along with an interim Bill—the Protection from Eviction Bill—which, they said, was a measure to enable them to prepare subsequent legislation that would produce all the benefits they expected of it.

I would like to know what effect the Protection from Eviction Bill has had. The Parliamentary Secretary has told us that it has been a great success and that there have been endless cases where people's rents have not been put up and people have not been evicted who, without that measure, would have been. I would like some figures about it, because we have heard it said time and time again in Committee, but have never been given any figures, and I cannot see what effect the Act had in fixing rents. I would like to know what the effect of it was, and what the effect of the Bill is to be, if and when it becomes an Act.

Will the Bill have any real effect, other than perpetuating injustices, because it seems to me that that is what it is preparing to do? Where we have a controlled rent at the moment, it appears to be fixed for some indefinite time in the future, and the rents of houses which are under regulation are going to remain under regulation for many years.

We would like to know when to expect these rent officers to be appointed and when some logic will be applied to the whole question of the control of rents; otherwise, we will have the perpetuation of injustices. It really is too bad of the Government to dilly-dally like this, putting this provision too far into the future, without any sense or logic in its structure.

Photo of Sir Albert Costain Sir Albert Costain , Folkestone and Hythe

I am disappointed that the Minister has not seen fit to accept this reasonable and practicable Amendment. There seems to me to be no purpose in introducing a Bill of this complexity unless there is a machine to operate the work which the Bill intends. The Minister has made some reference to the effectiveness of the Prevention from Eviction Act. Would he give some figures, for example, how many prosecutions have been brought under the Act, and what information has he from local authorities indicating that the Act is biting in the way he has said?

What is the use of having a Measure of this sort, which is so complicated that we have 60 Amendments down and are not making the progress we would desire? How can a Government who claim to be planners produce a Bill of this sort and then admit to the House that they have not the necessary staff or machinery to put it into operation?

We have grave doubts that they will be able to find rent officers of sufficient calibre to undertake this work. We were told yesterday that it was doubted whether the valuation officers of the Inland Revenue had done a proper job. We know they have not. Surely, before we accept the rejection of this Amendment, we must have evidence from the Minister that he has the necessary machinery to get these people appointed. There is no sense in working throughout the night to get a Bill through which we know cannot operate.

Photo of Mr Robert Cooke Mr Robert Cooke , Bristol West

I would like an answer from the right hon. Gentleman on this question, which arises out of the Amendment. He will surely agree that there are some parts of the country where the provisions of this Bill will be unnecessary. This is a blanket Measure by which one is creating restrictions and, at the same time, creating machinery by which they can be removed. This seems completely foreign to the right hon. Gentleman's nature, because he is a great cutter of red tape and a getter of things done. Yet, by producing the Bill, all over the country he has created unnecessary restrictions and uncertainty about the length of time they will operate, although he has said they can be removed by the provisions of this Clause.

Our Amendment suggests that the whole thing can be got rid of more quickly, and I hope that he will give an indication of the length of time those affected by the Bill will have to wait until they are freed once more.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) that the Parliamentary Secretary's reply was really quite extraordinary. The hon. Gentleman himself gave substantial support to the proposition put forward in this Amendment. He said that the Prevention from Eviction Act was successful and was working well. He went on to say that if there were the gap between the Bill becoming law and its operation which would result from this Amendment, there would be anarchy.

I take his point that the Prevention from Eviction Act expires at the end of this year, but if he or the Minister thinks that this gap would run into next year it would be perfectly simple to make a one-Clause addition to the Bill to extend the Prevention from Eviction Act to whatever period was thought necessary or, alternatively, to take powers to extend it by Order for such periods as might be required. That might be yet another item of work for another place to add to those items that have already been suggested in this Chamber this afternoon—or rather, this morning.

The Parliamentary Secretary really answered himself. There need be no anarchy if this were done. Therefore, the real purpose seems to be that when this gap appears it shall have the effect of completely freezing rents, and the longer the right hon. Gentleman is in carrying through his highly ambitious scheme the longer will rents be frozen without any possibility of the landlord concerned obtaining any increase. There will not be a freeze in repair and maintenance costs; all there will be will be a freeze of rents right up the scale. That seems to me to be a wholly unreasonable proposition. I do not know whether it is intended—I rather think that it probably is—but if that were intended it would be more appropriate for the Parliamentary Secretary to avow it.

The right hon. Gentleman is taking on an enormous task. As the leading article in what is now yesterday's edition of The Times makes clear, he is proposing to set up an elaborate system throughout the country. He will have to recruit for it not only rent officers to cover the whole of the country, but members, whom he admits will have to be highly qualified, of the rent assessment committees. We are now towards the end of the month of June. The Bill is not yet law. Nobody knows when—if it does so—it will become law. But the right hon. Gentleman has told us nothing of any success that he has had in any preliminary arrangements, in any recruiting effort, to obtain the necessary people to man this elaborate nation-wide administrative machine.

The right hon. Gentleman told us on an earlier Amendment of his intention to set up this machinery first in the great conurbations. No doubt, from many points of view, that is right, but it means that this rent freeze will be carried on longest in the areas where, as has been stated, the justification is least—In the remotest parts of the country.

Here, once again, we are up against the mess into which the right hon. Gentleman has got himself because of his insistence on a universal system for the Bill, a system applied throughout the country and up to very high rateable values. By insisting on that he has taken on himself an administrative task that many people, not unfriendly to him, think is doomed to failure and likely to be unworkable. He is now adding to that task the further difficulty that the delay inescapable in dealing with so large an administrative operation is certain to cause a gap after the Bill is law, and a gap the effect of which will be to freeze rents and virtually nothing else by not extending the Protection from Eviction Act.

That, we have been told by the Parliamentary Secretary, has been a success. We are left, therefore, with a position that is wholly unsatisfactory, but we have at least gained one thing from the discussion of this Amendment—a clearer view of what the right hon. Gentleman's intentions really are. As long as he gets the rent freeze he is not worrying very much about the subsequent steps.

The right hon. Gentleman has not been able to assure us when these steps will be taken. He has not been able to give us any dates when he can guarantee that the rent officer or the rent assessment committee will be there. The Parliamentary Secretary muttered a few optimistic hopes that it would not be long, but even he did not give us any firm date. Even if he could not do that, he could surely have given us a period from the date of Royal Assent if real preparations had been made. It is only really effective preparations that could justify the right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary taking the attitude they have taken.

The fact that we are discussing this very important matter shortly before dawn, and I think I am right, at this time of the year, in that assertion, means that perhaps people outside may not become as well aware of what the right hon. Gentleman is doing as they should be. We will do our best outside to remedy this. Meanwhile, we have at least elicited that the right hon. Gentleman's intentions towards landlords are consistent with his avowed hostility to them.

