Lords Amendment No. 1: In page 1, line 11, leave out from "London" to end of line and insert:
£350, in the Special Review Areas in England and Wales (as defined by section 17(1)(a) and (2), section 25 and the Third Schedule to the Local Government Act 1958) £200, and elsewhere in Great Britain £150;
I beg to move, That the House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment.
This matter was one of the themes which ran through our discussion of the Rent Bill right from the earliest moments in Committee down to the finishing stages on Report. The arguments about the exact level at which to fix the rateable value limits to regulated tenancies were exhaustively discussed. It is true that in its debates another place got a good deal nearer to us than the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) and his right hon. and hon. Friends in this House. I recognize that the approach which has been made in the Lords Amendment is an attempt to be reasonable about the position.
The suggestion in the Amendment is that there should be three, instead of two, levels: first, there should be London; then there should be the special review areas—this is an attempt to arrive at an area which is recognised as being one of overcrowding and shortage and an area in which there is need for rent regulation; and, finally, the rest of the country. The fact that the other place, with all its skill and experience, did not manage to find a better yardstick than the special review areas shows the difficulty in doing it.
I do not think that the special review area basis would stand up for one moment as a definition and criterion of an area which should have the higher rateable value limit. The Merseyside special review area is a case in point. It would mean that Runcorn and Widnes would come within the higher rateable value limit, whereas St. Helens and Warrington would be outside it. That is a position for which it would be difficult to find any kind of justification, because, if anything, I should think that in the bigger towns there is more likely to be a need for this provision. Therefore, we have reluctantly to abandon the idea of having a middle kingdom represented by the special review areas in which the higher rateable value will be applied. So we are left with London and the rest of the country.
I do not want again to go over all the complicated debate which took place about the pros and cons of different figures. I want only to recapitulate what seem to me to be the main points. First of all, my right hon. Friend has power to reduce the rateable value where he feels there is no need to keep the higher figure. Therefore, when one is uncertain, as, frankly, we are, because nobody really knows, till we get down to examine the position in detail and we get the rent officers looking at the problem, how many cases there will be, how many disputes there are going to be, it is prudent to keep the higher figure, with the idea that we can reduce it if the flow of experience shows that it is desirable. That is better than starting with a low figure and then learning from bitter experience that one has miscalculated and having a whole range of property which one would like to cover but cannot.
The other argument which is advanced is that in the higher ranges we have got a free market because rich men are negotiating with rich men, and rich men can employ expert advisers, and between them they can have a battle. It is great fun for all and there is a free market. I do not know really that that is a very reliable argument. I must say that in our fan mail when this was under discussion in another place we did get one or two letters from people who very much objected to the idea that they were to lose the protection of this rent regulation. Therefore I was surprised to find that apparently there are unsatisfied tenants among the people who are paying high rents, as there are among those who are paying lower rents. I think the explanation is that it does not at all follow that because one is in a very expensive house one likes paying for a very expensive house or that one can afford to pay for it. As long as there is a shortage of accommodation people have to take places which are beyond what they would like to pay, and they are very often the people who feel it most. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman when he examines his fan mail from people on the implication of rates—he has made some very moving speeches about this recently—will agree that many people who complain most strongly about the burden of rates are those in the higher bracket of ratepayers.
Therefore, I think that the safest thing to do is to keep the figure in the Bill as it left this House, with, as I say—and I repeat it—the possibility that if it is found later on by my right hon. Friend that we have been over-cautious then it will be possible to adjust it downwards later.
As the hon. Gentleman the Joint Parliamentary-Secretary said, this subject has been exhaustively discussed at earlier stages of this Bill, and we are now a good deal nearer on the figures with the figures in the Lords Amendment and those which the Government have in the Bill. In fact, I would have thought that with this Amendment we had got so near that for the Government to oppose the Lords Amendment is not firm government or administrative determination, as they may have us believe, but just pig-headed obstinacy.
Time and time again in the course of this Bill the Government have told us, "We put limits in Clause 1 higher than necessary. We know there is no shortage of housing at those very high figures, £400 rateable value in London and £200 elsewhere, but we want the rent officers to see what a free market looks like, and so we are going to bring some of the free market into the regulation. We are not putting on control for control's sake."
I would have thought this a typical example of doing it, of saying that it is better that there should be too much control rather than too little. On this side, we say that there should be neither too much nor too little. We want the Government to get it right.
