Orders of the Day — Rent Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5 July 1965.

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Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified]

4.8 p.m.

Photo of Mr James MacColl Mr James MacColl , Widnes

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

As this is the final occasion upon which the House will look at the Bill as a whole, I take the opportunity of saying that the House has, I think, worked very hard on it. It has had a very careful consideration in Committee. Amendments have been suggested, considered and made from both sides of the House. It has had a long Report stage and, on the whole, an amicable one. I think that it has come out—I have no hesitation at all in saying this—a better Bill than when it appeared before the House for its Second Reading.

That, I think, is the object of having parliamentary review of a Bill of this sort. In its nature, such a Bill is bound to be difficult and complicated and to put a great deal of strain not only on right hon. and hon. Members who have to formulate their criticisms in the form of Amendments, but also on the draftsmen, the officials and the legal advisers who have to guide our proceedings to see that we do what we intend to do.

The Bill deals with four groups of people. First, there are the old controlled tenants who have survived the decontrol after the Rent Act, 1957. They remain as they were before, subject to the same rent levels. The provisions for decontrolling them—lifting them into the next level of control—have been tightened a good deal in Committee and on Report. The old Clause 15—which was discussed at some length—is now to be found in the new Clause 11 and it puts an absolute duty on the Minister, when bringing property out of the old control, to limit the amount of increase that that involves.

The second group are what are called "regulated tenancies". These are a mixture of those tenancies which were decontrolled either as a result of the lowering of rateable values under the 1957 Act or by creeping decontrol. These now have once again the full security of the Old Rent Acts and that is extended to include new rented houses which were never within the old control system. This new security of tenure is combined with a system of rent regulation. The inclusion of this group in the Bill is governed now by Clause 12 and again there has been a tightening of the obligation upon the Minister to satisfy himself that the conditions of scarcity are being removed before removing them from regulation.

The third group are to be found in Part III of the Bill, dealing with safeguards for occupiers who would otherwise receive no protection.

Finally, there is the furnished accommodation. The old Clause 33 is now Clause 37 and there still remains a different legal system for regulating the rent of furnished accommodation as opposed to unfurnished accommodation. But the Bill includes the Minister's power to work towards fusing to some extent the personnel working the two different systems, so that there is a chance that, by degrees, it will be possible to move towards something like a common system for the two types of accommodation.

I wish to draw the attention of the House to the security of tenure provisions for furnished accommodation. These are extended from three months to six months, but that is not a once-for-all provision. The tribunal can extend up to six months once and then can go on extending the period indefinitely if circumstances make that necessary.

Now, something about what has come to be called "basic protection", which is a very important part of the Bill and which is not limited at all by rateable values not forfeited if property is taken out of control. There are two main features. First, there is the definition Clause—now Clause No. 29—which has been widened so that more people are now covered by basic protection than were covered when the Bill first appeared. This takes two forms.

First, tenants who are not otherwise covered by the existing law, and service occupiers, are protected from eviction without a court order. Secondly, there is the new criminal offence of harassment which covers anyone who is living in a house under some kind of legal arrangement. The Bill provides that any attempt to interfere with the enjoyment of their rights by people in that position will be stopped with the full force of the law. That, of course springs particularly from the Milner Holland Report and, indeed, from the practical experience of any hon. Member who has had constituency problems with this type of property.

Now I turn to rent regulation. The old Clause 22, which led to a great deal of discussion, is now Clause 26 and concerns the determining of the nature of a fair rent. The Bill also provides the machinery for fixing a fair rent. Part II of the Bill will be brought into operation by the Minister when he is able to do so. We are already getting on with the preliminary work and hope to be able to begin to take action under Part II as soon as the Royal Assent is received.

The first emphasis of rent regulation under the Bill is on agreement between the landlord and tenant. If the landlord and the tenant agree a rent, that agreed rent remains the recoverable rent unless a lower rent is registered. So there is incentive for people to come to an agreement rather than simply remain at arm's length. If they fail to come to an agreement, they can go to the rent officer, whose good offices will be available to try to bring them together to produce what he accepts as a fair rent. The final determination of what should be a fair rent is by the rent assessment committee.

The accent throughout is on the idea of getting people to have enough confidence in themselves and their bargaining position and in the machinery of rent fixing so that they will not hesitate to come to an agreement when able to do so. The fair rent provisions were discussed a good deal on Second Reading and in Committee and I think that they stood up very well to criticism. Basically, the Clause remains the same as it was when it first appeared.

A feature of the discussion has been what is really the final abandonment of the idea of using gross value as a means of fixing a fair rent. I think that most people—including me—as we have gone through the arguments have gradually had to accept that gross value would not stand up as a basis for fixing rents. The lesson of our debates is that there is really no middle way between a new and rigid form of rent control, which will be completely inflexible and will not adapt itself quickly enough to changing circumstances, and a broadly defined concept which will be appraised by fair-minded and intelligent men. That leads me to say something about the work of the rent assessment machinery.

One of the factors which has emerged concerns the status of the presidents of the panels out of which the rent assessment committees are to be appointed. We are very anxious that there should be no suggestion that the Government are giving any kind of directives to rent assessment committees. These committees will be independent bodies and if they are to have the full confidence of both landlord and tenant they must be seen to be acting as independent bodies.

The presidents of the panels, more than the Minister, will be responsible for the proper functioning of the rent assessment committees. My right hon. Friend can and intends to group rent assessment areas together into panel areas. He has it in mind to have something like 16 panel areas, with their presidents, and those presidents will be the key people in their areas, because on them and the watch they keep on the standard of rents being produced by the rent assessment committees a great deal of the confidence will depend.

There has been a good deal of criticism of the Bill because it is said it does nothing about securing repairs. May I remind the House what the machinery is? In the formula in Clause 26—Determination of fair rent—it is specified that the state of repair is one of the circumstances to be taken into account. The fair rent will be fixed on the state of repair found at the time when the rent officer looks at the property. Under paragraph 3 of the Third Schedule, one of the grounds for varying a registered rent, which normally lasts for three years, is that there has been a change in the condition of the house, and the condition of the house would include the state of repair.

I doubt whether that will get houses into repair, because I do not think purely financial sanctions such as the reduction of rent by themselves get accommodation into repair. The risk is that both sides, landlord and tenant, prefer to carry on at a low rent rather than face up to the cost of bringing the house into a state of modernisation or into repair. Any positive steps to get a house into repair must inevitably come under improvement of housing legislation rather than through the medium of the Rent Acts.

There have been two main criticisms made of the working of the Bill. One is that it is said we are covering too wide an area and that, within that area, we are covering too many expensive houses and that we ought to have narrowed our sights to cheaper properties, concentrating on the Metropolis or the built-up areas.

The answer to that is that, until we know more about the situation in different parts of the country, we cannot be sure of the areas in which there is scarcity and of the areas where something like a free market works or over what band of property the free market does work. We do not want to follow the 1957 Act in going too far to the other extreme and burning our boats in advance, so that we never catch up with the damage that is caused. We want to be able to move quickly. If we find in a particular area that there is a change in the position caused by a sudden exploitation or high rents are discovered, we want to be able immediately to deal with the matter. It is far better to start with a broad survey of the position, and my right hon. Friend has power to narrow the band if he thinks it can be done and that there is no need to continue to keep the protection for a particular band of rateable value.

The other point on which there has been a good deal of discussion is the hardship caused by landlords having to go to court to get possession of their properties. I must say that I have been surprised at the extent of the criticism from hon. Gentlemen opposite and the importance they have attached to this particular point. It surprised me, because at one time we were exhorted not to use tribunals, and that we ought to accept the ordinary courts as the body to settle disputes between landlord and tenant. That is precisely what we are doing here, yet it is said that the courts will be slow and gullible.

Photo of Mr John Hill Mr John Hill , South Norfolk

We certainly complain as far as the tied cottage is concerned. What worries us is not the reference to the courts, but the uncertainty of the timing. If a more speedy procedure in advance could be provided, this would get over the difficulties.

Photo of Mr James MacColl Mr James MacColl , Widnes

Obviously, we must have courts which act swiftly and which are accessible to the ordinary people. We are taking steps to watch that position carefully. We have not much evidence yet of delay, but where there is evidence of delay my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor is taking steps to see that the position is dealt with. In any cases that have come to me, I have passed them on to my noble Friend and asked him to look at them.

What the Bill is against is eviction without due process of law. We believe that if anyone is to have his home taken away from him, it must be done by the due process of law, by going to the courts to do it. In no other way can one hope to get rid of the mistrust between landlord and tenant. Some people think that every landlord is a Rachman, while others think that every tenant is an alcoholic who smashes up the property in which he lives. It is that kind of approach to the problem which we have to tackle by getting the confidence of both sides.

I was very grateful to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), because he told us in moving terms how he trudged the streets with his bride, having been evicted without notice not for raping the landlady's daughter but for damaging a table with a soda syphon.

One of my hon. Friends came to see me recently with an example of the winter let which has caused so much alarm. He had been in a winter let and now, in the summer, was told that there was no accommodation for him, with no advance warning or time to make alternative arrangements, because the landlady wanted to let the room at a full rent.

That is the kind of difficulty which has to be sorted out. An hon. Member opposite sent a case to me of an owner-occupier, which shows the other side of the story. This was a case when an employer of labour complained that a key man in his factory, upon whom the employment of all the people in the factory depended, was to be evicted by an owner-occupier who wanted possession of the property for his own use. The hon. Gentleman to whom I have referred sent the case to us to see what we could do about it.

I am not saying that there is any one answer to those cases. I am not even saying that the hon. Member for Orpington, who is nearly always right, is infallible. The proper way is through courts of law and not by self-help. That is the basis upon which the Bill has to work.

I remember the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) was quoting from The Times the headline, "Faith is not enough". The right hon. Gentleman said that if one knows a thing to be true, it requires no faith to believe it. The right hon. Gentleman was guilty of a theological deviation.

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

The hon. Gentleman has made that grave charge. However, it lies not against me, but against the late Mr. George Bernard Shaw, whose remark it was.

Photo of Mr James MacColl Mr James MacColl , Widnes

The right hon. Member would do better if he relied on Bernard Shaw for his Socialism rather than his theology. The point about that is that intellectual assent may be possible by reason, but faith is required to get a move on. "Faith which does not lead to action is lifeless."

That is our job now that we have this machinery. We have to get the people involved in the operation working together to achieve our common goal. We are very much dependent on the action which the courts will take to give swift and dispassionate justice to deal with the disturbances caused by cases coming to them suddenly and perhaps in large numbers. We are enormously dependent on the clerks of local authorities, who are to appoint the rent officers to look for first-class men qualified for the job and not to appoint merely someone who is found to be embarrassing in the town hall office. We are very much dependent on the rent officers and the rent assessment committees to build up public confidence in their wisdom, confidence which will come only after a period of trial and seeing how they do the work.

However, if the Bill succeeds in getting the machinery to work, we will change the whole climate of the relationship between landlord and tenant, because for the first time we will have a found a middle way between stagnation and decay in rented housing, on the one hand, and ruthless exploitation of scarcity on the other. If we can use the Bill as a basis upon which confidence is based, so that landlords and tenants together are prepared to go to the rent officers and to the rent assessment committees confident about accepting their views and taking advantage of their advice, we shall have a constructive approach to the problem of rent fixing for the first time in the history of rent regulation.

The revolutionary nature of the Bill springs from the fact that we are not to have a rigid system anchored to an historical event, like rateable value, but a machinery sufficienly flexible to provide what will be widely accepted as a fair rent and which will attract people to accept the relationship of landlord and tenant with full confidence.

4.32 p.m.

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

As the Parliamentary Secretary said, the Third Reading of the Bill is perhaps the occasion for what the Leader of the House frankly described last Thursday as "the usual courtesies." Certainly, it was appropriate that the Parliamentary Secretary should have been given the task of moving the Third Reading. I am sure that the Minister himself will agree that during our discussions the Parliamentary Secretary has carried perhaps the heaviest share of the burden and that it is quite right, to use an analogy which the Minister may like less, that he should be in at the death.

We have also had the attendance from time to time—although, unhappily, not this afternoon—of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General, who has been unfailingly courteous and charming and quite often right in law. We have also had the attendance—and I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary mentioned it—of the Ministry officials who have had to tackle a very severe and onerous task in a limited period of time and who have tackled it with the intellectual distinction and capacity for work which one associates with major Departments in Whitehall.

If one is to judge from the speech of the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) at Bow on Thursday night, the Minister himself has apparently had a less easy time with his hon. Friends. It is not for me to pry into the discussions of the party opposite, but I must say that I am rather surprised that the hon. Member for Poplar is not here to repeat to the Minister's face the very vigorous things which he said about him behind his back; but that is not my business.

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

I take it by that that the Minister means that it is his business. I wish him luck.

As the Parliamentary Secretary very fairly said, the Bill itself comes to us at any rate better for the parliamentary process. When it fell to me to speak first from this side of the House on Second Reading, which, by a curious coincidence, was exactly three months ago to the day, I said of the Bill: It contains a mixture of what is not unreasonable, what is wholly unnecessary, and what is rank bad". [OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th April, 1965; Vol. 710, C. 68.] Although it has been improved in considerable measure in the course of our discussions and minor ambiguities and medium-sized injustices have been removed, I still think that those words constitute a fair description of it as it concludes this phase of its discussion in this House.