Amendment negatived.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

I beg to move Amendment No. 3, in page 1, line 10, to leave out from "London" to end and to insert: £300, in the Special Review Areas in England and Wales (as defined by sections 17(1)(a) and (2), section 25 and the Third Schedule of the Local Government Act 1958) £150, in Scotland £75, and elsewhere in Great Britain £100".

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

With this Amendment the House can discuss Amendment No. 68, and, if necessary, a Division can later take place on that Amendment.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

You have indicated, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that we will now discuss Amendments Nos. 3 and 68, although reserving in the latter case, when we get to it, the opportunity for a Division.

The Amendment raises an issue of major importance, and I hope that you will not charge me with tedious repetition when I suggest that it is utterly wrong that because of the wish of the right hon. Gentleman it should have to be discussed at this hour of the morning.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

The right hon. Gentleman says it is not his wish. But it was he, when the House had already concluded a sitting of nine and a half hours, who rejected a proposal to adjourn the debate. It was the right hon. Gentleman who took advantage of his majority to insist upon that, and it is nonsense for him to say now that it is not his wish. It is a direct consequence of the way in which he and his colleagues conduct the business of the Government. It is a little farcical that he then seeks to slide out of the responsibility. The responsibility is his and he must accept it here and now.

This Amendment is of major importance because it deals with the scope of the Bill. Throughout our discussions, we have urged upon the right hon. Gentleman, and we shall continue to urge, that he has extended the scope of the Bill too far.

We accept—and I have made this clear on more than one occasion—that there is a case for security of tenure and, therefore, for a system of rent regulation for property up to a reasonable value in London, and very probably in the great conurbations. But we do not accept that there is a case for applying this system right up the scale.

The Bill proposes to apply it to property of a rateable value up to £400 a year in London and £200 a year in the rest of the country, and we suggest that that figure is absurdly high. The objections to putting it too high are clear. First, the application of control where it is not necessary has the wholly unnecessary effect of drying up the supply of provision of accommodation to let. That gives to every landlord a strong incentive, if he can get possession of his property, to sell rather than to let it again. That is one of the evil consequences of control. Where it is necessary because of real shortage of accommodation to provide the control, I think most hon. Members on either side of the House think it is right to accept that disadvantage, but the fact that that disadvantage is there is an overwhelmingly powerful argument against applying the control at any higher point than it is needed.

3.45 a.m.

We argue that the Bill carries the system of control far too high up the scale, £400 rateable value in London and £200 in the country. We propose to substitute £300 for £400 in London and £150 for the special review areas in England and Wales—a useful method of dealing with and describing the great conurbations, £100 a year elsewhere in Great Britain and £75 a year in Scotland. Those figures arise almost inevitably from the discussion we had on Amendments proposing somewhat different figures in Committee. I take them each separately. In London, the area of shortage is not just a matter of guesswork, as it could be argued to be in other parts of the country.

The scope of the area of shortage is a matter to which the Milner Holland Committee gave attention. The House will remember that the right hon. Gentleman hailed the Milner Holland Report as a great and valuable social document, a view with which I associated myself. It is a matter of general agreement that that Report was one of the most useful contributions to this problem that we have seen. The only difference between the two sides of the House is that we accepted those recommendations rather more fully than did the right hon. Gentleman. It is a fine Report. On page 179, the Milner Holland Committee deals with the question of property where there is shortage.

I will read a passage at the bottom of that page, in Chapter 8, headed "Insecurity of Tenure": In a state of the market for rented property where supply and demand, at all levels of rent and for all types of property, are in proper balance, these conditions no doubt would operate without causing trouble; but where, as in London, there is an acute shortage of accommodation for renting, at any rate in the range of rents lower than about £400 per annum, the consequences for tenants are obviously serious. I ask the House to particularly note the following sentence: We are satisfied, on the evidence before us, that there is plenty of good accommodation for rent in London at rentals of £400–£500 per annum and above. As the right hon. Gentleman will remember, I quoted this passage in the Standing Committee. In my recollection he said that on this point he disagreed to some degree with the Milner Holland recommendation and thought that the area of plentiful supply began a little higher; I think he said £50 or £100 higher. We thought that by putting the figure of rateable value at £300 a year we would meet the right hon. Gentleman's point. The figures in Milner Holland are, of course, figures relating to rents. The figures in the Bill relate to rateable value. It is true that as far as London is concerned to find out what the rents ruling are in relation to the rateable value one takes a figure of slightly more than 2, perhaps 2¼. A rateable value of £300 a year will, therefore, be in respect of property with rents of a little over £600 a year and up to £650.

Taking the right hon. Gentleman's difference from Milner Holland, and the highest figure of Milner Holland, one gets a figure where rents at the moment are about £550 to £600. By taking a figure of £300 a year rateable value we have not only covered the Milner Holland recommendation, but we have adequately covered the right hon. Gentleman's expressed difference from it. In other words, no property would be taken out of regulation in London which is not in the area where Milner Holland and the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is no shortage.

It seems that we have met the right hon. Gentleman and for my part I would argue that a lower figure is justified. But we are anxious to come to a conclusion which the right hon. Gentleman can, on his own showing, accept. If I may say so, the right hon. Gentleman would be very unreasonable not to accept this figure.

I hope that the Minister will forgive me for the slightly complicated exposition of this because it is very important in respect of London, and London is the worst case of the figure being too high. It is quite ridiculous to apply control to property rated at £400 annually. Rents for this sort of property are £800 or £900 a year. The position becomes even worse when one combines the effect of this Clause with Clause 33, where the same limits apply to furnished accommodation. Furnished accommodation in London with a rateable value of £400 a year has a rent of anything up to £1,100.

Not only is there, on the showing of the Milner Holland Report, no shortage in this area, but there is something ridiculous in introducing machinery for rent control, rent officers, fair rents and rent assessment committees in respect of people whose incomes are such that they can afford rents of this order. It is a waste of public money and it puts an unnecessary strain on the administrative machine, which, as I said on the previous Amendment, is likely to take some time to set up and certainly is likely to be subject to very great strain. The right hon. Gentleman would not only be consistent with his own argument, but serving his own purpose of making a good job of this system if he were to accept our figure.

In the other areas there is no comparable information available, but it is possible to draw certain conclusions. In the great conurbations there is a shortage, but the rents and rateable values prevailing are considerably lower than in London. It is for this reason that the trade unions, in their national wage agreements, have higher rates for London. It is also for this reason that the Civil Service applies special London rates for the various grades of staff. It is accepted that rents and rateable values in London are appreciably higher for comparable accommodation than they are in other parts of the country.