In drafting the Bill, the Government set certain limits to its application. They could have said, "We are not going to put any limits on all houses which are privately let which come within regulation." But the Government did not. They said that dwellings with a rateable value exceeding £400 in London and £200 elsewhere should remain outside the scheme. So the principle of laying down a limit by rateable value is not in dispute. It is just that the Lords Amendment in this case draws the line at a different point, sets the limit at a different level, and on this side of the House we think it is now at the right level in the Lords Amendment. Of course, at this stage I do not think there really is any argument on a matter of principle. I shall endeavour to confine my words to matters of practice, to what is practicable, in bringing in this scheme of regulation.
Let us make it quite clear that we on this side have said that where there is a housing shortage we like the scheme of regulation; we prefer it to control; but we want to make it workable, and we do not think it will be workable if it is operated to excess, and if the scheme is extended too much. It should be restricted to where it is absolutely necessary. The Government appear to be suspicious about any restriction of the scheme at all. They, therefore—I understand the argument—reject this Lords Amendment, which may remove quite a small area where regulation is not unnecessary, but which at least would restrict the work of the rent officers, the work of the rent assessment committees, the whole scheme, to a field where it will be of some real use, where it is of real need.
In opposing this Amendment in another place and trying to justify the figures of £400 rateable value in London and £200 elsewhere two arguments were put forward by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources. Those two arguments, if I understand them correctly, were, first, that at the last election the Labour Party made a certain promise to repeal the Rent Act and unless the rateable values were fixed at these figures the Government would not be carrying out that promise. He said that
what we are doing by this Bill is effectively carrying out an election promise to repeal
the 1957 Act."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 22nd July, 1965; Vol. 268, c. 922.]
Explaining his argument he said:
The percentages I gave related to a gross value. They are arrived at so as to produce in the country as a whole the same result as existed under the 1957 control.
That is, pre-1957 Rent Act.
After all, if we did not at any rate try to do that, we should hardly be carrying out the promise we made to repeal the 1957 Act itself."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 22nd July, 1965; Vol. 268, c. 925.]
In presenting that point he said:
If we are going to apply it at all, then let us see that we apply it fully and see that there is the power to reduce the amount under a later clause by such steps and in such areas as are necessary."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 22nd July, 1965; Vol. 268, c. 928.]
I think that those are pretty poor arguments to justify an extension of the scheme beyond its real needs.
Let me look for a moment at this idea of restoring the pre-1957 position to carry out an election pledge. If one is dealing with people, this is a completely phoney idea. Eight years after 1957 one is not giving back to identical individuals anything which one thinks was taken away from them in 1957. This seemed to be the sort of appeal which the Minister was trying to put over in a speech which he made outside this House a few days ago—that he was giving something back to individuals who lost it in 1957. That is not so. This is purely an exercise with property, not with people. It is an exercise to restore the pre-1957 position.
The exercise, as I understand it, is this: before 1957 there were 160,000 privately-owned houses above the rateable value limit of control. The Government's figures in the Bill of rateable value £400 in London and £200 elsewhere will leave the same number out of regulation, so, hey presto, the Rent Act is repealed. This is rather a kid's game at figures. That 160,000 which is to remain outside regulation is taking the country as a whole. The figure given includes London, and we are told that pre-1957 30,000 London dwellings were left outside control. Under the Bill 15,000 London dwellings will remain outside regulation, but this disregards all new dwellings which may be brought within it.
The argument put forward to justify the opposition to the Lords Amendment merely dealt with the numbers left out of regulation by the Government's drafting of the Bill, and was aimed at showing that that was about the same figure as was left out of control before the 1957 Rent Act. Let me repeat the figures for London. Before 1957, 30,000 houses were outside control. Under the Bill as drafted by the Government there will be 15,000 such houses. My estimate is that 39,000 London dwellings will be left outside control by the Lords Amendment. As a fact that figure is very much nearer the Government's professed object of restoring the pre-1957 position with regard to London, so they can be assured that if they accept the Lords Amendment, in London at any rate they will be very near to keeping their promise about the Rent Act. With regard to the rest of England and Wales—and I omit Scotland because it is almost impossible to find the right figures when one is talking about rateable value—about 145,000 will be left out by the Bill as drafted, as against 130,000 before the 1957 Act.