I come to the main criticisms of the Bill as it now stands and as they appear to me. As I omitted to do so when opening, once again, as I have many times before, I should declare a possible personal interest as a director of a company with property interests.

First, it seems to us that the Bill is too far-reaching. The Parliamentary Secretary briefly referred to this issue. This difference between us is not merely a difference of degree. It derives from a fairly clear clash of principle on this issue between the parties. Our view is that the return to an all but universal system of rent control is, in the true sense of the term, a reactionary step. We believe that where there is shortage and where shortage can be shown to exist, there is a case for a system of security of tenure and, therefore, necessarily, of course, of rent control.

But we take the view that that scarcity must be shown to exist to justify interference with the normal working of the market. After all, in time of peace other necessities of life, food, clothing, and so on, have their price and volume of supply settled entirely by the market. Equally, in time of war or national emergency, the Government of the day rightly impose control and restriction because of scarcity and to ensure that hardship is not caused in conditions of scarcity. In this case, the Parliamentary Secretary has admitted that control is being established or re-established over areas of the country where he does not know that there is scarcity.

The geographical spread of the system is too wide. We certainly accept, in the light of the Milner Holland Report, that there is a case for control and regulation in London up to certain levels of value of accommodation.

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

The hon. Gentleman says that it is a change, but we referred to the fact that we would accept Milner Holland on that in our election manifesto, so the hon. Gentleman cannot make that point.

There may be a case in some of the major conurbations, but we say that it is not only unnecessary but positively harmful to extend control- universally over the whole country, including areas where there is no shortage.

In Committee, we had a discussion in which figures were given, with which I will not weary the House again, about large numbers of areas, many of them rural, where plainly there was no such scarcity. The great objection to the extention of control all over the country in these circumstances is not only that it is unnecessary and not only that the right hon. Gentleman is taking upon himself an excessive administrative burden; it is also that control where it is not needed can be positively harmful, because it discourages the provision of accommo- dation to let. It provides a most powerful incentive to any owner whose house comes into his possession not to relet, but to sell it. Therefore, it can be the effect, and experience has shown that it is the effect, that where unnecessary control is imposed shortages are created by measures whose only justification is the existence of them.

It is a major criticism of the Bill that there is nothing in it to check the falling off in the provision of privately-owned accommodation to let. On the contrary, there is every encouragement to the owner of that accommodation to sell. That is made the more serious when one remembers the very clear warning about this which was given by the Milner Holland Committee when it pointed out, at page 225 of its most interesting Report: The Governments which have been most successful in surmounting these stresses and maintaining order and justice within this sector of the housing market have been those which have accepted and incorporated private rented property among the instruments to be used in meeting the housing need, hence assisting those who build, own or live in it, and regulating the price, management and distribution of this housing with the aid of effective local administrative and judicial instruments. There is nothing in the Bill to help to encourage the production of that accommodation and there is much to discourage it. It is clear, and the Minister has been perfectly frank about this, that he regards the provision of rented accommodation as being increasingly the function of the local authority only.

We also think that the values selected, even in the areas where there is a case for control, are far too high. The levels are £400 a year rateable value in London and £200 a year in the country. The Parliamentary Secretary told us in Committee that in England and Wales that left only 160,000 houses above the controlled level, and that included many houses not let. The number of houses which are let and which will be above control, will, therefore, be a great deal less than that.

If one considers London the facts are quite astonishing. A rateable value of £400 a year in London can relate to a rent of about £800 or £900 a year. We have it, again on the authority of the Milner Holland Report, that there is in London no shortage of accommodation at levels of rent above £400 or £500 a year. It is clear that, if one accepts the Milner Holland review, this carries rent control in London much too far up the scale. It covers luxury flats in the West End of London, and accommodation provided for a class of people who are not in the slightest need of the assistance of State machinery. It is wholly unnecessary.

But in Scotland the case is even more ludicrous. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who was extremely helpful throughout the Committee and Report stages, told us that in Scotland there were only 500 houses above the control level, although he could not tell us how many of those houses were let. I do not blame him, because I do not think that the figures exist, but this is virtually complete control in Scotland, including, I will not press the castles, large houses which can have no conceivable need of protection.

This is carrying it too far. The Minister may remember that when the Bill was introduced, The Times said that it was defeatist to accept that in this prosperous society of ours many people would never be able to pay the market price for their homes. I think that is true and I think it is even more startling and ludicrous to suggest that in our society there are only 160,000 houses in England and Wales, and 500 houses in Scotland, occupied by people who can afford to pay the present market price.

Security of tenure also seems to have been carried much too far. The case for it is strongest where one has a commercial letting intended to be for a substantial period. We had a considerable discussion in Committee, which resulted in some modification at the Report stage, of the cases of letting for a definite period. But I must return to this because, though I acknowledge that the Minister has tried to meet us in some measure, I do not think that he has completely succeeded in dealing with a situation which he has created.

The situation is that of those who go abroad for a fixed period of time, either in the service of the Crown, the developing countries or of British industry and of business, and who, while they are away, wish to let their houses. Most of these appointments are for a fixed term. Therefore these people let their houses for a fixed period and the tenant comes in knowing that it is for a particular period and knowing that he would not be let in at all if he had not promised to get out on the fixed date when the owner intends to return.

This is a case where, what the Minister at an early stage called "the delicate balance between the interests of landlord and tenant" does seem, on merits, to come down very strongly on the side of the landlord. The tenant is in the house only because he promised to get out on a particular date when the landlord returned. The landlord is at the greatest disadvantage, because he has been out of the country and returns with the need to occupy his house immediately. As the Bill now stands, if the tenant holds out, he has to take him to the county court. If he has to take him anywhere I have no great quarrel with the county court, though I am sorry that in this case the Bill has abolished the much speedier High Court procedure.

Picture the position of the man who returns from service abroad. He has to find a solicitor and get the case to the county court. In the country, in particular, that may take a considerable time. Even when the case is before the court and the judge has made an order for possession the court still has its inherent jurisdiction, which the Bill does nothing to affect, to give four or six weeks further possession to the man who is wrongly holding on, contrary to his own undertaking. I do not think that the anxiety, which, as the Minister knows at least as well as I do, has been expressed by people all over the world, has been allayed.

I think that the effect of the Bill will be to cause many of those houses to be left empty when people go abroad. As a result, accommodation will be lost, and no one knows better than the Minister how serious that will be. The property itself would deteriorate through being left empty. The man who goes abroad and thinks that when he returns he may be presented not with his house, but a law suit, will hesitate to let.

The provisions in respect of the extension under the Bill of the sections about furnished letting are of very doubtful merit, particularly in the case of the owner-occupier. I must acknowledge, however, the handsome last-minute repentance by the Parliamentary Secretary, at the end of the Report stage, on the case of the seaside landladies. There are a number of smaller anomalies which still remain in the Bill. One is the position in respect of ministers of religion. Here I pick up the Parliamentary Secretary, because it looks as if the Minister has taken his theology from the late Mr. George Bernard Shaw.

The position, as the Bill stands, is this. In the case of an Anglican parson the ecclesiastical authorities can obtain possession of his vicarage when he leaves his cure of souls simply on the order of the bishop. But in the case of the other faiths, the Roman Catholic priest in his presbytery, the Nonconformist minister in his manse, it is necessary for the Church authorities to go to the county court and to take the time which I have already described, while attempting to take possession. Meanwhile, the spiritual needs of that particular congregation are almost certain to be jeopardised.

Be that as it may, what logical, proper distinction is there in this respect between the Anglican parson and the other ministers and clerks in holy orders? It is worth remembering that this distinction is deliberately preserved by the Bill, because what used to be Clause 29—I have not checked its present numerology—by continuing the Pluralities Act, 1838, specifically preserves this preferred position in respect of property belonging to the Anglican Establishment.

Photo of Mr James MacColl Mr James MacColl , Widnes

Only Anglican incumbents are covered by the Pluralities Act. Assistant curates are treated in exactly the same way as other denominations.

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

I have said nothing inconsistent with that. I referred to the parsonage which is occupied by the incumbent, not by the assistant curate. This is a small matter, but it is an indefensible discrimination. [Laughter.] It is no good the Minister laughing. Other people who are interested in these matters will take his laughter rather sadly.

The other extraordinary discrimination is that in respect of agricultural tied cottages. I think that it was a mistake to bring tied cottages within the Bill; it will cause a good deal of unnecessary difficulty. It is, however, quite indefensible to treat the farm cottage differently from every other tied cottage. As I understand the Bill, in respect of the railway cottage or the manager's or steward's flat, though there is the difficulty and necessity for the owner to go to the court, the court, apart from the ordinary discretionary powers, has to make an order for possession. However, in the case of the farmworker, the court is given the specific power to extend his period of possession, apparently indefinitely.

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

The hon. Member says "Hear, hear". I know that this is a matter on which opinions differ, but would he apply his mind to the discrimination between the two? If this is right for the farmworker, why is it wrong for the railway signalman? Is it suggested that the operation of agriculture is so much easier that the farmer has less need to obtain possession of the premises than have other employers in industry or the railways?

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West

I do not think the right hon. Gentleman appreciates that we on this side of the House have wanted to put right the abuses which have taken place over the years in relation to farm labourers' accommodation, and we have put them right in the Bill. We see this as a matter of priority.

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

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point of view. What I find more difficult to understand is the Minister's attitude. At least the Minister, I hope, does not take the view that agricultural employers are such had employers in this respect that they have to be discriminated against compared with the treatment of all other employers. That seems to me the implication of the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

I am confused about this. I thought that on Report we had reached an amicable agreement about farmworkers. We had no vote on Report.

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

If the Minister is worried about not having a vote, may I say that his appetite may be satisfied in that respect as the months pass. What I am asking—and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will deal with this seriously when he replies to the debate —is what is the reason for this discrimination? Why treat the agricultural worker differently from other occupiers of tied cottages? Is it because of the foolish pledge which the First Secretary of State gave at Swaffham, which the Minister himself said it would be impractical to carry out?

The main problem of the Bill—and the Parliamentary Secretary rightly gave some attention to it—is how rents are to be fixed. If we have security of tenure, we must have some system of fixing rents; the two inevitably go together. In theory, it is much better to fix the rent of the property at what is thought to be a fair figure than to tie it to an outdated level. There is almost everything to be said for dealing with the log jam which has arisen on old controlled rents. By a curious coincidence, a constituent of mine, an old lady in her 84th year, came to see me on Saturday. She is the owner of three controlled properties. The total rent from the three properties, which is a main part of her modest income, is £162 a year. It is clear that it is right to tackle this admittedly difficult problem.

However, we have the gravest doubts about the method which the Bill proposes for determining a fair rent. The Bill proposes to exclude the element of scarcity. This is what has been called, I think, an economist's concept, but a lawyer's nightmare. It will be extraordinarily difficult to apply, because the demand for a house depends on the rent at which it is available. Yet it is this question of scarcity which must be eliminated before the rent can be determined. This has a reminiscent connection with the old saw about which came first, the chicken or the egg. It is an extremely difficult problem, however admirable it may be as a concept. It has great attraction as a concept, but is it effectively capable of application, and does the Bill permit of its effective application?

In determining a fair rent, is it the Minister's concept that the same rent will be determined for similar houses whether they are in Mayfair or, to quote an example, in Poplar? How is the question of the fair rent to be applied, having eliminated scarcity? It is a criticism of the Bill that those who have to determine a fair rent are given no firm criteria on which to make their determination. Nothing is laid down to enable any measure of uniformity to be maintained between decisions. It is an exercise of judgment by a large number of people on the broadest and most imprecise basis.

I do not wish to say anything offensive or wounding, but this is a decision which must be made in the first place by people who, we have been told, will not have professional training or professional knowledge in the very difficult subject of valuation. They will be amateurs in the true sense. Although I am sure that the town clerks with whom the selection lies will do their best to select fair-minded and independent people, I am afraid that they will have the greatest difficulty in finding people who are sufficiently knowledgeable. It certainly appears that there will be a very wide disparity in the rents fixed, not only in different parts of the country, but possibly in different parts of the same town.

I know that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary rely on the rent assessment committees to put all this right. If every one of the potentially very large number of cases is to go on appeal to the committees, the machinery will be hopelessly clogged, and the same difficulty of finding skilled and trained personnel will occur at the appellate stage. Even if the committees do their best, there is no machinery, I understand, for securing that the decision of one committee on appeal bears any relation to the decision of other committees throughout the country on similar appeals in respect of similar houses. There is, I understand, no appeal beyond the committee except on questions of law which, I should have thought, would be very unlikely to arise and would not, if the bodies concerned behave reasonably, involve consideration of the level of rents fixed.

We have a serious warning about the difficulties of all this from the difficulties which have arisen concerning rate assessments. The Minister himself last week, in what The Times called an astonishing admission, said something on Report about the state in which rating assessments had got. If rating valuations, done by skilled public servants, professionally trained, whole-time, with a central direction and control and with a full system of appeals right up, if necessary, to another place, can produce the difficulties which many of us have been talking about and which the Minister himself has now admitted, surely the problem of amateurs, with no central organisation and no central appeal on the merits, must be extremely disturbing.