Therefore, if, for the reasons I have tried to demonstrate, £300 a year is a good figure for London, I think that £150 will be right for the conurbations, and on that basis £100 a year would be more than generous for the rest of the country. In the country districts the figure at present in the Bill, of £200 a year, is absurdly high. It covers certainly what most of us would call country houses, places occupied by people who are in no need of the protection of such a governmental system such as this. It is a waste of public money and time and effort to bring them within the scheme. In fixing a figure of £100 for the country areas of Great Britain, outside Scotland, we have fixed it, if anything, on the high side.

For Scotland, we propose a figure of £75. The Under-Secretary has often told us how values are lower in Scotland. We had passionate argument this morning with certain Scottish Members about the very small houses that there are in Scotland. It follows that the values would be very small indeed. We had an interesting revelation during the Standing Committee proceedings as to how the £200 a year rateable value would apply in Scotland. The Under-Secretary was good enough to find out for us how many houses in Scotland would be above that value and, therefore, outside the control. In the whole of Scotland, he told us, there would be 500 houses.

That is not the figure, as I understand, of houses that are let, but which could be let and continue to be let free of control—that is, the total number of houses above that value, the great majority not let. This is carrying rent control not merely to the cottage, the house and the mansion, but to the castle. It is the reductio ad absurdum of Socialist theory in this matter to carry rent control and regulation to the level that only 500 houses in Scotland are excluded.

Photo of Dr Dickson Mabon Dr Dickson Mabon , Greenock

There are not castles under rent control in Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman must not believe that because there are 500 houses, therefore some castles are under control.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

No, because some of them are not let, but can the Under-Secretary say that anything called a castle would not be under control?

Photo of Dr Dickson Mabon Dr Dickson Mabon , Greenock

All the properties over £200 are substantial properties, but they are not in control. Those below are certainly not castles.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

If the hon. Gentleman says that nothing called a castle is below £200 in value I shall assume that he has made the enquiry. I express surprise because he knows there are many very comfortable mansions in Scotland, or sometimes rather uncomfortable ones, which claim castellar status in their nomenclature, without being fortresses of that terrifying order which would overawe the neighbouring town.

I think that the Under Secretary would be wise to accept castles that could be brought under control. There are castles in Spain as well as in Scotland. The figures speak for themselves; 500 houses in the whole of Scotland which, if let, would be excluded. That is making legislation ridiculous and the Under Secretary knows that as well as anyone else. We have gone to some trouble, as I hope the House will agree, from the way I have tried to explain it, to establish figures which, accepting the right hon. Gentleman's own exception, are reasonable. I am not saying that it would be necessary to go as high as this.

What we have endeavoured to do has been to meet, not our own ideas, but the right hon. Gentleman's principles as he has outlined them in the Bill, but we have tried to apply figures which are reasonable in that context. The figures in the Bill are plainly unreasonable. They are, in London and in Scotland, perhaps particularly and noticeably excessive. They are high elsewhere. The figures which I suggest may well be too high. They are at least nearer to a point which would be a point of common sense. They are nearer to a reasonable level. It is for that reason that I have moved the Amendment.

4.0 a.m.

Photo of Mr Robert Cooke Mr Robert Cooke , Bristol West

I support my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). Perhaps I may say something to help him and the House on the question of the castles that would be controlled as a result of the provisions of the Bill, but which might be decontrolled as a result of our Amendment.

The House might care to know that the house in which I live in the country, if the stable buildings and the cottage attached to the back were removed, would have a rateable value of less than £200 although it has about 50 rooms. The larger the house, the lower the rateable value on the scale to which one works. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who suggested that all castles throughout Scotland were excluded, was completely wrong, and, no doubt, they are all safely embraced within the provisions of this ridiculous Bill.

In drawing attention to the fact that there is a very poor attendance on the Government benches, may I draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that fewer than 40 Members are present?

House counted, and, 40 Members being present

Photo of Mr Robert Cooke Mr Robert Cooke , Bristol West

Now that a few Members on the Government side have deigned to come into the Chamber, we might proceed to examine the Amendment, because it is reasonable to reduce the figures which appear in the Bill.

What is right for London is not right for the provinces. This point has been made by the Minister. We accept that things are different in London and the provinces. The point which I wish to make, which is embodied in our Amendment, is that not all provincial problems are alike and that there are parts of the provinces which should be completely excluded. Our Amendment does not go as far as that. It goes some way in that direction. I hope that the Minister will be inspired to think again now that we have given him the opportunity to do so.

Bristol is a case in point where the provisions of the Amendment might do us some good. In my constituency of Bristol, West we have a large proportion of older property. Modern council houses in my constituency are virtually non-existent; the ony modern council houses are of a prefabricated nature and were constructed during the war. Unless the Amendment is accepted, the life of the older houses will not be maintained.

These older buildings provide useful homes, and some have considerable architectural merit. The right hon. Gentleman may not agree with some of my political observations, but I am sure that he will not wish to do anything that will harm the architectural character of the older parts of some of our historic cities which still go on providing useful homes for many people.

Many of the Acts which were passed in the past were designed to prevent the decline of this sort of property, and unless the Amendment is accepted that sort of property will decline at a greater rate than it is now the case. Indeed, some of it is being satisfactorily preserved by previous enactments but this process will be reversed unless the Amendment is accepted.

The right hon. Gentleman said that he was prejudiced against landlords, but let him remember that in many cases they own one, two, or at most three houses. They are modest properties, but not so modest that they are not within the scope of this provision, and instead of finding themselves in the position of being free to develop and improve their properties, they will find themselves once more restricted.

The Minister will appreciate that one of the great impediments in the way of improving these older properties and turning them into more economic dwellings and flats—redeveloping them, if I may use such an unattractive word to describe what can be an attractive proposition—is the statutory tenant, and the process of redevelopment will be hindered because one will find oneself with many more statutory tenants than one had before. The statutory tenant has always been a great impediment to the bringing up to date of these properties, because if there is a tenant in a part of the building it makes it difficult to reconstruct and improve it. The landlord can do nothing about that tenant, and the property goes into decline.

Yesterday's Daily Express carried the story of some negotiations by a large property company. This is a big thing, not just a case of a small private owner being involved. The negotiations fell through because of the provisions of the Bill. Many more controlled tenancies will result from the legislation proposed by the right hon. Gentleman. The whole thing has fallen through, and the City will not benefit from a great and imaginative scheme.