Those figures relate to privately-owned dwellings within the rateable value limits, whatever tenure they may be, whether they be let or whether they be owner-occupied. Taking the Milner Holland Report figures of the number of privately owned houses which are let in London, we get anything between one-quarter and a half of that figure, so we are talking about leaving out of the regulation scheme one-quarter to one-half of 160,000 dwellings, which is 40,000 to 80,000. That is quite a substantial figure when represented by the work which the rent officers will have to undertake, and which the rent assessment committees will have to review from time to time, and if, as I am suggesting, it is necessary to bring those within the scheme, then we are relieving the scheme of some unnecessary work by omitting them.
But is that the right way to justify the restoration of pre-1957 control—to count those which are left out of control or those which are left out of regulation? Is not this another rather "phoney" idea? Why not count those which are brought in? After all, we are trying to set up a scheme, and trying to make it workable, and I should have thought that the right argument was: we are leaving so many within the scheme, it will be able to cope with them, and it is necessary to bring in the number.
The figure given by the Government spokesman in another place, and also earlier in these proceedings by the right hon. Gentleman himself, was that in England and Wales 800,000 dwellings would come within regulation, including 300,000 in Greater London. I cannot see how those figures work out, because there are 3¾ million rented dwellings, of which 2½ million are under control, which, between control and the top figure of rented dwellings, leaves 1½ million uncontrolled at present, of which only about 40,000 to 80,000 are to be left outside control.
If one works out those figures, they do not all add up, but I will take the Government's figure of the number being brought into regulation, with the qualification that I think a lot more will come in. Rent officers will have to operate 80,000 houses.
That brings me to the second argument put forward against the Amendment in another place, namely, that it does not hurt anybody if we bring into regulation more than is necessary. It does. It hurts those for whom regulation is necessary, because it clogs up the machinery. It clogs up the system of regulation if those who do not need this sort of protection are brought in.
If the figures are right, we are setting up a system to deal with 800,000 rented houses—300,000 in London, and 500,000 in the rest of England.
Will the hon. Gentleman tell me why that should clog up the machinery? If there is no need for assistance, the case will not be brought before the machinery. Therefore, I cannot see any truth in what he is saying.
There is no need to protect people of this type—I shall elaborate that a little later—but if they are given the right to go to a rent officer or to a rent assessment committee to have their rent regulated, many will exercise that right. No one will be able to refuse them. Those who exercise that right will have no real need to do so, but they will clog up the machinery.
The hon. Gentleman is denying what he has just said. If these people can bring their cases before the machinery, presumably they are being overcharged, and therefore they have a right to be included, as we on this side of the House wish them to be.
The hon. Gentleman is saying that every plaintiff who brings a claim in court wins his case, which is not so.
The argument that I would like to put forward is that it is far more important to prepare for the future of bringing controlled dwellings within the scheme of regulation than it is to deal with higher rateable values and rents which do not need the protection of regulation. After all, as I understand him, the Minister's intentions are to bring within regulation some two and a half million controlled properties. That will be beneficial to all when it can be operated by the scheme. So we do not want to use the scheme for delaying that operation by bringing into the scheme the higher rented properties, and we can relieve the scheme of something between 10,000 and 20,000 properties outside London and between 6,000 and 12,000 within London.
I want to say a word about why we support the Lords' Amendments in what the Parliamentary Secretary described as the middle kingdom, with a particular figure referring to the development districts.
I beg the Parliamentary Secretary's pardon: the special review areas. They are mainly the conurbations where there are severe housing shortages, and one has to draw the line somewhere. If the line takes in Runcorn and Widnes and leaves out St. Helens, it is a matter of drawing a line at some point. Incidentally, that proves the point that I hope to make, that when you introduce a new industry into one of the special review areas there is a scramble for housing. To go back on the introduction of industry into Merseyside, when Fords came in there was more of a scramble for housing in Runcorn and Widnes than there was in St. Helens. Protection should therefore be a little higher within special review areas than elsewhere to cope with that situation, and we have set it at the figure at which the Government have set it in the rest of the country.