It is no use saying that one is choosing the fine concept of a fair rent if one is not providing the machinery for ensuring that these decisions are fair—fair to both parties and fair in relation to other decisions—and workable. There is nothing in the Bill, despite what we did in Committee and on Report, to remedy this. We still are faced with the fact that these decisions will be made by untrained men with no firm guidance given by the Bill and appeal only to probably overworked, localised rent assessment committees.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary, in the Third Reading atmosphere of this afternoon, took a rather valedictory line. This is not goodbye to the Bill. It is au revoir. The Government told us on Report that they propose to seek to persuade another place to put in a number of Amendments and that they were considering asking another place to put down even more. Those will come back to us.

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

It is fortunate for the right hon. Gentleman that the efforts of his hon. Friends to remove the legislative powers of another place have not so far been successful. I agree with the Minister that this is a Bill which is suitable for the attention of the revising Chamber, because for all our efforts, apart from major matters of policy, there are still ambiguities and ill-drafted and difficult points. The position is still left open, for example, about the agricultural tied cottage and the succession of the family, including members of the family who may have been there for a very short period. All these are points which, I hope, may be looked at in another place.

As the Bill leaves us, it leaves us, on the Minister's own showing, still requiring further Amendment. It leaves us with grave difficulties unsolved. The tragedy of it all is that the major part of this difficulty results from the Minister's overambitious concept. Had he concentrated on the lower-rated accommodation in the great cities, he could have devised a system in which the ingenious and hope- ful concept of the fair rent could have been tried out with practical chances of success. It was his decision to apply the system universally and high up the scale which has magnified the problems and which, undoubtedly, has caused informed opinion outside this House to have the strongest doubts whether this vast structure will operate.

It recalls to me the incident of the Kaiser's battleship. The House may recall that the late Emperor William of Germany—who had characteristics in common with the right hon. Gentleman; he was volatile and had great ideas—sought to design, out of the kindness of his heart, a battleship for his then Italian allies. He sent the plans to the Admiralty in Rome. The reply came in due course after the normal channels had considered it saying that they were grateful to His Imperial Majesty and that, indeed, the battleship which His Imperial Majesty had deigned to design was superior in armament, armour and fuel endurance to any other battleship in the world. It had, however, one trifling defect: it would not float. That, I think, is the comment on the Bill.

5.5 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , South Shields

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary upon their success in getting this important Measure to this stage. I congratulate them, above all, on providing, at long last, a system of security for many thousands of people that they have lacked so seriously over many years and giving them, what is more, a chance of protection against the kind of exploitation from which they have had to suffer and from which they have suffered because of the inaction of right hon. and hon. Members opposite, at least since the 1957 Act was passed.

Many hon. Members on this side pleaded for changes in that Measure right from the start of its operation, but not a single effort was made by the party opposite to change it. The Government of that day were impervious to any kind of argument and they allowed a situation to develop in London that was finally dramatised by the Milner Holland Report. Hon. Members opposite now seek some kind of credit for this situation, which is intolerable to those of us who have spent many years trying to battle with their predecessors in getting the grievances of our constituents put right.

Now, I suppose, we should be glad to see some conversion from the speech of the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). We still do not know whether he will divide the House against Third Reading. We had a rather equivocal speech from him on Second Reading. We had some fascinating tight-rope walking throughout the proceedings in Committee and on Report, and, no doubt, we will have some rather fanciful displays at this final stage on Third Reading.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

Is not there confirmation of what my hon. Friend has just said in the fact that on Second Reading there was no vote against the Government and, from what we have heard this afternoon, there is to be no vote against Third Reading? Is not this tantamount to an admission that the Rent Act was a criminal mistake on the part of the former Government?

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , South Shields

So I would say. At least, hon. Members opposite have come to realise that they can no longer hold to the kind of action that they took, not just once, but over a period of years.

Their whole policy has had to be thrown overboard. The way to ease their passage is to try to pretend that today's Bill should have been limited to London to start with. Hon. Members opposite have tried to insist that as the Milner Holland Report dealt only with London, the Bill should have been restricted to London, and occasionally they have thrown in the suggestion that there are, perhaps, one or two other major cities to which it might also apply. As the Bill comes into operation, it will be seen that every town of consequence has cases which have to be dealt with under it.

Photo of Mr Evelyn King Mr Evelyn King , South Dorset

Does the hon. Member realise that if what he says is true it still represents only half the country, because one-half of the country does not live in towns?

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , South Shields

If the hon. Member had been wise, he would have stood by his old views when he supported action from this side of the House in dealing with matters of this sort under previous Administrations. However that may be, he is likely to find that even in constituencies such as he represents, and in rural areas as well, there are cases that otherwise would be neglected and not covered had this legislation not been introduced. Therefore, this is important, vital legislation.

The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames and his supporters have, apparently, accepted the need for the Bill to a limited extent. They have tried to play for time by pretending that it should not have been as comprehensive in application, although, no doubt, in time we may even get their support for this. We may find in years to come that they claim complete credit for this Measure—

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , South Shields

—as with other Measures to which my right hon. and hon. Friends could readily refer.

So important is this Bill to give protection to so many of our constituents that I should like my right hon. Friend the Minister, when he replies, to say something about the steps which he intends to take to ensure that the general public know about its provisions. I know that my right hon. Friend is one of the first to acknowledge how incomprehensible very many parts of the Bill are even after, as I grant, some improvement of drafting which has taken place. I do not think that there has been a rent Bill or a landlord and tenant Bill which has ever been at all intelligible to the average layman. Do not let us pretend that this is something peculiar and new to this Measure. It is probably more difficult still, but it is only a matter of degree.

I do not think that many of my constituents have been able to make much sense of any of the landlord and tenant legislation over the years, and I do not blame them. There has always been an urgent need for a simple explanation of these Measures, and I ask my right hon. Friend to ensure not only that the local authorities, who will, of course, have a great responsibility in passing on information, will have explanatory material provided for them, but, also, that the wider advantage provided by the Press, radio and television will be taken to explain the facts of the Bill and how it applies to the hundreds of thousands of people who will unquestionably be affected, and who will have the first chance, really, of getting some protection against the type of oppression which they have suffered in the past. So my first question is about the steps which—as I am sure he will be intending—my right hon. Friend will take to see that the whole country knows the detailed provisions of the Bill.

The second point is this. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames pointed out that there had been a most dramatic fall in the number of private tenancies—the tenancies of private landlords—over recent years. Indeed, the various social studies which have been carried out in different parts of the country have shown how true this is. There has been a very great increase in the number of owner-occupiers, on the one hand, and there has also been, of course, through slum clearance and other processes, a very dramatic fall in the amount of property now let in this way.

Personally, I do not regret this. I think that the rational end to which we should look is the position where the great bulk, if not the whole of, the lower-rented properties within the reach of the great bulk of our population should be provided, in so far as it is rented, by public authorities of one sort or another. I think that we have to accept that as a natural development. The private landlord is ceasing to be able to make a contribution in this field. No doubt there will be private landlords still, in the more expensive ranges of property. That may well be so, but for the most urgent need I do not believe that the private landlord has in the future a very long and important rôle to play.

However, I would be very anxious to see that the public provision should be made as varied as possible. That is to say, I want to see not only the local authority making provision, but I should like to see more advantage taken of experience from abroad, on the Continent, in Scandinavia and elsewhere, where the co-operative societies, the trade unions, and other bodies play a very much larger part than they do in this country in providing for the needs of their members. I would hope that we shall be able to encourage that type of public provision just as much as we want to encourage the provision by local authorities.

I am glad that special provision still remains in the Bill for some special consideration of the position of housing associations; bodies of this kind which can, I think, make a very real and valuable contribution, non-profit-making housing associations, of which there are many, and of which I hope there will be many more, some of them experimental.

Meantime, there is no doubt that there will be for some years to come private landlords still providing accommodation for tenants and there is equally no doubt at all that many of these landlords are what I would call unwilling landlords, small landlords, small owners of property, who have felt obliged to acquire property in order to get somewhere to live themselves. Certainly, in the north-east of England, on Tyneside and elsewhere, we have an enormous amount still of what we call upstairs and downstairs flats. It is now the common situation that those houses are owned to a very large extent by one or the other of the two occupiers, the two part tenants. Therefore, we do unquestionably have today many more small owners with very limited means indeed who have, as I say, acquired property unwillingly as the only obvious way of having somewhere to live themselves and who have taken into the house another sitting tenant.

The problem there is that very often the fairly "fly" previous owner has got out of this business in reasonably good time and has sold the property for perhaps far too high a price and at a price which no reputable building society would support, and, therefore, the new owner is probably in debt to a small moneylender, and is having to pay far too high charges to meet what was initially far too high a capital charge.

These are the people who, quite frankly, ought not to be now letting this property at all, and the most helpful thing would be if, in the course of time, some of this property were to be taken over by the local authorities, on reasonable terms. It would be of assistance to many of these small owners, if that were to happen, even if they suffered some loss on the capital involved, rather than meeting very heavy maintenance charges. These are the cases of the small landlords, each with one house which he partially occupies himself.

There is no doubt that under the terms of the Bill, and quite properly, a landlord of this character is reasonably treated. His claim is heard, as well as that of the tenant, and our experience today is that there are cases of hardship which emerge here, as they do, of course, among the tenants. I am happy that during the course of our consideration of the Bill—indeed, under the first proposals for the Bill—it was recognised that what we wanted to establish was a flexible system under which fair rents could be assessed. I was interested to find the right hon. Gentleman opposite now apparently giving some sort of half-tribute to the proposal for fair rents. Anyhow, under the Bill there is a flexible system adopted, which will enable the problems of this type of landlord fairly to be met without hardship to the tenant as well. That is why I feel that this is a particularly satisfactory solution to this problem which we have all had to face.

I would return to reminding the House that for all the talk about the relative technicalities of this Measure, it is one which, unquestionably, will give new and absolutely vital protection to thousands of people up and down the country, something which they have sought for years from the Conservative Administration, who constantly refused to grant it and I am delighted that now my right hon. Friend has had the chance of introducing and carrying through this Bill.

5.20 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Mitchell Mr David Mitchell , Basingstoke

I welcome the Bill, for a number of reasons. I welcome particularly the Clause which prevents the harassment of tenants. Having gained some knowledge and experience in Camden Town and Kentish Town of the scale which this harassment can reach, I am delighted to see this Clause in the Bill. I welcome, too, the increased security of tenure for tenants, and the prospect of statutory tenancies becoming regulated tenancies.

I am attracted to the idea of fixing fair rents, but here one comes to the nub of the problem. What is a fair rent? In my view, a fair rent is the figure arrived at by a qualified valuer having regard to all the circumstances of the property. The Minister says that a fair rent is a figure arrived at by an unqualified valuer having regard to all the circumstances of the property, except one, and I think that we ought to consider that exception, the thing which is to be disregarded.

If I might paraphrase Clause 26(2), it says that when fixing the rent it shall be assumed that the number of people wanting to live in that area is not greater than the supply of houses. This is inviting the rent officer to be an ostrich, to put his head in the sand and pretend that a shortage which is there is not there. The result—and no doubt this is the Minister's intention—will be artificially low rents in certain areas. If one had artificially low rents throughout the country, one could see a good deal of logic in that arrangement, and the difficulties to which I propose to draw attention would not arise; but if there are artificially low rents in certain areas, those areas begin to suffer certain effects, and I want to draw the attention of the House to the grave misgivings that I have in this connection.

In London, in particular, one can see the sort of situation which I have in mind. The centre of the capital provides a tremendous attraction to people to come and live here. The demand is overwhelmingly greater than supply. As one gets to the suburbs of London, the pressure eases off, but the Minister is asking rent officers to fix the basis of rent in the inner suburbs of London on the same basis as that of the outer suburbs, where there is not the serious shortage that there is in central London.

That procedure will lead to a distortion in the pattern of housing, and I believe that the result will be extremely serious. I believe that fewer people will be housed than could be. I think that a greater number of people will live in the wrong sized house for their circumstances, and that younger families will be compelled to commute from further and further afield. Moreover, in spite of the provisions in the Bill, I think that we are likely to see a black market of a sort developing as the years go by.

I have three important points which I wish to put to the House. First, I believe that fewer people will be housed than could and should be. Additional housing comes from new building, and from the conversion of existing properties. From my reading of the Bill—and I shall be glad to be corrected if I am wrong—it appears that a person building a new house will get as much rent for it if he builds it in an area of low demand as if he builds it in one of high demand.

I say that because in fixing the rent the element of high demand has specifically to be excluded. It seems to me, therefore, that builders will be attracted to the areas of lower cost and lower demand, because those will be more profitable to them since their rents will be just as high. I believe, too, that there will be fewer conversions of existing properties, because in the central areas of high demand people will not be able to get the sort of rent which is a sufficient incentive to make them divide their houses and let off parts of them as separate flats.

I think that we shall see an increasing number of people living in houses of the wrong size. The natural pattern of housing is that when people marry they move into a flat consisting of a couple of rooms. They then have children and move into a family-sized house which they occupy while their children are growing up. When their children grow up and leave home, they move into the country, perhaps into a bungalow or something of that sort.

As I see it, in future there will be no incentive to older people to move out of their houses. The result will be that an elderly man perhaps approaching retirement—such as right hon. Gentlemen who occupy the Front Bench opposite on normal occasions; I exempt the Minister of Housing and Local Government from that—will continue to occupy a house big enough for a family. In future, the children, after they have married, instead of staying on in the house, while their parents move to a smaller place, will themselves move into a small flat, after their children are born they will not be able to get back into the family house, simply because there will be no incentive for the older people to move. Young couples will have to continue to live in two rooms.