I want to stress the effect which not accepting the Amendment will have on the sort of property that I have in my constituency. I am talking not about the big landlords, but about the owners of one, two, or three properties. The uncertainty which the Bill will create will slow up the process of improvement. The gradual process of decontrol which has been going on during recent years—in my view, not fast enough—in the provinces, where the difficulties of London do not obtain, has made for the more economic use of buildings and the redevelopment and conversion of houses, either on their own or in pairs, into flats. The one impediment to this process has been the protected tenant. As I see it, there will be many more protected tenants as a result of the provisions that we are discussing, and the process to which I have referred will be slowed up and indeed halted.

It is not difficult to find an isolated statutory tenant somewhere else to go. Of course, a tenant may die, or move of his own volition, or be rehoused by the local authority. If, however, a lot more people are to be given protected tenancies, the whole thing will become more difficult. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not say that these people should have been protected in any case, that they should be looked after, and that it would be wrong to allow them to carry on in the state of uncertainty in which they lived before. The sort of people that we are protecting now were not in a protected position when they went into the tenancies. They are now getting a new privilege.

I know that there are different circumstances in London. In the provinces, and in my constituency of Bristol, the same sort of conditions do not obtain. I hope that in the course of the debate the right hon. Gentleman will have second thoughts. No doubt many of my hon. Friends would wish to support the Amendment. I do not want to weary the House with my problem, but the right hon. Gentleman has been a most sympathetic Minister in relation to the difficult problem of preserving older property and making it fit for modern use. He has responded most nobly to all the suggestions and requests that I have made to him on matters affecting my constituency, and buildings of architectural and sometimes historic merit outside. He has been most lively to use his powers. It is a stange paradox that whereas he has done a magnificent job for me in this matter—

Photo of Mr William Baxter Mr William Baxter , West Stirlingshire

Why do a magnificent job for you?

Photo of Mr Robert Cooke Mr Robert Cooke , Bristol West

It is typical of the attitude of hon. Members opposite—that it is wrong for a Labour Minister to do something that a Tory Member wants. It is not for the benefit of a Tory Member; it is for the benefit of the community—the City of Bristol and the countryside. The right hon. Gentleman has been most courageous in using his powers and in making local authorities use theirs, and it is typical of the grudging attitude of the Left wing of the Labour Party that it cannot allow him credit for doing that. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be as stringent with some of the gentlemen on the left of his own party on this occasion as he was on another, when he dealt with them at some length.

It seems a strange paradox that whereas he is well aware of the problems which exist in the older residential areas of our great cities, and has taken such a personal interest in these problems, he is throwing all this into jeopardy by the provisions of the Bill. The Amendment will go some way towards helping to prevent the right hon. Gentleman from doing the damage that he seems to be going to do.

It does not go far enough, but we must not stray into that sort of discussion, because it would be out of order. At any rate, it does go somewhere, and in accepting the Amendment or saying something favourable about it the right hon. Gentleman could give an undertaking to go even further in special cases. The difficulty about the Bill is that it has a blanket effect all over the country. It is a clumsy way of dealing with the problem which exists in certain areas, and all the areas not suffering from that problem are nevertheless caught by the restrictions.

The right hon. Gentleman has been notable in cutting through red tape and restrictions in order to get things done, but here he has unfortunately, and perhaps unwittingly—although he must now realise what he is doing—put more restrictions and difficulties in the way of the proper use of residential property of one kind and another, particularly the older and more historic and architectually interesting property. I hope that he will show the same courage this evening as he has on previous occasions. I am sure that he would not want his monument to be the fact that in future people will be housed in little boxes made of ticky-tacky—to use the phrase of a popular song—and that he will not drive out of existence, by the provisions of the Bill, the older properties which it will not be worth while for small landlords to maintain or try to improve.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will have second thoughts and try, somehow, to allow the prejudice that he has in favour of the preservation and more fruitful use of older buildings to outweigh the prejudice he has told the House about in respect of the private landlord. I hope that in this case the reasonable prejudice will prevail.

4.15 a.m.

Photo of Mr Evelyn King Mr Evelyn King , South Dorset

Of the more than 100 Amendments on the Notice Paper, this Amendment is perhaps the most moderate, the most reasonable and the most sensible, and the one which would check most of the harm—if not all of it—within the Bill, if only the right hon. Gentleman could be induced, if not to accept it, at least to consider the implications which lie behind it.

I will not address myself to the problems of London, which I do not seek to represent, but I would claim to know something of the problems of South Dorset. Those problems are not untypical of the English countryside as a whole, which, after all, whatever may be needs of London, still constitutes a considerable portion of the country.

We have heard about castles in Scotland. I will not answer for them, but I know something of manor houses in Dorset. There are numbers of manor houses in Dorset which are rated at under £200 a year. It is totally unnecessary to set up this great machine and apparatus of assessment committees, rent officers, "Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all" to deal with tenants who do not require such protection, who do not need it, do not ask for it and do not want it. Again and again in Committee, I sought to ask the Minister whether he had any evidence from persons living in Dorset, in rural England and the small towns whose houses are rated above £100 a year, for any problem or grievance of any kind in connection with eviction. There is no such evidence.

I would go further and say that if one considers many of the smaller towns in Dorset today, even at the council house level, one will find that supply and demand are now beginning to match one another. Even in a little borough like Wareham, which is typical of the sort of place which I represent, one finds that the number of houses being built by the local authority and the number of demands for them, even at the lowest level, are matching one another within 18 months. The housing problem of that part of the country bears no resemblance whatever to the problem of the slums of London on which Milner Holland reported and the base on which the Bill is, quite reasonably, founded.

It must be true, as the Minister has said, that we are short of valuers and skilled staff of all kinds. There is overheating in the whole of the administrative and local authority and valuing staff in the country. Why waste it on a problem which, as the Minister knows perfectly well, does not even begin to exist, and of the existence of which he has produced not one iota of evidence? I do not know how I can produce evidence to the contrary. I can only say that during the whole of my time as a Member of Parliament for South Dorset, and before that as a candidate, I have never had one problem which affected a house the rateable value of which exceeded £100 a year, which affected a rental or possible eviction. The right hon. Gentleman sets himself up as Don Quixote, dealing with windmills which are not there and for which he has no evidence and which, I have no doubt, his own officials have told him are not there.

I believe that to hon. Members opposite just as much as to hon. Members on this side of the House, this is known to be so. That is why I urge the House to accept the Amendment, which would retain all the beneficial parts of the Bill and target them upon tenants, houses and landlords where they are needed. I have no doubt that in London they are needed. Equally, I have no doubt that in those parts of the countryside which I have described they are not needed, that they are, to use a local authority phrase, an "unjustifiable intrusion into the countryside".

This is why I hope that the right hon. Gentleman—this is the last time that I shall have the chance to make this plea to him—will consider rateable values and how he can target the relief which he wants to bring to areas where it will be used and not areas where it will be useless and unwanted.