We are talking in these figures in terms of rateable values. If we knew exactly what that meant in terms of rents, we should all be a lot wiser and we should probably be able to put our arguments forward much better. Various factors have been given as the multipliers of rateable value and gross value in order to discover what they mean in terms of rental value, but, as the right hon. Gentleman the Minister said when we came to the fair rent Clause in earlier debates, he could not accept any considerations based on rateable values. So it is extremely difficult to work from rateable values to rents, and I do not think that one multiplier could apply, certainly to Greater London. One can choose an average figure, but the average figure takes in such very wide extremes that it is not of very great value.
It is even worse if you try to apply an average figure to the rest of the country. I think that my guess is as good as anyone else's, and I believe that the Government's figure of a rateable value of £400 in Greater London means that we are dealing with premises which would not let anywhere in London at under £600 per annum, plus rates. That means that we are talking about people with incomes of between £2,500 and £3,000 per year, if one takes something like 25 per cent. of a person's income as being spent on housing accommodation. We are not dealing necessarily with what the Parliamentary Secretary described as rich men bargaining with rich men. I admit that here we are in the class of what might be called the middle income group, of the £2,500 to £5,000 a year man. I have no doubt that such people do have financial difficulties with increasing costs of accommodation, certainly in London. But we should not use this expensive system of regulation, with rent officers and rent assessment committees, for the benefit of people with that sort of income.
Milner Holland found no shortages of rents at over £500, a year in London, and that should be our limit under the Bill, translated into rateable values for London and elsewhere as best we can. If the Government argue that there is a shortage of those rents, the remedy is to let the developers get on with the production of dwellings for that type of person. But that seems to be beyond the capacity of the Government. By cutting house-building, they are only causing the rents and prices of houses to go up, and then they use the increases as an excuse for putting on controls.
Our whole case in support of the Lords' Amendment is that it draws the line at the right point and prevents the regulation machinery, which can otherwise be of great value to those in hardship, being clogged up by unnecessary cases.
The Parliamentary Secretary and the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) rightly said that this subject has been exhaustively discussed at every stage of the Bill, and I do not wish to prolong the discussion. I might not have said anything at all, except that the hon. Gentleman rather provoked me with his remark about the Government opposing the Lords' Amendment because of pig-headed obstinacy. It is the Lords who have displayed pig-headed obstinacy in putting the Amendment into the Bill in the face of all the reasonable and thorough arguments which took place in Committee while the Bill was passing through the House.
To me, it is a fairly transparent device to keep altering the figure by £50 so as to bring it closer to the original rateable value limit in the Bill, which will enable us to return to the old subject once again, when I should have thought that we had had quite enough discussion about it. The Minister has said time and again that if experience shows that any of these rateable value limits which are set out in the Bill are too high, he will be ready to use his powers to reduce them to an appropriate level, as and when that evidence is available. I would point out to the hon. Member for Crosby that no power exists in the Bill for the Minister to increase the rateable values if we agree with the Lords' Amendment and subsequently find that we have made a mistake. That would be irreparable, whereas if they are left as they were before the Lords put in their Amendment, it can be dealt with in the way that the Minister has described.
No doubt the hon. Member for Crosby has great knowledge of the situation in Greater London, but it has not been proved to my satisfaction that free market conditions apply at the level of rateable value set out in the Bill. Although Milner Holland has been quoted in support of the present proposition, I understand that the Ministry has information which shows that there is serious doubt about the conclusion of Milner Holland, and certainly if the hon. Gentleman has studied the debate in another place with his usual thoroughness he will have noticed that the multiplier used to get from rateable values to rents which was quoted in the House was disputed by the Government spokesman in the other place. He said that the figure should not be between 2 and 2½ times the rateable value, but something between 1 and 1½ times. If there is that wide difference of opinion as to what the figures are, I suggest that by far the most sensible solution is to leave the rateable value as it is. Even if we admit that free market conditions apply in Greater London at £400 rateable value, we need not accept the Opposition's argument. I hope hon. Members from other parts of the country will forgive me if I relate my remarks mainly to Greater London—it helps to concentrate one's thinking.
The Minister has explained many times that he has purposely set the limits rather high so that we can get experience of what the rents are at the free market level. Therefore, if £400 is within this bracket, as the hon. Member for Crosby claims, so much the better, because it gives a guide as to what the fair rent should be somewhat lower in the scale. I do not say that there should be an exact arithmetical relationship between the two, but if the fair rent of a dwelling-house of rateable value of £400 is, say, £600 per annum, the fair rent of a dwelling-house of rateable value £300 would be about £450. I would not say that this is an exact relationship, but it does give rent officers and rent assessment committees some guidance. There is available very little information on this relationship between rateable values and rents, and we shall obtain it by setting this level of £400.