I have seen families with three or four children living in two rooms in which they have to eat, cook, sleep, wash and bring up their children. It is not surprising that such conditions lead to juvenile delinquency. The alternative for these young couples is to move out of their flats and start commuting from ever increasing distances. When that happens, children are brought up with few opportunities of seeing their father. He comes home after dark for six months of the year, and he leaves in the morning just as the children are having breakfast.

One of my hon. Friends says that Members of Parliament are faced with this problem. I do not know the juvenile delinquency rate among Members' children, but to me it is a serious problem that I do not have much time for looking after my children and exercising parental discipline to the extent that I should like to exercise it. However, that is by the way.

This is a serious problem. People are travelling to London daily from further and further away. They travel herded together like cattle in a truck. Indeed, if cattle were treated like that, I am sure that the R.S.P.C.A. would institute a prosecution. I ask the Minister to recognise that this is a serious social problem, and one which will be considerably increased in future by elderly people occupying property which ought to be occupied by the younger generation who have children and who ought to be able to live near their work. If we provide artificially cheap accommodation for those who do not need it, the elderly and the retired, it will be denied to those who do need it, and that seems to me to be a grave social injustice which will grow under the provisions of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Julius Silverman Mr Julius Silverman , Birmingham Aston

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that as a matter of policy old people ought to be driven out of their homes by imposing excessive rents? If that is the policy he is advocating, where does he suggest the old people should go?

Photo of Mr David Mitchell Mr David Mitchell , Basingstoke

I have tried to draw attention to the damage which I think will be caused by having artificially low rents in certain areas where there is intense demand. It is in these areas that Clause 26(2) will have the most effect, and it is in these areas that we will prevent the operation of normal economic pressures which makes the family shuffle round into the size of housing unit that it needs. I agree that one does not want to exert pressure to make older people move to a bungalow in the country.

But for every case in which we say, "How unkind it is that this older person should have to move out into the country to live in order to allow a young man with his family to move in", we equally have to recognise the hardship caused to a young man with his family who will have to commute from Tunbridge Wells, Basingstoke, or even further out, and spend one-and-a-half hours each way travelling daily to and from his work, although he is the one who needs to live near his work. This situation will become increasingly difficult under the operation of the Bill. That is what causes me great concern.

I have said that there will be a black market. In London, it will take the form of removal money and not key money as I knew it when I married. I was asked £500 for two rooms when I married in 1954. As I say, it will not be key money, but removal money. The young man who is living in the country and is having to commute into town will go in desperation to an older person and say, "Please will you go? If you will leave your house I will pay you £X". This is something which the Minister cannot prevent happening by any amount of regulation, because of the sheer necessity for some people to live near their work and the social damage that will follow if they are unable to do so.

No doubt the Bill will be popular. I recognise that there is no popularity and no votes in the attitute that I am adopting, but I believe that in the long run the Bill will do serious social damage to younger people who have to commute from further and further out.

5.30 p.m.

Photo of Hon. Sam Silkin Hon. Sam Silkin , Camberwell Dulwich

As the Bill reaches its concluding stages in this House, anyone who has been listening to the debate might suppose that, broadly, it is a bipartisan or even perhaps a tripartisan Bill. Even the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell), who ended by condemning its results, began by welcoming it. Listening to the debates throughout the various stages of the Bill, one would suppose that although there might be doubts about the way in which the broad principles should be worked out, the broad principles themselves were agreed between the parties. Apparently we all agree that it is right that a measure of control should be brought back again, certainly in areas of housing scarcity, and that in those areas there should be a system under which fair rents are regulated by some form of tribunal.

It is right that the House and the public should remember that the Bill has been brought in in the teeth of intense opposition by the Conservatives both in the 1956 debate and since, and that my hon. Friends fought the 1956 Bill line by line, as they have since fought, night after night, to reverse its provisions. Neither the House nor the public should go away with the impression that we are all together in this, and that this Bill is not the result of intense pressure by hon. Members on this side of the House, not only against the evils of Rachmanism, which were created by the 1957 Act, but also against the misery and anxiety suffered by thousands of ordinary people who have been faced with the threat of losing their homes and with the reality of paying exorbitant rents in areas of housing scarcity.

Photo of Mr David Mitchell Mr David Mitchell , Basingstoke

Is the hon. and learned Member really suggesting that Rachmanism was the result of the 1947 Act? Is he ignoring the fact that Rachman made his money before that Act came into operation by buying up houses controlled by the old control Acts and squeezing the tenants out?

Photo of Hon. Sam Silkin Hon. Sam Silkin , Camberwell Dulwich

I suggest that many of the practices which are known as Rachmanism followed directly from the decontrol provisions of the 1957 Act, which created a high market in decontrol.

That is the background against which the Bill is being passed into law—a background of intense and persistent action by the party opposite in favour of the free market system which the party opposite, even now that it has apparently abandoned its opposition to control in respect of areas of housing scarcity, is nonetheless persisting in to a degree and in a way which, if accepted, would have weakened the effect of the Bill.

I want to illustrate what I have said by referring to one or two Clauses, and particularly to Clauses 11 and 26. I was astonished to hear the criticisms of Clause 26 which were put forward by the hon. Member for Basingstoke. They seemed to amount to the argument that in areas of intense demand the Bill would create artificially cheap accommodation and that under-occupation would result. I thought that it was at least agreed by the right hon. Member who spoke first for the Opposition, and by other hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, that it is in those very areas of intense demand and scarcity of houses that the need for rent regulation is greatest.

I heard the right hon. Gentleman suggest that the Bill extends over too wide an area and that there were areas where there is no intense demand and where the provisions of the Bill might not be so necessary. Nevertheless, I thought that it was at least agreed that where there was scarcity the provisions of the Bill, and especially of Clause 26, were necessary.

Surely that must be so. Surely there could hardly be a fairer test than the test of wiping out altogether the influence of scarcity—the excess of demand over supply—in order to decide what a fair rent is. I can understand that it might be said that the method of doing this is not the best one—although in my opinion it is. But surely it is agreed that the principle must be right.

The only real alternative suggested throughout our debates was that which was suggested by the Opposition on Report. The putting forward of that alternative shows what a tremendous gulf remains between the parties. It makes it clear that, notwithstanding their formal abandonment of the principle of a free market, the Opposition are trying to the last to hang on to it. The hope of amendment

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

Order. The hon. and learned Member cannot now discuss what is not in the Bill.

Photo of Hon. Sam Silkin Hon. Sam Silkin , Camberwell Dulwich

I am much obliged, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. What I want to do is to try to compare what we have in the Bill with possible alternatives.

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

That is the difficulty. The time for doing that was in Committee or on Report. It cannot be done in the Third Reading debate.

Photo of Hon. Sam Silkin Hon. Sam Silkin , Camberwell Dulwich

I must not trespass upon your Ruling in this matter, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I hope that it is in order to say that we have the possibility of deciding what is a fair rent on the basis either of equating supply and demand or of what may be agreed between the landlord and the tenant. These are the only two alternatives.

If we consider the situation in areas of housing scarcity and say that the right approach is to take what is agreed between the landlord and the tenant as being a fair rent, the inevitable result is that in a situation where 50 or 100 people desire to take up residence in one vacant property the landlord will be able to get whatever rent he cares to ask for and, in effect, hold up the house for letting to the highest bidder. That is the difference between the view of the Opposition and that of the Government on this principle. They want to go back to the principle of the highest bidder. The same result comes when one considers the Clause which enables the Minister to convert controlled tenancies into regulated tenancies. The relief of hardship is provided for by staged increases of a reasonable sum over and above the controlled rent. While some of my hon. Friends may criticise that, undoubtedly, if we are to accept that there must be fair rents throughout the country, some sort of staging must be introduced.

When, in a previous debate, I asked the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) for his reaction to the proposal of the Opposition that this staging should be removed and we should jump directly from a controlled rent of, say, £2 a week to a regulated rent of £4, the hon. Member said that that was fair and just to the landlord and that that was what he would recommend. This is the way in which the gulf between the thinking of the Opposition and that of the Government on the Bill is demonstrated. I think that it is right that the House and the public should know that, in these respects, the Opposition are clinging to the idea of the free market, even if they have abandoned it in principle.

One of the reasons why it has been necessary to provide the system which has been the subject of criticism in detail is, as my right hon. Friend has explained very clearly, the defects of the rating system. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not be satisfied that those defects should continue—though, of course, he is not responsible for them. Simply because we are dealing with a Bill which determines rents, let us not sit back and say that this defect having been discovered we can now forget about it. I hope that my right hon. Friend is thinking very deeply about it and will on some future occasion introduce improvements which will prevent those defects from being present in future.

Clause 13, the House will remember, provides for the transmission of a statutory tenancy, not, as now, to a first successor, but to a second successor. To that extent, it is certainly an improvement. It was a matter of pleasure to me, at the end of the debate on that Clause, to find that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary took the view that my suggestion that it should continue indefinitely had much to commend it, and that the hon. Member for Crosby, while opposing the Clause as a whole, at least did me the honour of saying that my proposal was a logical one if the Clause were to be introduced at all.

Fortified by that support from both sides of the House, I hope that my right hon. Friend will look at this again and will realise—as I know he does—that we are dealing here with what people regard as the family home—

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

Order. It seems to me that the hon. Member is now discreetly proposing an Amendment. He cannot do that at this stage.

Photo of Hon. Sam Silkin Hon. Sam Silkin , Camberwell Dulwich

I hope that I am not doing that. I am asking my right hon. Friend to look at the matter, to think about it again, and to see whether, between the time of the passing of the Bill through this House and its emergence in another place, it may be improved. It is capable of improvement in order to enable people to think of a house as their home, just as much as the owner-occupier does, and to have the security of tenure from one generation to another which is at present denied them.

I welcome the Bill heartily. It removes the fear and anxiety of thousands of people—including many of my constituents—who are anxiously waiting for it to become law. I am sure that many of them go to hon. Members and to their advisory services with their problems, their fears of eviction, their wondering whether to accept a new tenancy at a rent which they know to be excessive. Again and again, we have to say to them, "We cannot offer you any hope until a Bill of this kind becomes law. As things are at present, inevitably you will have to go if you are unable to pay the rent which is demanded." But for the provisions of the Protection from Eviction Act, which passed into law some of the preliminary provisions, again and again that would have happened.

Now, for the first time, a Bill which really provides a sensible framework for rent regulation—not just a standstill framework on rents—is to become law. It is one which will relieve those many anxieties and enable people to breath once again and not to have the threat of eviction constantly hanging over their heads. I congratulate the Government on having been able to achieve it and on being able—as I hope they will—to do it in so short a time after having come into power. I am certain that nothing which they will do in future will earn greater gratitude than the passing into law of this Bill.

5.48 p.m.

Photo of Mr Eric Lubbock Mr Eric Lubbock , Orpington

I have great sympathy with much of what the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) said. In particular, I agree with him that many of our constituents in London constituencies are anxiously awaiting the passage of the Bill into law. We have found that the Protection from Eviction Act has been effective, and we are thankful for that. We are looking forward to the time when this protection for our constituents is put into a more permanent form. I think that all Parties have accepted the Bill in principle, although we may have disagreed on some details on Committee and on Report.

It is interesting that the Official Opposition did not dare to oppose the Second Reading. If the First Parliamentary Secretary had been here, I would have told him that they will not oppose the Third Reading, either, because they realise the immense electoral damage they would do themselves if they did. Their attitude to this Bill has been, to say the least, ambivalent. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), although professing to welcome the Bill this afternoon in principle, said at the end of his speech that it would not float. This attitude is not very consistent. He must either say that he does not accept it because it would not work—that is what I thought he meant by saying that it would not "float"—or that he accepts it in its totality while, of course, reserving the right to criticise some of its details.

To say that it will not work and, at the same time, not to vote against either Second or Third Reading seems rather peculiar. It can only have the explanation I have ascribed to it.

The Tories have not dared—

Photo of Mr Julius Silverman Mr Julius Silverman , Birmingham Aston

Is not the explanation that they hope that it will not float but dare not try to sink it?

Photo of Mr Eric Lubbock Mr Eric Lubbock , Orpington

That may well be true—I would not disagree with the hon. Gentleman.

The Tories have not dared to criticise the conclusions of the Milner Holland Report that both security of tenure and rent regulation are essential for the protection of tenants. They have all along tried to improve the Bill as far as possible in regard to the landlords while seeking to water down the provisions for the protection of tenants. Two examples of this have been their attempts to lower the rateable value limit to which regulation applies, and to secure that the Bill should initially operate only in Greater London, and such other areas as the Minister might designate by Order. One could quote many other examples from the Committee stage.

What was their object in that approach? Ostensibly, it has been to enable private enterprise to make a larger contribution to the provision of new homes to let. They do not seem to have learned the lesson of the last few years, which is that with no controls at all on the rents charged for new property it is quite impossible for private landlords to help with dwellings that can be afforded by people with average or below-average incomes, among whom the shortage of accommodation is most severe.