Photo of Mr Arthur Jones Mr Arthur Jones , Northamptonshire South

The purpose of the Amendment is to make the whole question of control more selective—not to apply to overall figures of £400 in London and £200 elsewhere, but to bring rateable values to bear at differing figures throughout various parts of England and Wales, and a figure is mentioned for Scotland. It is designed to get away from the rigidity of the Government's proposals, which have never been fully explained or justified.

Time and again we have questioned the method of selecting the figures of £400 and £200 and on what they are based. There is evidence to show that, to some extent, there has been a mix up between rents and rateable values because while the Minister explained the appearance of the figure of £400 in the Milner Holland Report, and we find that figure used in the Bill for London, one figure referred to rents and the other to rateable values.

Evidence is available from other figures, and I have with me a list of the rateable values in parts of the country related to the capital values of properties. The absurdity of the right hon. Gentleman's figures are clearly shown. For example, in Abingdon a property with a rateable value of £198 is worth £10,500 or more. In South Kensington, a property with a rateable value of £388 is valued at £14,950. A flat in South Kensington with a rateable value of £367 is worth £12,900. In Leicester, a property with a rateable value of £194 is worth £8,000. In Manchester, a property in the better suburbs with a rateable value of £200 is valued at between £7,000 and £8,000. In the West Yorkshire Special Review Area there are three examples I will quote. Each property has a rateable value of £200, but the capital value of one in Linton is £12,000, in Harrogate it is between £12,000 and £15,000 and in Doncaster it is £10,000.

Are not these properties well outside the limits of the Bill and do they not demonstrate the very heavy hand the Government are bringing to bear on the whole question and their complete un-selectivity from the point of view of geographical location and the rateable values of hereditaments.

We have discovered from our debates on this issue that only after the Bill becomes law will the Government begin to make it slightly more selective. It is now, before it becomes law, that the selection should be made. Time and again the Minister has said that there is inadequate information about the housing problem. Does that not justify a moderate Amendment of this sort? There is no apparent evidence that the Government will accept an Amendment of this sort, and I can only warn them that the tremendous amount of work which will be involved may cause great difficulties when the Government administer the Bill.

Another question is that the lack of properties available for letting will occur to a far greater degree with the Bill as drawn than would be the case if the control were made on a far more selective basis.

Photo of Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson , Lewisham West

When the Government gave us notice that they intended to introduce the Bill, to deal, as I understood it, with a system of fair rents and a system of security of tenure, and to deal with obvious hardship which existed in certain parts of the country, particularly in our big cities, I, as Member for one of the south London constituencies with a housing problem, a constituency very typical of those discussed at length in the Milner Holland Report, was one of the first to welcome this suggestion.

Indeed, I still have hopes that the Bill, when it becomes law, if it becomes law, will help to alleviate the very considerable burdens which still fall on certain tenants in certain areas of the rented property market, but if we are to be able to deal expeditiously and efficiently with those cases of hardship which exist then it is surely absolutely essential that we do not overburden the machinery to deal with those cases of hardship by including within the ambit of the Bill properties which cannot by any stretch of the imagination be considered to be likely to house people with real hardship.

My hon. Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) has just listed some of the capital values of the properties which would be affected by this Clause—I live in a very similar house myself—houses with a rateable value below £400, and yet houses which sell on the market in the £14,000 bracket. Surely it is absolutely ludicrous that we should be including in this system of regulation houses of this type. By including this type of property one is spreading the net of rent control over such a large area that we shall, I believe, shrink the rented market rather than enlarge it, because a lot of landlords who will be affected by the Bill will be thinking to themselves that if they go ahead and continue letting their properties they will find themselves under the control envisaged in the Bill and that with this measure of security of tenure to the tenants and a rigid system of rent fixing it is better not to let any more but to sell and get out of the market altogether. I can envisage a situation in which the rented market will shrink very fast indeed.

If one is to help in any way to solve the housing situation in the great cities then one must take seriously the recommendations of Milner Holland, who said categorically that the private landlord had a very important rôle to play, and that if we penalise the private landlord over too big an area, far from having more rented accommodation we shall have less. I suggest to the Minister that the £300 rateable value we are proposing for London is a thoroughly reasonable figure. It takes in properties with rents up to £600 plus. Milner Holland says that there is plenty of accommodation at £400 plus. I can prove this in my own constituency. So let us hope that the Minister will accept this extremely reasonable Amendment and so ensure that those people who are in real need are protected by the machinery the Bill will set up, rather than overload the machinery with people who are not in need at all.

4.30 a.m.

Photo of Sir Anthony Meyer Sir Anthony Meyer , Eton and Slough

I think that everyone, except the fundamentalists, on both sides of the House, accepts the need for some kind of rent regulation and accepts the fact that there is room for discussion as to what is the right level at which to begin this regulation. I have some reason to believe the Minister is more open-minded as to the correct level than he has so far shown himself to be in the course of this morning's debate.

What happens if the level is fixed too low? What would be the effect, quite apart from the effect on castles in Scotland and ancient property in Bristol, in towns just outside the great conurbations? Perhaps I could look at the effect on my own constituency, as being fairly typical of the sort of towns that surround London. For every case that comes to my "surgery" of people complaining that their rent is too high, I get at least 20 cases of people who come to me in a desperate state because they cannot find accommodation at all at any rent for themselves and their children. It is very difficult to find any kind of accommodation that will accept small children.

I have plenty of people who are prepared to pay £4, £5, £6, or even £7, a week to get two- or three-room accommodation. What is to be the effect of starting applying the rent regulation at about this level of £7 to £8 a week, which is what would happen if the Amendment we are proposing is rejected? Apart from the question that my hon. Friend for Lewisham, West (Mr. McNair Wilson) referred to, of houses being taken right out of the market altogether, the effect will be that of bringing these rents of £4 to £5 a week down to a figure which we do not know exactly because we do not know the sort of criteria by which the rent assessment committees will work.

Let us suppose that it will mean a difference of roughly a £1 a week. What would happen then? There will be a few people who have not been able to afford accommodation who will be able to get it, but the supply of this sort of accommodation is just about right at the moment. There is a possibility that we might be able to fill one or two empty places, but Slough, and a great many places like it, are extremely attractive areas because of the amenities, the full employment, the proximity to London that makes them attractive to commuters. The effect will be to bring in extra people competing for the accommodation that is available at the lower level. As a result, we shall get an even worse housing situation in these areas than we have at present.

What worries me is that those who are now mistakenly blessing the Minister for having introduced the Bill may, unless he sees reason to adjust his views about the level at which the regulation should begin, end by cursing him.