I find it very difficult to understand why the Opposition have continually and violently objected to all these rateable value limits. I cannot imagine what social or moral injustice they think will arise from setting these limits. The only substantial argument I heard from the hon. Member for Crosby just now was that relating to the scarcity of experts. Perhaps he would refresh his memory by looking at paragraph 6 of Schedule 3, which sets out what is supposed to happen when the landlord and the tenant agree on the fair rent which the hon. Gentleman says ought to apply at these levels.
By this paragraph, the landlord and the tenant jointly make application to the rent officer who
… after making such inquiry, if any, as he thinks fit … may register that rent without further proceedings …
What could be simpler than that?
This idea that the rent officers will be grossly overburdened dealing with people in dwellings in this rateable value bracket is quite ludicrous. I do not think that they will all exploit the machinery in the way the hon. Gentleman has described. In nearly every case, the reasonable thing will be for the landlord and the tenant to go jointly to the rent officer and register the fair rent, and that is an end of the matter. The rent officers can then get on with their work lower down the rateable value scale.
If there is any exploitation—and I am glad that the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) brought this out—if the hon. Member for Crosby is wrong and there is any exploitation at the top end of the scale, by all means let us give the tenants the opportunity to use the machinery in the Bill. I do not believe that to be the case, but those people have every right to use the machinery, and it is correct to leave things as they are.
In short, it is quite unrealistic to say that we shall clog the machinery by leaving the rateable value limits as they were, at £400 in Greater London. I wish I could get this into the hon. Gentleman's head and that he would accept the position. As it is, I think that he and his colleagues only pursue this question in order to be difficult and to delay the Bill to the very last stage because, fundamentally, they do not agree with the principle of the Bill but dare not say so on the Floor of the House as they know how unpopular it would make them with their constituents. So all the time they pay lip service to the principles of the Bill but all the time they think of the landlords.
This is a bad and thoroughly reactionary Amendment. It is natural that Conservatives in both Houses should unite to reduce the area of the Bill's application. Speaking personally, far from reducing its application I would extend it. As West German experience shows, we get involved in tremendous trouble when we try to divide the country into areas of less shortage and greater shortage. This Amendment would make the situation even worse.
The main argument advanced by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) is that no protection is needed in these higher ranges. I doubt that, but, if no protection is needed tenants will not seek it. Members of the Opposition are being very contradictory in what they propose this afternoon. I agree with the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) that enough has been said on this point in our lengthy earlier proceedings, and I, too, cannot avoid the suspicion that the main object of this and some of the other Amendments is to delay the operation of the Bill—
There is no doubt that the other House could have got this Bill through at the beginning of August but, as a result of delay there, tenants have been paying exorbitant rents for four months. Should the Lords further delay the Bill for a year, as they could if they did not accept the views of this House within the next few days, all our work would have gone for nothing. We would have to start right at the beginning again, and that would mean a delay not just of four months but of sixteen months before this beneficent Bill became law. The Lords are on very dangerous ground in thwarting the will of the elected representatives—
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) has made that point about delaying the Bill, because I had intended to preface my remarks by saying that, as we want to get the Bill through quickly, let us get the Lords Amendments agreed as they are. I thoroughly disagree with the statement of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) that Conservative Members seek to pay lip-service to the Bill but do not support it. We have put down many Amendments to the Bill and have improved it immensely. It is only fair that the hon. Member should withdraw that remark. The Minister himself has said that some of our Amendments have improved the Bill; indeed, some of the Amendments made in the Lords have arisen from proposals we made.
For the Parliamentary Secretary to say that he is preventing rich men from arguing with rich men is one of the most extraordinary arguments ever put forward on behalf of a Socialist Government. He ignores the fact that a number of landlords are not rich men, and that a number of the properties we have in mind are owned by very respectable property companies, the shares of which are held by many pensions funds and small investors. The Government get into a great muddle over the Bill, and over this Amendment, because of their complete belief that no private enterprise will ever again build flats for rent. If they could only get that idea out of their heads it would help enormously.