In her evidence to the Milner Holland Committee, Ruth Glass said that it was difficult to make an assessment of the contribution by private landlords of new houses to let in Greater London because, in the 1951 census, we did not have the tenure analysis we had in 1961. But she said that in that period the stock of private housing as a whole in the county—I am sorry, it is the county that is referred to, not Greater London—increased by only 4 per cent. From that she deduced that of that increase no more than 2 per cent. or 3 per cent. was in the sphere of private rented housing.

I hesitate to quarrel with such an authority, but I wonder whether any increase in rented accommodation occurred at all, because we know that at that time whenever houses came out of control they were sold off to owner occupation. I seem to remember seeing figures that showed that there was a decline in private rented property over that period, although there had been an increase in the number of properties for owner occupation in the County of London between 1951 and 1961. I take my information from paragraph 82 of Ruth Glass's evidence to the Milner Holland Committee.

I should have thought it obvious, on the arithmetic alone, that private landlords had no rôle to play in the provision of low-cost rented accommodation—

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

I agree with almost everything that the hon. Gentleman has said so far and would only say that there are figures in the Milner Holland Report showing that the number of rented properties shrank by 11¼ million.

Photo of Mr Eric Lubbock Mr Eric Lubbock , Orpington

I was sure that I had seen those figures, and I was trying to locate them so that I could quote from them—

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

That information was in the White Paper which was about Great Britain, whereas Milner Holland referred to London.

Photo of Mr Eric Lubbock Mr Eric Lubbock , Orpington

I should have thought it obvious, on the arithmetic alone, that private landlords could not possibly provide accommodation at the lower end of the scale—

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

Before the representative of the Liberal Party wholly throws free enterprise overboard, I invite him to look at page 34 of the Report, where it is made clear that the problem of rents for privately provided accommodation being above what the average and lower-income groups can afford arises from the level of taxation which it is in the hands of the Government to improve.

Photo of Mr Eric Lubbock Mr Eric Lubbock , Orpington

I would be ruled out of order were I to reply to that intervention, although I am in favour of helping the private owners. It is very difficult for them to compete with local authorities in the provision of housing at rents which people of average and below average income can afford. Local authorities can borrow over a 60-year period at more reasonably favourable rates of interest—although we complain about the Public Works Loan Board's rate having gone up as a result of the general tightness of money—than can the private developer. I am sure the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames will agree there. Private developers certainly would not be able to borrow over a period of 60 years, so the annual repayment represents a much larger element of rent. Again, local authorities do not have to make a profit. In those circumstances, it is quite impossible for private owners, when they have none of these advantages, to build houses to let at rents similar to those charged by local authorities.

What I have said applies almost as much to the comparison between private landlords and housing associations. It is not possible to regulate the supply of rented property by means of this kind of legislation, and even if this Bill had been more favourable to the private landlord its effect would have been only marginal. Instead of paying lip-service to the rôle of private enterprise in the provision of rented houses generally, the Government should frankly acknowledge that below a certain level of income the burden will fall entirely on the local authorities; that there will be a level about the middle where local authorities and housing associations will overlap, and that at the very top end we can leave the housing provi- sion entirely to private enterprise. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames will doubtless be reassured to learn that I do not propose to exclude private enterprise entirely from the provision of housing, but I think that its rôle must be somewhat more restricted than we have imagined in the last few years.

The Government must also take steps to prevent the remaining 2¼ million controlled properties from passing out of the rental pool as and when the landlords obtain possession. Without such a provision an impossible burden will be placed on local authorities, because, over a period of years, they will have to provide 2¼ million new houses into which to move the tenants who would otherwise have been accommodated in the privately-rented homes. I therefore hope that the Minister will take all possible steps to encourage local authorities to buy a controlled property with the tenant still in it, so that when the tenant dies or leaves an extra house will be added to the pool.

I know that the right hon. Gentleman is sympathetic to this idea, because I have had correspondence—

Photo of Mr Evelyn King Mr Evelyn King , South Dorset

When the hon. Member says that local authorities should buy controlled houses, has he taken into account the fact that the average rent of a controlled house is £38 a year? Is he suggesting that the local authority, having bought the house, should continue to charge that rent, or should put up the rent to what it normally charges?

Photo of Mr Eric Lubbock Mr Eric Lubbock , Orpington

That is a matter for discussion. My concern is to prevent the accommodation going outside the rental pool altogether as and when landlords gain vacant possession. In present circumstances, such a landlord would almost certainly sell the house to owner occupation. If he did that in the past, when he could let the property at any price the market could command, he will certainly do it in the future when the property comes under regulation.

It is all the more important therefore, that wherever possible local authorities should obtain possession of these properties while the controlled tenants are still in them. This should be done without compulsion. I am sure that if local authorities offered to do this, many landlords of controlled properties would sell because under the existing rent control provisions they cannot make a profit. Although they can ultimately look forward to coming out of control and into regulation, many of them would sooner realise the value of their property now by selling to local authorities.

My hon. Friends and I on this bench have supported the Bill as an honest attempt to deal with the immediate difficulties highlighted by the Milner Holland Report, notwithstanding my disappointment—which I know the Minister shares—that it was impossible at this stage to sweep away the whole rickety structure of rent legislation and start again with a sound, 1965 construction. By going about it the way we have there are certain disadvantages, of which I will give four. First, as the Minister admitted in Committee, the Bill is extremely difficult to understand, even for an expert. I reiterate my hope that as soon as possible the right hon. Gentleman will produce an easily-understood pamphlet explaining the provisions of the Measure to landlords and tenants.

Secondly, we still have different machinery for dealing with furnished and unfurnished property. Any consolidation Measure which is ultimately produced will have to try to integrate these two procedures so that there is no disparity between the rents of similar properties, whether furnished or unfurnished. The Minister has said that landlords are already putting a few sticks of furniture into their unfurnished properties so that they can escape the more stringent provisions which apply to unfurnished accommodation. This is a great danger. It was pointed out in Committee that it could be avoided only by bringing the two types of property into a similar rent-fixing and security of tenure machinery.

Thirdly, I have been rather critical of the fair rent criteria and I still believe that they could have been improved on the lines I suggested in Committee. However, they are by no means unworkable and I consider that some of the more extravagant criticisms which have been made of them are not fair.

My fourth and final example of where the Bill has not completely satisfied me is that we have made no provision for the large and growing section of the population who live in caravans. They have not been granted the new and important protections given by the Bill. I have pointed out how this is beginning to operate to the detriment of those who live in caravans and I trust that this matter will be borne in mind by the Minister.

I was glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General had such a helpful approach to our suggestions about prescribed notices and explanations of the Bill. We are grateful to the Government for having found it possible to accept the reasonable suggestions which we made in Committee for improving the Bill, such as dwellings held for occupation by Ministers of religion. Although the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames was rather severe on the Minister in this respect, and I agree that it is illogical to treat parsonage houses on a different footing from manses, I reiterate that the Free Churches are satisfied with the Amendment tabled by the Minister. We are grateful for the efforts of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland in clarifying Clause 31; and for the concession, if it can be called such, relating to agricultural cottages which are let to persons who are not employed in agriculture. That concession will be of immense value to those living in rural constituencies.

We believe that the Bill has been considerably improved by our efforts in Committee and that the Minister has done his best to meet the legitimate criticisms which have been made. It would have been quite impossible for him to have satisfied both his hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) and the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames. That may be the finest testimony we have of the Minister's wisdom—the fact that he has pleased neither. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames said that the Bill was too far-reaching and I think that he referred to a return to an almost universal system of rent control, where scarcity has not been demonstrated, and said that the Bill was reactionary. The hon. Member for Salford, East, on the other hand, would like control to take the form of the old rent legislation, with some modification.

We on this bench believe that the Minister has struck a fair balance between these totally conflicting interests and although we hope that the right hon. Gentleman will press on urgently with the task of producing a consolidation Bill which will both simplify and bring up to date our rent legislation, in the meantime we support the Measure and are convinced that it will work.

6.6 p.m.

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

It is common ground that some form of security of tenure in a certain section of the housing market, together with a structure of fair rents in that section, has been long overdue. As an hon. Member for a London constituency, I eagerly awaited the introduction by the Labour Government of a Rent Bill which would serve to do just that. I must admit that I am disappointed by the final result.

The Bill disappoints me for two reasons; first, because it goes far beyond the needs of the situation and, secondly, because the whole tenor of the arguments adduced by Government spokesmen have been couched in such a way as to make it quite clear that the Government do not any longer interest themselves in the usefulness of the private landlord.

If we are to solve the situation which many of us realise exists, we must have the good will of the landlord in the private sector, not only in our great cities but throughout the country. We must encourage the landlord in the private sector to be even more efficient than the Milner Holland Report proved he already is. If one studies that Report one realises that it is impossible to solve the housing situation, particularly in our big cities, notably in London, without the active support of the private landlord.

Perhaps the Government—and it certainly would appear so from what hon. Gentlemen opposite havesaid—are anxious to see the private landlord disappear altogether. If so, I trust that a Bill will be introduced in the near future to ensure that the local authorities which replace him run their properties more efficiently. But that is another story.

We are in the presence of a Bill which gives security of tenure and contains a structure for a fair rent over the greater part of the rented market. Indeed, these two aspects—security and a fair rent—will range in London over houses with rents up to £800 or £900 a year in the unfurnished sector and up to perhaps £1,200 a year in the furnished sector. We are, therefore, covering virtually the whole market.

Apart from the fact that it is totally unnecessary to introduce legislation to deal with the very high end of the rented market, the Bill will defeat the aims and objects which the Government seek to achieve, since this elaborately conceived machinery will be clogged by unnecessary applications through the rent assessment committees and the courts to the detriment of those in real need.

A structure has now been created which will be blocked by the very people who are not in need of its services. We shall find ourselves with a serious log jam both at the rent assessment committee level and throughout the courts. This will hold up the flow of cases which are really urgent at the lower end of the private rented market.

One asks oneself exactly how the initial stages of sorting out these problems is to be tackled. One's attention is immediately drawn to the man who will, perhaps, be more important than anybody in the whole scheme of affairs—the rent officer. Upon his shoulders rests virtually the total responsibility for making the Bill work.

That man, however, is not to be an experienced professional. He is to be a man who is a professionally nice chap who will go round attempting to do acts of conciliation between landlord and tenant, but a man who will lack the one essential ingredient to make his position effective: knowledge in the assessment of housing property. Indeed, his yardsticks for arriving at a fair rent are so vague and so lacking in definition that if one looks at Clause 26, which deals with the yardsticks, such as they exist, which have to be taken into consideration, the only firm landmark which one finds is that of locality.

That inexperienced individual—I say this with due respect to whoever he or she may be—arriving in the borough where I live and trying to assess what is a fair rent in the street in which I live, will find on one side of the street controlled properties, properties some of which do not even have electricity and houses badly in need of renovation. On the other side of the street he will find houses recently built which have been selling for up to £14,000. What, I ask the Minister, is the definition of locality which the rent officer is then to take into consideration? Upon which side of the street does he base his fair rent?

It is obvious that as a result of a situation like that, which is not uncommon in London, one will find different rents with widely ranging disparities between them being fixed in the same small areas of London purely because the rent officer, with the best will in the world, does not have the professional knowledge to be able to arrive at what would be a fair rent, because he will be taking only the one main yardstick of locality into consideration.

That is bound to mean that landlords in those areas, as elsewhere, will not submit themselves to the test of an inexperienced amateur. They will get out of the rented property market as quickly as they can. Far from having the effect of improving the situation, that will make it worse. Far from helping to solve the housing situation in the great cities, it will aggravate it.

My final words are these. The Government have already shown themselves fully capable of turning problems into crises. We have seen this in the economic situation which faces us. In housing, we must not allow it to happen. We must not allow over-ambitious and ill-considered measures such as this Rent Bill to ruin the housing situation in our great cities and to make it even worse.

6.14 p.m.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Parkin Mr Benjamin Parkin , Paddington North

It is with some hesitation that I take part in this debate, because I am not sure that at this stage there is much constructive that can be added to the excellent work that has been done already. It is, however, right that a few words should come from this side of the House in unqualified praise and acceptance of the policy of my right hon. Friend the Minister and its embodiment in the Bill and of the fact that from the beginning my right hon. Friend has invited consultations, advice and improvements on difficult points.

Instead of lighting the bonfires of rejoicing that a person like myself might be tempted to do on Third Reading of the Bill, one accepts the situation with a sense of humility and an immense sense of responsibility, because we are now dealing with a subject which has not been in the forefront of active, constructive thinking by any political party until within the last few years. We are all exploring new ground. There is no point at this time in recriminating or going back over past history, but let us at least admit that there were no positive ideas on either side of the House for dealing with the enormous sector of decaying old property still in private hands.

It darkens counsel for the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. McNair-Wilson) to suggest that there is, in some way, a deliberate act of policy on the part of the Government in neglecting some recommendation or other. The hon. Member's words were that they have made it clear that they do not interest themselves in the good will of the private landlord and that they speak of the great help that the private landlord might have given.

That needs a good deal of amplification. We need to find out who the private landlord is and whether there are any survivors of those who, in years gone by, built and continued to own—[Interruption.] I thank my hon. Friend for that note. It is not often that one gets a note saying that one can continue speaking for a minute or two longer. [Laughter.] I very much doubt whether there are still in existence any large areas of property which are still owned by the people who built them and intended to continue to own them and let them for rent.