Photo of Mr Eric Lubbock Mr Eric Lubbock , Orpington

The Tories seem to like all-night sittings. The arguments that I have heard in this debate are precisely the same as those advanced during the Committee stage, when we were discussing somewhat similar Amendments. I have listened carefully and I have heard nothing new at all. It seems to me that the purpose of a Report stage is to ventilate matters that have not been adequately dealt with in Committee.

Photo of Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson Mr Patrick McNair-Wilson , Lewisham West

If the hon. Gentleman studied our Amendment he would realise we have gone a long way to meet the points made by the right hon. Gentleman in Committee when dealing with these particular figures. In the case of London, we have altered our figure to £300 rateable value to meet the points made by the Minister.

Photo of Mr Eric Lubbock Mr Eric Lubbock , Orpington

I have heard nothing in the speeches to prove to me that hon. Gentlemen on this side have appreciated the arguments put by the Minister, which seemed to make a lot of sense. I wish to redress the balance. I know hon. Gentlemen opposite are muzzled by their Whips, because they like to complete the Report stage as quickly as possible. It is left to me to defend the Minister, and I do so with great pleasure, because I think that he has a good case on this particular Amendment.

I find it difficult to understand why the Tories are so worried about the rateable value limits which are set in the Bill. They seem to be primarily concerned with properties at the top end of the rateable value scale, whereas I must confess I am more interested in the ones at the bottom end of the scale. Those are the ones about which we ought to be most concerned. We have paid a lot of lip-service to Milner Holland in this House and in Committee upstairs, yet we seem to spend more time discussing properties with rateable values varying between £200 and £400, the capital value of which ranges, we were told by one hon. Gentleman, from £7,000 to £14,950.

In relation to what that hon. Gentleman said, I quite agree with him that our immediate object is to deal with hardship, but we are also concerned with arriving at a fair scale of rents from the cheapest properties to the most expensive that are dealt with under the Bill.

The Minister explained very convincingly in Committee, I think, that the rateable value limits had been set higher than the level where scarcity applies on purpose, so that one could read across right down the scale. There is an area at the top of the scale where free market conditions prevail and rents are settled at arm's length between landlord and tenant. Therefore, what the Minister said was that one could "pro rata" those down to give a guide to what fair rents ought to be where scarcity begins to bite.

In Greater London, a property with a rateable value of £400 has a rent of, say, £400. I am trying to keep my illustration as simple as possible; these figures are not meant to represent the actual situation at all. If scarcity did not apply at a lower level, one would expect a property with a rateable value of £300 similarly to have a rental of £300. I think that it is a sensible feature of the Bill that we have purposely set these rateable value limits higher than necessary to cover the case of scarcity, in order to give us that sort of guide.

I do not share the fears of hon. Gentlemen who say that landlords in this class will gel out of the market and sell their properties for owner-occupation. On the Minister's own admission, we are not talking about a sector in which a shortage persists. The rents in this sector are arrived at on an arm's length basis, and the landlords have nothing to fear from regulations. They will go to the rent officer in conjunction with their tenants and say that the rent which has been agreed between them is £X, and that will be registered as the rent of the property. What could be simpler than that?

This also deals with the point made about the additional burden which will be imposed on the rent officers and rent assessment committees by setting these limits unnecessarily high. First, there are not so many properties in this range as there are at the bottom end. Secondly, one will not impose much load on the machinery if in nearly every case the rent is agreed between the landlord and the tenant and it is merely a matter of making an entry in the register, without any of the meetings between landlord and tenant under the auspices of the rent officer, or appeals to the rent assessment committee which can be expected in cases where there is any dispute.

For these reasons, therefore, I think that this discussion has not taken us any further than we got in Committee, and it would be as well if we reached a quick conclusion. I am afraid that whatever arguments we have tonight, and whether or not we go on to nine o'clock, this is a matter on which it is impossible for the two sides to agree.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

It might be for the convenience of the House if I were to intervene at this stage to state our view of this not unimportant Amendment. I have listened very carefully to the speeches, and I agree with the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock)—I had heard them before. It is true that the proposals are somewhat different, and I appreciate the care with which hon. Gentlemen opposite have taken in reviewing the proposals and making their suggestions, but the arguments in favour of them were almost identical with those we have heard before.

One is, perhaps, entitled to do that in Committee, but if we try to measure this Amendment in terms of its seriousness, I think, if I may say so with respect to hon. Members opposite, that it does just a little exaggerate the devastating effect there would be if we set the rateable value limits slightly high. As I see it, and as we discussed it in Committee, it is a question of guessing, and of deciding on which side of the balance it is better to put it. Is it better to be too high or too low in fixing the rateable value?

No one who cares about security of tenure, which is the issue we are deciding here, can have any doubt that, if we are to have a fault it had better be in being above rather than in being below. I doubt whether anyone, even hon. Gentlemen opposite, would disagree with that statement—

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

No, I have listened to hon. Members opposite for a long time without interrupting, and I hope that the hon. Member will have the patience to listen to me now.

I think that I got agreement from hon. Gentlemen opposite that the right thing to do was to give the benefit of the doubt to the tenant and put the thing somewhat higher than absolutely necessary. I agree that it is very much anyone's guess what the value should be. If the Bill did not include a specific provision by which one can vary the level of rateable value region by region by Order we would be discussing something very serious, but as we have carefully made this a flexible provision, and have given ourselves perfect opportunity to lower it if we find that we have put it somewhat too high, I do not see any reason why we should be so desperately anxious to say that we must get it exactly right, and must bring it down a little, because it might be that with experience we would find that the proper level was £50, £60, or £100 below the level we had fixed. The proper level here is not a point, but a band of the spectrum.

I pointed out in the Committee—and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Orpington for reminding us—that there were two reasons that made us feel that it was wiser to put the balance too high, if anything, rather than too low. One was the quite simple fact that we had done it in the Protection from Eviction Act, where we had fixed the figure at £400, which was the county court level. Above that was the High Court level, so it was simpler to fix it along with the county courts.

The other argument is one that I should like to repeat. In the formula for fixing fair rent, it will be very important for us to go, not to the areas under the limit where supply and demand are really matched, because we do not want to reach that, and in any case it is very difficult to find that level. We must not go to an area where there is a scarcity of any sort, but somewhere near it. That means that we have to go rather wide, because we need a wide range in order to estimate what the scarcity is.

Therefore, I was strongly advised that for this reason it was preferable to set the level high so that one could calculate down. If one reached up to the level where the market rent was approximating to a fair rent, it would be easier to estimate and calculate down where one was having to estimate rents at a lower level. These were the reasons that made me come to the conclusions which I did to keep for the time being the levels we fixed in the Protection From Eviction Bill.

I do not deny for one moment that the guesses made in this Amendment may, or may not, prove accurate. It is likely that the guess based on London will be better than the guess based on other areas because it has a little more information behind it from the Milner Holland Report. But one of the few statements in the Milner Holland Report which is challenged by people whose judgment I respect is the statement that above £400 a year scarcity ceases. The more I have studied that, the less convinced I am that Milner Holland was here strictly accurate, although I am willing to be proved wrong.

I would prefer to keep things as they are, however, with the clear understanding given to hon. Gentlemen opposite that the moment it is made clear that below the level there is no scarcity we would make an Order and bring the level down. It is known that this power exists in the Bill, and I would hope that having given that assurance to the House, we could move on to further important Clauses which we have to discuss.

4.45 a.m.

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

The Minister, despite his sweet and reasonable tone, is being obstinate and pigheaded here, although he is capable of being generous and tolerant. This really is a stupid idea that one brings in property in which there is no shortage at all, that one merely brings it into the Act in order to see what happens to it.

This is the reason which the right hon. Gentleman has given for putting the rateable values at this high figure. He says that there is a margin on these higher figures in which there is no shortage at all, but he just wants to see what happens and get some judgment through that margin. Are these figures of £200 and £400 set out in the Bill too high? Of course they are too high. There is no shortage of property at these high rateable values, and one of the reasons which the right hon. Gentleman gave for holding to these figures and opposing this Amendment was that these figures of £400 rateable value in London and £200 in the provinces had been put into the Protection from Eviction Act.

I have not got the right hon. Gentleman's attention, but I would be grateful for it, because this is one of the reasons he gave that these figures were in the Protection from Eviction Act. But the Act was before Milner Holland. We have had the Milner Holland figures since then and the Milner Holland Report has shown that in London there is no shortage at this very high figure. When we are talking about rateable values of £400 a year, this is property rented at £1,000 or £1,200 a year, penthouses in St. James's at £1,200 a year.

The right hon. Gentleman may screw up his eyes, but this is the figure which he is setting. He is setting a £400 rateable value for furnished property in London, and the rents of furnished property at that rateable value will be over £1,000 a year. He is dragging into this procedure manor houses in Dorset, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Evelyn King) referred, luxury flats in Mayfair, stately homes in England and near-castles, if not actual castles, in Scotland. He is setting up a Parkinsonian structure with a trade union official to sit in judgment on it.

This is an amazing situation. It will be hard enough to find rent officers to deal with the ordinary landlord and tenant who need a fair rent to be fixed. Why pile this work on to those officers? The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) said that he was concerned with tenants on the lower scale; so am I. The right hon. Gentleman will deprive these deserving tenants of the right to have their cases heard if he clutters up this procedure with the question of high rents.

Photo of Mr Eric Lubbock Mr Eric Lubbock , Orpington

If as the hon. Member say, and I do not dispute this, free market conditions obtain at the upper end of the scale and rents have been developed between landlord and tenant at arms length and there is no dispute, how can this clutter up the machinery?

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

Apparently the hon. Member has not read the Bill. The rent agreed between the landlord and tenant is not the rent recoverable by the tenant. The hon. Member said that if they agreed they would go before the rent officer and have the rent registered, but the rent officer is not bound by the agreement between the landlord and tenant. The rent officer may say, "I think these rents charged in Mayfair are too high. I shall fix them lower and force the landlord and tenant to go before the assessment committee." This is provided for in the Bill. If the rateable values remain at that stage in the Bill it will cause a blockage in the procedure.

If the Minister can stomach the fact that this Amendment comes from this side of the House, and accept it despite that fact, he will be grateful to us in future for helping him with the procedure and saving him from making himself look ridiculous.

Photo of Mr Alexander Hendry Mr Alexander Hendry , Aberdeenshire West

A word must be said in justification of the proposal of an upper limit of £75 for Scotland because there has been a great deal of indeterminate talk about castles in Scotland and it is as well to examine the actual position. If the Bill has any merit at all it must be to cure some sort of abuse. If racketeering or profiteering, which is undesirable, exists in Scotland, it does not exist to any great extent. There are large parts of Scotland where there is no scarcity of housing whatever. As the Under Secretary of State knows, in some parts there is a superflous number of houses due to rural depopulation. We have to look at this matter from a sensible point of view, not just from the point of view of Central London, but of the rest of the country.

To tell the House the position in Scotland, I use figures provided by the Under Secretary. At an earlier stage he told us that there are approximately 1,600,000 houses in Scotland. Of those approximately 100,000 had a rateable value of over £75 and, of that 100,000, 20,000 were let. Those are the hon. Gentleman's own figures. The number of houses which would be left uncontrolled if the upper limit of £75 were taken would be exactly 1¼ per cent. of the let houses in Scotland. That is a very small figure and when one considers the proportion of houses in Scotland which would be left out of control and compares it with other parts of the country it is nonsensical to make a blanket figure which includes practically every house in Scotland.

The Under-Secretary told us earlier that the number of houses with a rateable value of over £300 was only 500. There are 37 local authorities and this works out at 14 houses for each authority area and indicates the preposterous position. I can pretty well name all the houses concerned in my own constituency. Most of them are let for fishing and shooting and the rents are high. There is no scarcity of this kind of house and there is no need to bring under control the remaining 1¾ per cent. which have a rateable value of over £75. If there is a scarcity of that type of house I hope that the Under-Secretary will tell us because he has never before done so.

Photo of Dr Dickson Mabon Dr Dickson Mabon , Greenock

The words which I used in Committee I chose very deliberately and since then I have checked them again and I repeat them now. All the information available to the Government and all the advice that they have been able to obtain indicates that there is no substantial category of houses, including the category which the hon. Member mentioned earlier and has now referred to again which are not affected by conditions of shortage. Since the Committee stage we have looked at this again and it surprises me to hear the hon. Member tell us that, in his assessment, there is no scarcity in the counties suffering from rural depopulation. If that is true the hon. Member should tell us more about it.

Photo of Mr Alexander Hendry Mr Alexander Hendry , Aberdeenshire West

I can only suggest that the Government should improve its own intelligence services and find out and tell the House of Commons where there is scarcity in that category. There may be a slight scarcity in the City of Glasgow and the City of Edinburgh, but I have made inquiries and I can find no evidence of it. I hope that the Under-Secretary will be more specific and tell us where there is this scarcity of houses with a rateable value of over £75. He has been misinformed and I hope that he will be better informed in future.

When considering the general level of rateable values in Scotland £75 is a ridiculous figure. I venture again to refer to the survey carried out by the Scottish Development Department, and published in February. The average rent of a house controlled under old Rent Acts is £5 15s. 5d. per annum and the average rateable value of these houses is £27 16s. 7d. That bears no relation at all to the £75 figure.