If we have to look at the problem of the help given by the private landlord, we have to consider how he acquired the properties. These great estates have been the subject of bidding between property companies, borrowing to add to their ownership. At best they have been management companies, at worst they have been speculative companies. Ten years ago, I excited some ill will by describing an auction sale of property of the Church Commissioners in Paddington as a thieves' kitchen of financial speculators gambling with the homes of the people of Paddington. That was the understatement of the year in view of what has since happened to those estates passing out of the hands of the Church Commissioners and into the hands, the whole lot of them, of Lintang, Jasper, Rachman and his associates, many of whom are getting away with it even today.

Tomorrow, there is to be another auction in the Porchester Hall, Paddington, of the properties of a company which has now decided to dissolve itself. It attributes its decision to the influence of the Corporation Tax. Thus, if nobody else has been told what the new Finance Bill is about, the landlords know. They object to being fairly taxed. They are getting out of the business on the ground that they cannot face the proposition that corporations owning property should be taxed, like anyone else, on their earnings. In the past, of course, they have made their earnings by speculation.

One could amplify at great length the story of the big speculative companies, but let us never forget that a tremendous burden in connection with this problem is laid upon the shoulders of all of us by the proliferation of the unwilling legatee, the owner-occupiers' heirs who do not know what to do with the property when they get it and who think that it should be bled to death. It is this bleeding to death of the old properties which is the real problem. It is not true that there are people ready with orchards in the London area which are waiting to be developed. It is not true that there are financiers with spare money wanting to buy land which is available and wanting to build on it flats to rent at prices which ordinary people can afford.

What is true is that we have the duty of making the maximum use of property at present in private hands for so long as it lasts. This has become a social duty because of the incapacity of the small owners to deal with it and, generally, the unwillingness of the large owners to stay in the business and, above all, to undertake vast schemes of renewal. In this situation, bearing in mind that no less than 18 months ago I was advised by highly-placed lawyers in my party that my little kite-flying Bill to prevent eviction from rented dwellings would not be capable of translation into law—it was a good thing for a slogan but could not be made to work—in view of the fact that within a few months of this Government's existence this Bill has not only been conceived and argued but new principles accepted and interpreted in terms of a reasonable gamble that it will work, it is a new idea altogether. It was sloganised at the General Election and people talked about fair rents; now we have to make it work.

It is slightly unfair of the Opposition constantly to suggest that there is any reasonable comparison between the duty of a rent officer and that of rating valuation officer. Rating valuations take place under high pressure at irregular intervals and have to be done, of course, according to certain sound principles, but no one has yet gone chasing after a rating officer saying, "You have not assessed my house as highly as you should; come and look at it, it is far better than the one next door." Such a person simply says, "Thank goodness for that, it is the same as next door." It will not be the job of the rent officer to revalue the whole property of a borough at the same time, but to assess each individual property. It is all right for debating purposes, but hon. Members should stop suggesting that the Minister has introduced a device which is less competent or less likely to succeed than that employed by the rating valuation authorities.

We have been told that the landlords will get out. I think that was the kind of threat in the speech of the hon. Member for Lewisham, West, who has spoken with such great energy on this Bill in the course of its progress through the House. I commend his energy and enthusiasm and fighting spirit because, of course, the Tory Party as a whole has not much to fight back about on this subject. But if he was prophesying that the landlord will get out by way of suggesting that this will land both sides of the House in some kind of new crisis, I do not think he was right. I firmly believe that there will be a combination of disciplines and incentives. The disciplines will be in the sense of sanitary regulations, local authority bye-laws, rules for houses in multiple occupation and so forth which must be enforced.

The incentives will be of encouragement to improve dwellings so that in crowded areas the rent officer will say to an owner, "This rent is about what this lot is worth, but if you propose to do this, this, or this I can give you a certificate of fair rent in advance of your doing it. Go away and think it over." This is what the Bill provides. It provides for the owner of the controlled property to take a chance that a rent officer would offer to increase the rent as it is, which is extremely unlikely, although one could find examples where that could occur. One could find examples where the only remaining controlled tenant had collected all the amenities because all the flats had been made self-contained. There would be cases where the old controlled rent was out of tune, but not many.

If, as in most cases, they refer to a single floor, here is the opportunity to put it to the landlord that there is nothing to prevent him going to the council to see what grants and loans he can get and seeing whether that is worth while or offering the property for sale, which is what the hon. Member suggested he would do. That is something which would terrify no one. What the Opposition have been arguing is that there is a field for private enterprise building housing to let. That has not been denied, and we have indicated many fields in which it could operate, but no one has seriously suggested that it could play a rôle in the blighted areas so that they may be repopulated by people who could service the great cities with which we are chiefly concerned.

This Bill is a courageous, new, imaginative device which will indicate that there is a way out. I am sure that if it is properly explained to the tenants and to the public in general it will catch their imagination. It has not had much chance yet. It has not had the right kind of publicity. It is the job of us all to try to make it work. I hope that the Opposition will at least insist on it being given a fair chance and that they will show, as we all need to show, maximum vigilance at the lowest level locally to see that we get the greatest benefits which will stem from the initiative and courage of the Ministers who between them have conceived and carried through this Bill in this House.

6.28 p.m.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher , Finchley

I shall try to be brief, because a number of my hon. Friends wish to speak in this debate. I echo the sentiment of the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) that it is the job of all of us to try to make the Bill work. I accept absolutely the objective that a fair rent ought to be the rent chargeable. I think that the Minister will agree that some of our efforts have been directed not towards confounding that objective, but making sure that it will work properly.

When we reach this stage on a Bill of this kind we area little apt to think that all the problems have been solved and that there will not be any difficulties in future. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even if a fair rent is decided there will, of course, be many social problems still arising and many retired people who cannot afford that rent. These problems will have to be dealt with outside this Bill. It is our task to try to see that a fair rent is the rent that shall be charged.

Throughout the debate we have had various comments made about landlords and tenants. I make it clear at the outset that all the good is not on one side and all the bad on the other. There are good landlords. There must be good landlords, because the right hon. Gentleman is himself a landlord. There are good tenants and bad tenants. When we debate landlord and tenant relationships we tend to think of all landlords as big ones and many of them as bad, but that is not so.

I know many who are very anxious indeed to try to help retired people living in rented property.

I know one landlord who is herself retired, aged 70. Her only income—from two rent-controlled properties—is very small indeed and she is responsible for all the repairs. She wrote to me asking about the Bill and I was bound to tell her that I thought that it would be some time before rents would increase in the London area under the provisions of the Bill.

I suspect that what will happen is that a good deal of political play will be made of the fact that the Bill will bring a large number of rents down, and I believe that it will. But there is also provision in the Bill to enable a large number of rents to be put up, because many rents at present being charged are below the designation of "fair rent". I think that we shall see some rents go down before the Minister gives any permission for rents to go up and it would not surprise me if there were a General Election between the coming down and the going up processes.

I hope, however, that we shall not see a repetition of what happened with the National Health Service prescription charges. The last Labour Government got the machinery ready and passed an Act enabling prescription charges to come into operation. After the 1951 election, the Labour Party disowned that Measure completely. Let us be quite certain what this Bill does. As well as enabling rents to come down, it enables them to go up, because its objective is that fair rents shall be chargeable—and if there is an election in between, which we win, let us see that right hon. and hon. Members opposite do not disown this Bill as they disowned the Act to impose prescription charges.

I was bound to tell my constituent that I thought that it would be two or three years before she could charge a fair rent for her property.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

And before the election?

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher , Finchley

I admit that the lady said, "I know that you are all working very hard to defeat this terrible Labour Government", but she also wrote: I wish to thank you for your kind letter and am shocked to hear that I will not be able to raise my two rents for 2 to 3 years. This controlling of rents is the cause of much had feeling between landlord and tenants. Tenants take advantage knowing the landlord is not able even to go to a tribunal for fair play, there is no justice. Perhaps I have laid emphasis a little too much on this, but the point is that equity is not divisible between landlord and tenant but is something which should apply to all.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Parkin Mr Benjamin Parkin , Paddington North

Surely, in view of the hon. Lady's Ministerial experience, it was also her duty to convey to this old lady that she did not accept it as socially desirable that an old lady of 70 should have to depend for her income on the rents of old properties that she could not maintain or repair.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher , Finchley

This lady has looked after her property most conscientiously. Everything that can be done under existing social security has already been done.

Another point about which I am rather worried arises from an interview case which I had last Friday. I wish that it had arisen on the Friday before, when something could have been done about it. Throughout our period of office, deserted wives had security of tenure. The Minister, therefore, cannot complain that we were lacking in that respect. Through no fault of the present Government, deserted wives at the moment have not got security of tenure. I have looked very carefully at the transitional provisions in Clause 19, but I fear that they will not be covered and that we may have missed an opportunity under the Bill to see that their rights are restored.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will undertake to join this to the other matters which he will refer to their Lordships in another place. In the meantime, these women have no protection whatever and may well be thrown out unless they are protected under Clause 19. I am worried about what may happen between now and the passage of a new Bill.

The right hon. Gentleman must have weighed up very carefully the advantages and disadvantages of a Bill of this kind. I know full well the problems of deciding what is a fair rent. Indeed, I was reminded of the comment in "Tom Brown's Schooldays": He never wants anything but what's right and fair; only when you come to settle what's right and fair it's everything that he wants and nothing that you want. And that's his idea of a compromise. There will, therefore, be considerable difficulty over what is a fair rent. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said, it will be difficult to get the Bill launched. The fact that we want the Bill should not blind us to these difficulties. I am sure that there will be one considerable disadvantage to the Bill. It will undoubtedly lead to a greater shortage of accommodation.

I know many old people who would let part of their houses, but are now afraid to do so because, although they would get more income if they did, the price might be domestic friction—and there is nothing worse than domestic friction. Although I have no personal interest in the Bill, I fear that the right hon. Gentleman has made it easier for me to have a flat in central London as well as a house in the country. Indeed I shall perhaps follow the right hon. Gentleman in that.

I see that the right hon. Gentleman looks rather puzzled. If the Bill works, rents in central London will come down and that means I shall be able to afford to have a house or flat there and relieve myself of the fatiguing job of driving home very late at night. Of course, I shall thereby relieve the transport problem, but I shall be taking up two accommodation units instead of one.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

Earlier, I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell) when he urged me to try to arrange for hardworking people like himself and the hon. Lady to have accommodation in central London.

Photo of Mrs Margaret Thatcher Mrs Margaret Thatcher , Finchley

The right hon. Gentleman is not listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell). He is listening to me.

I have made my criticism of the Bill, but, nevertheless, I hope that the major objective of achieving fair rents will be well and speedily achieved.

6.38 p.m.

Photo of Mr Derek Page Mr Derek Page , King's Lynn

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on a courageous and necessary Measure, but I want to take up the qualms which some of us feel about the Bill in dealing with the agricultural tied cottage. We do not have disagreements on this side of the House, as has been made clear. We have mutual elucidations. It will be very difficult to decide who is right in this process unless we have adequate data.

Those who are connected with agricultural constituencies, particularly hon. Members on this side, have felt all along that the provisions dealing with the agricultural tied cottage were at fault in containing a call for consideration by the court of agricultural efficiency in giving security of tenure. We thought that there was everything necessary to ensure justice in asking whether alternative accommodation was available and what was the balance of hardship. I realise that this is an immensely difficult problem—far more so than appears on the surface.

I know that my right hon. Friend believes he has struck an equitable balance in the Bill. However, he realises that some of us have our doubts, and he has assured us that he will look at the subject again after a reasonable period to see whether he is right or whether we are right.

A little while ago I asked, in a Question, what were the figures of evictions under the Protection from Eviction Act, which is very similar in wording as regards the tied cottage to this Bill. It turned out that figures were not available. It is well-nigh impossible to continue considering this subject if the data are not made available.

While again congratulating my right hon. Friend on the part of the Bill dealing with the security of tied cottage tenants—because this is a very considerable improvement, and I make no bones about it—he will receive my extreme gratitude if he undertakes to make available over the coming months figures of evictions of tenants of agricultural tied cottages and so enable the process of mutual elucidation to continue on a rational basis.

6.42 p.m.

Photo of Mr Peter Mills Mr Peter Mills , Torrington

I welcome a very large part of the Bill, and I am able to say this as a "new boy" in the House, because I have not taken part in any previous debates on this subject. Naturally, as the Member for a rural, constituency it is the agricultural part of the Bill in which I am particularly interested. That is not to say I am not interested in the problems of our towns and cities, because I am. But I think it is important that a Member should contribute to a subject about which he knows at least a little.

Clause 31 of the Bill makes special provisions for agricultural employees. Unless the Bill is handled with great care, wisdom and tact, that it could have quite a serious effect on the farming community, not only farmers but agricultural workers, who, together, make up the farming community. It is important to know if it will help and further the cause of the agricultural worker.

Will it help in the industry at all? Will it create better relationships between the worker and the farmer? Will it help the industry to be more profitable both for the worker and the farmer? Unless there is tact and understanding on both sides in the working of the Bill, I believe that it could run into serious difficulties and problems in the countryside.

I hope that from his farming experience the Minister realises the difficulties of the farming community. We are dealing with animals that require attention day by day, and most farmworkers and farmers realise that to live in a farmhouse or a farm cottage has its very great responsibilities. One cannot just jump in and out of one's cottage or stay in it without causing great difficulties. It is right that the farmworker should be protected, and, certainly, I would always champion his cause. But it is also right that the farmer should be protected against difficult and unco-operative men. In practice, these arrangements work very well, and it is not true to say that there are great problems. It is not true to say that there are a lot of wicked farmers turning out farmworkers, because I believe that that is greatly exaggerated.

Photo of Mr Derek Page Mr Derek Page , King's Lynn

Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that the eviction of even one farmworker is a crime against humanity?

Photo of Mr Peter Mills Mr Peter Mills , Torrington

Yes, I would. However, this problem can easily be exaggerated, because a very happy relationship exists between most farmers and their workers.

Looking at the Bill, I feel that time is not on our side. Time is vital in the countryside. If a farmer wishes to make a change or the farmworker himself wants to change jobs, delay for both parties in any dispute will cause difficulty. It has to be faced that no workman worth his salt wants to wait until a cottage becomes vacant. His first question to his future employer is, "Is the cottage vacant, boss?". Certainly, his wife wants to know if it is vacant, so that she can have a good look round. It is vital that the courts should decide quickly and fairly, for the benefit of all concerned.

It is certainly true that a small farmer with one or two cottages cannot move his men round to do the work of the cowman or stockman who is leaving. For the bigger man, it is probably easier. He can delegate another man to take on the work whilst waiting for a cottage to become vacant.

I am still not happy about Clause 31(2,b), the last few words of which are: … any member of his family residing with him at his death. This is a potential danger, because while one must have every sympathy and consideration for those who have lost the breadwinner, it is something that is open to abuse when one considers that it is quite impossible for a relative suddenly to move in two or three weeks before the death and be able to continue the tenancy.

Then there is the problem of the service cottage. A man and wife and their son may be living in it. If the father dies, his wife may not want to leave, but the son may want to marry and stay on. This can be a very serious problem, and I should like the Minister to reassure me on the points I have raised on this part of the Clause.

There is the question of empty cottages and their being let to people who are not concerned with agriculture. These cottages are seen in every village, and it is a great pity. I welcome the decision of the Minister to allow such cottages to revert to the farmer after a certain time, if so desired and with the court's permission. I welcome it because nothing is more lowering to the general morale in a village than to see cottages left empty. It is bad for the farmer and his pocket, it is bad for the village and its prosperity, and it is bad for the homeless in the district.

However, there is one point I would like to make. What is the position of the cottage which has been modernised or repaired under the Livestock Rearing Act or with the aid of any other improvement grants? Every year, I have to sign a certificate that one such cottage will remain in agricultural use. How will the Rent Bill affect these premises? Will there be any change?

Like the curate's egg, the Bill is very good in parts, but it is bad in others. Delay on vital decisions, particularly where they involve the countryside and the farming community, will cause grave problems. I hope that decisions by the courts will be made quickly, for the benefit of all concerned. If they are not, an unhappy relationship may arise which has not existed before between farmworkers and their employers.

6.50 p.m.

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

If I repeat the expression of appreciation voiced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) of the Government's spokesmen throughout our debates on the Bill, I intend something more than the usual courtesies. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General, the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary have listened to us from this side of the House with the greatest patience, and we are grateful to them for that. They listened to us urging Amendments involving greater changes, obviously, than in policy they dared to make, and yet they listened at least with outward and I think with sincere patience.

We are grateful for the substantial Amendments which have been accepted throughout the stages of the Bill, but because the Government have obstinately held to many misguided policies in the production of the Bill it is a curate's egg, as my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills) said. The parts in which it is good can be operated to the benefit of all, but the parts in which it is bad are very bad. I am speaking not only of the drafting, as mentioned by the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) and the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock). There is some amazing drafting in the Bill, for example, in Clause 1(2) and in Clause 3(3), which no layman could possibly understand—and no lawyer could understand some parts.

We have done our best to improve the Bill not only in drafting, but in substance for the benefit of all who may be concerned with it and I hope that the Minister will not continue, as his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) did, to draw "phoney" distinctions between the Government and the Opposition. Of course there are distinctions, but they are not that the Government have the tenants solely at heart while the Opposition think only of the pockets of the landlords. Although I have to declare an interest as the director of a property company which, incidentally, does not hold residential property, and the director of a building society—I am glad to see that the Attorney-General is now present and I repeat the thanks to him which I expressed at the beginning of my speech—the real differences between the Government and the Opposition are that the Government believe not only that they are able to prevent further building of homes to let by private landlords, but that it is right that they should do so.

The hon. Member for South Shields expressed that view and went so far as to say that the occupier-landlord ought to be deprived of his house, that we should take it over from him and that the occupier-landlord was not fit to be in that position.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , South Shields

I did not say anything of the sort. I suggested that he would be put out of a lot of his worries if the local authority took over.

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

I accept the hon. Gentleman's modification of what I thought he said, but I take it that it is the policy of the Government to prevent further building of homes to let by private landlords and, not only that, but to drive the remaining 3¾ million private landlords out of business. I am glad to hear that that is not quite the policy of the Liberal Party, which does not entirely exclude private enterprise from the ownership of houses to let, but wishes local authorities to take over all controlled property. If that is the Liberal policy, let the Liberal Party put it forward. The Bill will undoubtedly go a long way to achieving the job of putting the private landlord out of business.

Photo of Hon. Sam Silkin Hon. Sam Silkin , Camberwell Dulwich

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the private landlord is likely to be driven out of business as a result of receiving a fair rent?

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

No. I will explain to the hon. and learned Gentleman later why I say that as drawn the Bill will not encourage, but rather discourage, the private landlord to remain in business. On this side of the House we believe that it is disastrous if those who desire or need to rent their homes are to have no choice other than a council house, or the comparatively small number of housing association dwellings.

When I say that the owner of a house to let should receive a fair rent, I am not thinking merely of the immediate rent payable by the tenant. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. McNair-Wilson), I am thinking in the longer term. If the Bill so discourages landlords that no more come forward to provide homes to let and the 3¾ million remaining landlords give up as soon as they get the chance, it will take local authorities 22 years to replace those homes at the rate at which the Minister intends that local authorities should build.

If the Minister has his way, I am sure that for a very long time there will be shortages of houses to let, that local authority waiting lists will lengthen, that there will be a slowing down in slum clearance and that there will be a deterioration in maintenance. To curry short-term favour, the Government will bring hardship to tenants in the long run.

The basic principles of the Bill are not in dispute, and I ask the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) to believe that. The principles of the Bill can be made to work justly and fairly between landlord and tenant. For example, the basic protection is sound, provided that there is a quick reaction from the courts not only to a breach by landlords, but to abuses by occupiers—although I fear that there will still be some cases of possible hardship for the individuals whom I term the occupier-landlords and for employers, as we have endeavoured to point out.

Regulation by a judicial or semi-judicial decision is a very good way of arriving at a fair rent. It is not an entirely new way, as the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) suggested. We have had regulation of rent for business premises since 1927 and of furnished dwellings since 1946. This is certainly appropriate where security of tenure is necessary because of shortage or because of hardship in removal.

But the manner of applying rent regulation adopted by the Bill is based on prejudice rather than reason. There is the doubtful formula for a fair rent which may have the effect, as my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West, pointed out, of there being a wrong use of property in the centre of town.

As my right hon. Friend said, the Minister's scheme reaches too high and, at the same time, not low enough in the rents it embraces. No one can possibly pretend at the present day that controlled rents are fair. Yet for an indefinite time such properties are to be kept out of the determination of a fair rent. No one can possibly pretend that the rents of dwellings in the higher rateable values which are brought into the scheme are unfair because the rent is dictated by shortage, yet those dwellings are to be brought in to clutter up the machinery for determining a fair rent, the log jam, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West, expressed it.

It is all very well for the Parliamentary Secretary to say that we want a broad survey to see the extent of the problem, but in this machinery there is not the capacity for that broad survey. We ought to concentrate on those spheres where it is so necessary to determine the fair rent. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to see justice done, he should tell the tenants of Mayfair and the higher reaches of Hampstead that they can fend for themselves for the present and make room for the tenants of controlled premises where it is generally acknowledged that there is a deep social problem, as instanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher).

I would remind the Minister of his words about rateable value and the unfairness of rateable value in very many cases. I add to that the fact that controlled rents are based on gross rateable values. In the face of that how can he justify the delay in bringing controlled property into this scheme, and yet persist in bringing in the stately flats of Knightsbridge—Camden Hill instead of Camden Town? This is a gross defect in the Bill.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Parkin Mr Benjamin Parkin , Paddington North

The hon. Gentleman is trying to have it both ways. Either these higher rents are fair or they are unfair. Either a shortage is applying or it is not applying. If, as he maintains, there is no problem, then they will be in and out of the rent office and in and out of the rent assessment committee in a very short time.

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

As to the higher rents, if the hon. Gentleman believes the Milner Holland Report, it is quite unnecessary to bring into this scheme rents up to £800 or £900 a year as will be by the rateable value of £400. I am talking about the limits of rateable values set by the Bill not necessarily by the high rents. I do not believe that at rateable values between £300 and £400 in London there is any shortage of accommodation, or that the rents are governed by a shortage, or that we need to bring them into this machinery for discovering a fair rent.

I have been speaking about the machinery coming into operation, but I want to draw the attention of the House to the position before that machinery is set up. Before that almost every tenanted dwelling becomes controlled—not regulated—but put into the category of control. There are no fair rents for that period until a rent assessment committee is set up. The rents and tenure will be frozen. This is what I think is the farce of the position. The Minister has said he is to hurry along with the setting up of rent assessment committees in London and the big cities, but when will he get round to the other towns and villages, where rents and tenure do not need to be frozen because there is no shortage? These places will have to wait.

Photo of Mr Julius Silverman Mr Julius Silverman , Birmingham Aston

If there is no shortage, why worry about the assessment which the rent officers will make?

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

Because control lands on those at once and they remain controlled up to the limit of £200 rateable value until rent assessment committees are set up in the area.

I say that there is no need to impose control in those areas because there is no shortage. No district should have been brought into control under the Bill until machinery for determining a fair rent had been installed. But the right hon. Gentleman has insisted on applying the Bill from Land's End to John o'Groat's without distinction of where shortages may occur. I suppose that he has gone beyond John o' Groat's, to the constituency of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party (Mr. J. Grimond). I wonder who will volunteer for the job of rent officer in Orkney and Shetland? There will not be enough volunteers among valuers for appointment as rent officers to cover the whole country.

The point, if I can perhaps impress it upon the mumbling Leader of the Liberal Party, is that it is quite unnecessary to cover the whole country with a system of control. The result will be a shortage of personnel as rent officers, and for the manning of the rent assessment committees. What shortage of accommodation can there be in mid-Wales at a rateable value of £200? We talked a lot about castles in Scotland—I should think that the Bill will bite on a few castles in Wales.

We say that the regulation of tenancies at fair rents can be operated perfectly well and beneficially to the parties concerned if it is applied in the right way. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said earlier, "If the Bill succeeds it will change the whole climate of relationship between landlord and tenant". He hoped that the Bill would form a basis on which confidence could be built between the parties. We join with him in that hope and for that reason we shall not divide against the Third Reading of the Bill. The Government have made their own task far more difficult by the way they are trying to supply the bad part of this curate's egg. The regulation of tenancies at a fair rent can be operated to do justice between the parties, where there is a shortage, and within the range of that shortage, provided that the system is operated by experts and not by amateurs. The Bill can be used in that way and we urge the Government so to use it.

7.5 p.m.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

I think I must follow precedent and start by talking about the behaviour of everybody during the last three months of this Bill. I will join the Opposition in congratulating the Parliamentary Secretary. I am well aware that a back bencher with 19 years' experience of only criticising his own side, or the other side in Government, when suddenly propelled into Ministerial responsibility needs a good Parliamentary Secretary who knows the subject through and through. I agree with the Opposition that I have one and that he did a tremendous job. I should also like to congratulate the Opposition on carrying through with aplomb and skill an extremely delicate operation—that of allowing the Bill to become law, as it will, although they actually disapprove of it a great deal more than they care to admit.

This, I think, is the profound truth about it. There were one or two back benchers, not on the Committee perhaps, who genuinely disagreed with those who led the Opposition to this Bill, but on the Opposition Front Bench, with whom I had the most dealings, it was plain that the more they studied this Bill the greater a threat they found it to interests with which they feel themselves to be deeply associated. They felt this and said so quite openly. They said it was a basic threat to private landlordism; that it was the end of them and would destroy things. They felt it passionately, and I cannot remember a single division, in the Committee stage or the Report stage, in which they did not move something in favour of a landlord, because they felt this Bill was balanced much too far against the landlord.

We finally reached the stage where the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) in his speech today said that this was a battleship which would not float but the Opposition would not oppose its being introduced into the High Fleet. I think that one of the disadvantages of the kind of delicate opposition they have carried out has been that the major importance of the Bill has been underestimated. This is why I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop), that it will be extremely important to explain this Bill to ordinary people when it becomes an Act of Parliament. I agree with him about the incomprehensibility of the Bill, and I have been with it for three months now. As a simple layman I have already given instructions, and the work is in progress, for translating the Bill, Clause by Clause, into layman's English. They say the job is now being undertaken by men of the highest competence at "laymanry". I am told that this Bill is an absolutely brilliant piece of draftmanship—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames is quite wrong about this. Those who have really a taste for this caviar assure me it is the highest grade of legal caviar and that there has never been a Clause like Clause One in the history of legal clauses, for those who can appreciate the finer points of legal draftsmanship.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

All of this is going to be translated and when we have translated it we shall then distribute it in leaflet and in brochure form and publicise it on radio and television if we can have the time. We shall put it on film and we shall have our four travelling cinemas going round in order to put it across. It is enormously important that the rights of landlord and tenants under the Bill are explained to them in the simplest possible way.