I have carried my researches into this a little further. As I mentioned earlier, the highest class of controlled house—houses with a rateable value of over £40—have an average rateable value of £51 or approximately £1 a week. This is far below the figure which I am proposing. If we look beyond controlled houses to decontrolled houses where there is a free market, we find a very interesting position. According to the hon. Gentleman's own survey we find that the average rent of decontrolled houses, free market houses, in Scotland, is £31 2s. 7d. per annum. The annual rateable value of these houses is only £25 0s. 7d., approximately one third of the figure I am suggesting. These figures seem to make it so absolutely nonsensical that we should adopt a figure even as high as £75. I think that I am being modest in making that suggestion.

5.0 a.m.

Carrying this research a little further, to the very highest class of decontrolled houses, having a rateable value of £40 per annum, or over, we find the average in that class, according to the hon. Gentleman's own survey, is £63 11s. 9d., again substantially below the proposed figure of £75. I must confess that I have a personal interest in this, because I am the owner of a house which is not under control. It is a good example. It is a Victorian villa, containing about 12 rooms, with all modern conveniences. The annual value of this house is £100 and there is certainly no scarcity of a house of this class, because I would have the very greatest difficulty in either selling or letting it.

This illustrates the point I have made, that there is no scarcity of houses in that class. In addition to that house I am a tenant in my own constituency. This is a very nice house, with six rooms, a bathroom and all modern conveniences and a glorious view, with every possible advantage, including salmon fishing. The gross annual value of this very desirable residence, of which I am the tenant is £40. These are examples of the values of houses of that class in Scotland. In my own constituency, within 10 miles of this particularly desirable house, there are at least another dozen houses, possibly not quite so desirable, but still desirable, which are lying empty.

The reason for this is twofold. One is that there is a considerable amount of rural depopulation, farmers and farm servants have become redundant and left the district. The other reason is that these houses might possibly be used again for agricultural purposes, or for some other purpose and the landlords of these houses are scared stiff to let them because of this proposed legislation. That will happen all over the country if there is unnecessary control. People will not let their houses and will let them lie empty, either with a view to ultimate sale, which is going to be difficult in many cases, or the houses are going to fall down about their ears and that is actually happening in my own constituency where good houses have stood empty for a number of years and are now actually falling into ruin.

I was amazed at the extraordinary agument put by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orpington (Mr. Eric Lubbock). He came along on behalf of what he calls the Liberal Party, which, I understand, was the party which did not approve of any control at all unless that control was necessary for some purposes. He makes the extraordinary proposition that if we set the terms too high, what does it matter?

Photo of Mr Eric Lubbock Mr Eric Lubbock , Orpington

I will thank the hon. Gentleman to leave me to expound the policies of the Liberal Party and can speak for the Tories.

Photo of Mr Alexander Hendry Mr Alexander Hendry , Aberdeenshire West

The policy of the Liberal Party is something which everyone ought to know about, because it affects a good many of us. I thought that it would have no controls except where those controls were necessary. Obviously, the Liberal Party's idea is purely unadulterated Socialism, probably as a result of this Lib-Lab pact we have heard about. Introduce controls and control development 98¾ per cent of all the houses in Scotland, including several castles, which I will not name.

Control everything seems to be the Liberal Party's policy now as a result, I suppose, of the Lib-Lab pact. Control everything if it causes people a lot of trouble. That is just one of the penalties of living in a Lib-Lab age. What he does not seem to understand is that if the people are in a free market and can come to a free contract among themselves about their rent, well and good; but he says, "Let them go to the rent officer and register the rent".

It is only human nature that if a tenant can go to the rent officer and complain about his rent, he will do so. This is an extraordinary proposition. I could never envisage any system in which we have a series of quite unnecessary controls. That seems to be what is proposed. I am not qualified to speak about the position in England and Wales, but I can speak with the greatest assurance of the position in Scotland. To control all houses with a rateable value of £200 or less is arrant nonsense. Even when using my top figure of £75 we would have a ridiculous situation.

Photo of Mr George Drayson Mr George Drayson , Skipton

Like other hon. Members, I must declare an interest as I am both a landlord and a tenant of property which comes within the rateable values that we are discussing. I can confirm about houses in the country. Having looked up my own rateable value in the country, I find that it is £122. While I do not have a salmon river at the foot of my garden, I have a trout stream going nearby. It is ridiculous to think that country property of these types is to be brought within the ambit of the Clause.

I am more interested in rateable values in London. We need more clarification following the exchange that took place between the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). It now appears that a prospective tenant and a landlord can agree to rent property to each other at a figure of £1,000 a year and that when the tenant has taken possession, he can go to the rent officer and say, "I agree that I fixed a rent of £1,000 a year but, now that I am in, I would like you to look at this figure and see whether you think that it is right." The rent officer, who might be in a rather different income bracket than a man who is prepared to pay £1,000–£1,200 a year for the accommodation, might say that he considers £1,000 a year excessive and that the correct figure should be £900.

What we are concerned with is that in any part of London where this category of property exists, it is possible to get from any local estate agent a list of innumerable houses and flats which are equally available to let at these figures. The Minister can be in no doubt that plenty of property is available at these figures. I am not satisfied by his arguments about why he has to include them in the Bill. Our Amendment is extremely reasonable and I cannot understand why the Government are not prepared to accept it.

Amendment negatived.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

I beg to move, That further consideration of the Bill, as amended, be now adjourned. I thought that we were making extra good progress, though perhaps we slowed down slightly during the last two hours and a kind of locomotor ataxia began to work. As we have got a good way through the Bill, I think that the wisest thing to do is to retire now and prepare ourselves for a thorough and objective study of the remaining Amendments.

I began to feel that things were not very happy when the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), whose good temper I greatly respect, worked himself into a lather of enthusiastic and synthetic indignation.

It is a long time since we started our deliberations, and we have discussed many important Amendments and new Clauses, but during the last two hours there has been some repetition in the arguments and I think that the best thing to do is to adjourn now so that we can come back refreshed later in the day.

Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames

I think that this is a reasonable proposition. There are disadvantages in discussing highly important and complicated matters right through the night, and I think it would be as well to bring our deliberations to a conclusion now.

I was somewhat intrigued by the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that one of the reasons for the Motion was the state of my hon. Friend's temper. My hon. Friend's temper is one of the most equable instruments that I have ever come across, and it is pleasant to know that it has been paid the singular compliment of determining the sittings of the House of Commons. For this additional reason I am happy to support the Motion.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), to be further considered this day.