I thank the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) for his contribution. At critical moments he was extremely helpful on the Bill. Apart from one very important issue on which he disagreed, he genuinely agrees that this is an important Bill. Funnily enough, I agree with the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). I see no reason to think that as a result of the Bill the decline in the pool of rented houses which has been going on at such a rate since the Rent Act, 1957, will be halted by the Bill. I put it moderately in the way that I always do "that the decline will be halted". We should recognise—and I said this during last Thursday's debate—that it will fall on local authorities, assisted, to some extent, by housing associations, to build up the pool of rented houses. We see the rôle of the private landlord being played only at the luxury flat level—or, shall we say, from the middle level upwards of rented houses.

I turn to the major objections to the Bill which were recorded by the Opposition. They were, I thought, very fairly summarised by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames. I deal first with the criticism that even in its final form the Bill is too far-reaching. The more I reflect on this argument the more fascinating I find it, because it is deeply and passionately felt. It is said, "You have set the rateable value too high, with the result that people who are perfectly happy can go to the tribunal". It does not seem to me a tremendous disaster, even if we have done it, to enable a number of people who say that they are happy to stay at home instead of going to the tribunal. But I have a suspicion that it is not quite like that. Even in the higher levels tenants may be exploited by landlords. There is, therefore, no harm in discovering at what level real hardship begins.

All we have done in the Bill is to raise the level a little high. We have given ourselves power to reduce it area by area. The moment we find there is no need for regulation we can do this; but we have to have a law to cover the whole nation. The Opposition might just as well say "Let us have an Act of Parliament against poaching. But let us have a five-year social survey and then locate the areas where poaching is taking place". When the Tories care about something they advocate national legislation. It is only when they do not like something that they want to deal with the matter locally.

We thought that we should not do one thing which the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames wanted us to do He said that the Bill should operate only where shortage was shown to exist. How does one show that shortage and scarcity exists? I will give the House a very simple example: we show it by setting up a tribunal and allowing people to complain. Then we shall discover the shortage. At no point did the Opposition say by what test could one say whether shortage existed. They said that if the gross figures of accommodation in certain areas exceeded the number of family units no shortage existed. They might have learned from the Milner Holland Report the fallacy of this argument. There are shortages of certain classes of accommodation, particularly of low rented houses, and those shortages can exist even when there is a surplus in terms of housing as against family units.

My answer to the Opposition is this. I believe that it is right to make this a national matter to give ourselves power to lower the rateable values if we find it necessary. There is, however, something else which the Opposition have not mentioned. They have not mentioned that there are controlled tenants all over the country. If we have a Bill which covers nothing but London and Birmingham, what are we to do for all the controlled tenants outside? I know what the Opposition want to do: they want to decontrol them in one lump. We do not want to do that. That is why we have arranged to deal with the matter in stages. There is a world of difference between the two sides of the House on this.

I will not waste time on the small subject about which the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames is tickled—the problem of the manse and the Catholic Church—except to say that the slight advantage of the Church of England which has existed for several hundred years still exists in the Bill. I wish that it did not, but I find it difficult to avoid it.

I am disappointed about what has happened concerning agriculture, because I thought that we had come to an amicable arrangement. In the mood of the Report stage, we moved so fast that we did not have the Division which the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames wanted. It is of the greatest importance that we should have inserted in another place a Clause which enables a farmer to let a tied cottage to somebody other than an agricultural worker and to get it back. This is of the greatest importance in the country because there are literally thousands of cottages kept vacant because the farmer cannot be sure that if he fills it with somebody who needs it for the time being he can get it back. Provided that we tighten up the Clause, it will be important for the farming industry. Nobody on this side of the House, and no representative of the National Union of Agricultural Workers, wants to see thousands of cottages vacant, provided we can ensure that they are properly used.

Secondly, I was asked why we needed Clause 26 and whether it was not better to let the agricultural worker have the same degree of security as any other licensee.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

The number of the Clause has been changed. It is now Clause 31.

I have been asked why we need Clause 31. I will give the House the answer frankly. There has been a long-standing feud in the countryside which we wanted to end in the Bill by providing a genuinely fair deal in the Clause. No one has shown that the Clause is in any way unfair. An Amendment was moved on Report, but it was withdrawn when I pointed out that it was unnecessary and that the Clause as it stood did all that was required. I am delighted about the Clause.

I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Derek Page), who asked me for an assurance, that I am convinced that under the Clause the eviction of agricultural workers without the provision of alternative accommodation will cease. To be honest, it has almost ceased already. If we were to ask the National Union of Agricultural Workers how many cases of eviction there had been in the last 12 months, it would be able to collect under 20. This is therefore a declining practice. But if the Clause does not have the desired effect, and if there is an outcrop of evictions, we shall, as I have said to the agricultural workers, reconsider the position and consider what measures we should take. I am, however, perfectly convinced that the Clause provides a fair deal. It is just to the farmer and to the agricultural worker and will finally eliminate what was already a dying form of victimisation.

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

In view of what the right hon. Gentleman said about the procedure on Report and his statement that an Amendment was withdrawn, may I point out that the main Amendment which would have dealt with the matter, which would have sought to leave out words of the then Clause 27, which is now Clause 31, was not selected.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

I was not making a serious point on that issue.

I turn to rent fixing, which is the heart of the Bill. May I say a few words on rent fixing? This method of fixing rent has not had such a bad Press among serious-minded people as the Opposition like to pretend. I noticed in The Times of 2nd July a letter from Lord Lloyd of Hampstead, who is a considerable expert. He is an academic lawyer, a professor of law. Referring to the editor of The Times, although it could have referred to the leaders of the Opposition, he wrote: There is something dogged about your continued appeal for a 'formula' when every responsible expert accepts that no formula exists. … Unless one is to accept the proposition that rent control is an impossibility without a formula, I believe the Minister has done the best that human fallibility allows and I see no reason to share your gloomy forebodings about the outcome of his proposals. I must record the fact that no one has put forward any concrete proposal on this subject, apart from inserting the words "rateable value" and apart from some suggestion about the word "amenity", which would hardly have transformed the Clause to something totally different. Those were the only two proposals of any sort on this subject put forward in Committee. No one from outside the House put forward formulae which would have enabled us to provide a definition in the sense which has been demanded, and I do not believe that it could be done.

The hon. Member for Crosby, who was curiously immoderate in his thought, though not in his tone, said that my proposal was based on prejudice rather than on reason. May I mention to him the case of John Kay Limited v Kay about the Leasehold Property (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1951, which was a forerunner of Part II of the Landlord and Tenant Act. As all lawyers know, this contained a provision which enabled occupiers to apply to the county court for the grant of a new tenancy, the tenancy to be at such rent and on such terms and conditions as the court in all the circumstances thinks reasonable. This case of Kay v. Kay was appealed from the county court, and a fairly distinguished group of judges heard it on appeal, including the Master of the Rolls and Lord Jenkins. In the county court, the fair or reasonable rent was fixed as between two parties. In his judgment on the county court decision, the Master of the Rolls said: The evidence before the court … seems to me sufficient to justify the view that the figure of £750"— that was the rent demanded— is one that is derived not merely from the increase in general costs or the decrease in the value of money … but is a figure further inflated by the particular and, one hopes, temporary circumstances of shortage of this sort of property; in other words, though £750 per annum is the market rent, the market figure is one inflated by the particular circumstance of shortage. He added: The judge has, and I think rightly, said that in so far as the figure has been inflated by that circumstance, it becomes an unreasonable figure; or, at least, that it is unreasonable to impose on the tenant the obligation of having to pay that inflated sum. The county court judge said that the tenant should pay £550.

There the Court of Appeal was precisely carrying out the fixing of a fair rent, less than the market rent, according to the principles of the Bill. I should read into the record a comment made by Lord Jenkins, who said: If the only power the court had was to ascertain and fix the open market rent as the reasonable rent to be paid under a new tenancy, plainly this legislation … would be in a great measure defeated, because the whole difficulty which has to be met is that, in conditions of scarcity, the open market value may be forced up to a point which does exceed all reason; and it is essential in order to make legislation of this kind effective that the tribunal which is to fix the rent should be able to discount contemporary open market values to the extent necessary in its opinion to arrive at a fair result. I am told by the Opposition that the proposal in the Bill is based on prejudice rather than on reason. What an insulting reference to the Master of the Rolls and Lord Jenkins! I am sure that it is an embarrassment to the hon. Member for Crosby, now that he knows who are the people who thought this out, to remember that he described them in the way which he usually reserves for poor laymen on the Government benches.

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

The right hon. Gentleman said that no formula was ever put forward as an alternative to the Bill. He did not mention my Amendment. That Amendment would have taken into account scarcity value only in about one-seventh of the value for the whole of the property.

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

That is not in the Bill, and I am not allowed to discuss it. In any case, we discussed it on Report.

I turn to other criticisms which have been made. If the proposal in the Bill is fair and reasonable—and they are beginning to say that it is—the Opposition nevertheless claim that there is only one kind of person who can fix a fair rent. Not a judge—certainly not he, they say, is inexpert. They say that the only class of person to do this is a trained valuer.

I will say something bluntly to them. If we had been as innocent as that, if we had arranged for rent tribunals manned solely by professionally-trained valuers, we could have said goodbye to even an appearance of justice being done to the tenant. I said this on Report and I repeat it: of course we need the advice of the valuer, but the suggestion that only the valuer, he and he alone, is able to decide on rents is erroneous. It would also be disastrous to anybody who wanted to try to take rents out of politics and to get a sense of fair play between landlord and tenant. That is why we chose rent officers who were not professional valuers and rent committees on which the valuer would certainly play his rôle, but it would not be a dominant rôle. In fact he will play his rôle alongside the lawyer and alongside the layman.

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

Do we understand from what the Minister said that he expects the fair rent to be less than the figure which a valuer would give as a fair rent?

Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East

This is what I said on Report and what I repeat: if we had taken the advice of the Opposition and had manned our tribunals exclusively with valuers, or if we had arranged that all the rent officers were valuers, if all those who were seeking conciliation from the point of view of the tenant were professional valuers, then anybody who knows anything about tenants also knows that the tenant would never have accepted that as fair. It may be that the tenant has a one-sided view. The valuer must have his rôle but not a dominant rôle if it is to appear to be a fair court.

I want to sum up in a few sentences what the Bill does. It will have a very big effect. It will provide full security straight away, when it receives the Royal Assent, for 900,000 people in houses decontrolled by the 1957 Act. Those people will have their rents frozen immediately so that rises in rents are impossible. That must have an important effect, and it means that in this respect the Rent Act will have been repealed.

We shall proceed as fast as we can, I hope over the whole country, to establish tribunals to determine a fair rent. This is an enormous job. Simultaneously and in addition to that rent regulation, we are providing basic security for the first time for millions of people who have not had it in the past. We shall provide basic security against evictions not only for those who had security in the short-term Protection from Eviction Act but for all people living as licensees, all those who up to now could be thrown out without due process of law; they will have that security. In addition, we have spread it even wider. We shall make it a crime even in respect of a lodger; anybody who is the rightful occupier of a house in the broadest sense will from now on be protected against people who bully, people who persecute, people who try to force him to pay a higher rent or to get him out of the place. That will become a crime. Those people are to be protected throughout the country.

I will just put this thought to the House. Sometimes the so-called truisms of British life are gross lies, and it may be that one of the greatest pieces of self deception has been the phrase that an Englishman's home is his castle. As applied to a very small minority it may have been true, and it may be that we all had rights as citizens under habeas corpus and due process of law, but when, under that law, into millions of people's castles the landlord could enter, and get rid of them out of their homes, with due process of law, I would have thought this was in itself a major change.

I have every belief that when this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament it will be seen for what it is, giving a fundamental right—and I agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), the tone of whose speech I very much appreciated—which is scores of years overdue to people who ought to have it, and at the same time creating in that difficult area of the privately rented house conditions in which the cold war between the landlord and the tenant may end in a fair deal for both.

(1) Where a water company is liable to account for and pay income tax in respect of dividends paid by it in the year 1966–67 or either of the two following years of assessment, the Minister of Housing and Local Government may, subject to such conditions as he sees fit to impose, make to the Board such payments towards satisfaction of that liability as are authorised by this section, and his expenses of so doing shall be defrayed out of moneys provided by Parliament.
(2) In computing the payments authorised by this section to be made for the benefit of a water company in respect of dividends paid in any year of assessment, there shall be deducted from the amount of the dividends paid in the year—
(a) the amount of any franked investment income received by the company in the year; and
(b) forty per cent. of the related profits on which the company is charged to corporation tax.
(3) For purposes of subsection (2) (b) above the related profits on which the company is charged to corporation tax are, in relation to dividends paid for any period, the amount of the profits on which the company is so charged in respect of that period (ascertained, if need be, by division and apportionment or aggregation of amounts for accounting periods wholly or partly comprised in that period), but

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.