I support the Lords Amendment for the basic reason that if this figure is pitched too high we will stop private builders, private property companies, building flats to rent. There is still a demand for this type of flat, but while we can expect the private investors—the insurance companies and property companies—to build flats, they will not build them inside the controlled range, because they can see that the investment for their shareholders could be counteracted by a rent officer. They will, therefore, build flats above this range. They will then build flats in a market which is saturated already.
The Government should take a broader look at this matter and encourage people to build flats in a range where they are most needed. Unless the Government do so, every flat built for rent will be council property. They have to get below this figure, not above it. Do they accept the Milner Holland Report or not? I thought that the Government accepted it. The Milner Holland Committee has reported that in this range there is a normal free market.
I have not got the Report with me and I must accept the Minister's correction, but that does not invalidate my argument. We must give encouragement, particularly at this top range, to get private enterprise to build.
Time and again in the last Parliament I made passionate appeals to the Labour Party to make a statement on what they would do about rent controls, guaranteeing that large numbers of flats would be built if the position were made clear. Let us keep this figure at a point where it can be controlled if control is wanted and not restrict new development.
I had not intended to intervene until I heard the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain). I am not surprised at the kind of argument he has put forward, because it was typical of the kind of argument he used in all our debates relating to reasonable rentals. From his point of view it does not matter whether the rent is reasonable or not, let free enterprise have its fling and let people build to let at such prices as they want to get.
I am sure that the hon. Member does not want to put words in my mouth. I did not say that. What I said was that we must get the greatest amount of competition in areas where competition can play a part.
I appreciate that—so let the rentals be such as are available in a free, competitive market, irrespective of whether they are fair and reasonable. I gather that that is the view the hon. Member takes. I think quite differently. This Bill was introduced with a view to protecting tenants, not to give them tenancies at an unreasonably low figure, but at a reasonable figure. If the hon. Member believes in reasonable rentals he has nothing to fear about the rateable value being extended to the range which the other place has attempted to reduce.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) intervened during the speech of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), the hon. Member for Crosby said that not all plaintiffs succeed. The question is not whether all plaintiffs succeed but whether a tenant should be entitled to be a plaintiff. The hon. Member knows as well as I do that, although there may be abuses in litigation when a person seeks an inquiry, the use of the system should not be denied to anyone who feels that he has a legitimate cause for complaint. That is all we are asking.
Those who occupy these houses will not rush indiscriminately for the fun of it into inquiries relating to their rentals. If they are satisfied that the rent is a reasonable one and they are earning enough for it to be considered reasonable, they will not seek to use the machinery. On the other hand, surely if a person is earning £2,000 or £2,500 he may have very heavy obligations, feel that he is hard done by and that it is not proper that he should pay the rent he is called upon to pay. He should then be entitled to use the machinery made available by this Bill.
I hope that, in the circumstances, hon. Members will realise that there is a lot to be said for this. In spite of reasoned arguments put forward from this side of the House, attempts are being made to throw a sledge hammer into the machinery of this Measure. Hon. Members opposite are seeking to hold it up irrespective of whether they say yea or nay. Their attitude is an indication of how they are trying to prevent this Measure getting on to the Statute Book. They are seeking an excuse so that later they may be able to wriggle out of the position if this Measure is prevented from going through. I appeal to them for their own sakes, for when they face their constituents they will find they are in a sorry position if they pursue this kind of action.
We have heard two very extraordinary speeches. One was made by the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) and the other by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock). The hon. Member for Salford, East seems to have taken on the mantle of the Socialist Party. I have been in this House for many years and I now find the Socialist Party fighting the battle of those who earn more than £2,500 a year.
The hon. Member for Orpington pontificated for about 10 minutes on the way in which we should debate anything in this House. He suggested that we should not debate these Amendments. What are we here for if we are not to debate matters which come to us? I have no doubt that later today we shall be debating matters put forward by the Government in the House of Lords and we shall go on debating them until we are satisfied. Let us have no more talk about delaying the Bill.
The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) was doing the same kind of thing. Why is there this sudden departure as to our usual practice of debate on Lords Amendments? Are we supposed to deal with Lords Amendments in 10 minutes and consider that to be the end of the story? If so, we might as well go home. Discussion of these matters should be in the House of Commons. As to the suggestion that the House of Lords might obstruct our procedure, we all know that if we complete consideration of these Amendments tonight or tomorrow morning, the Bill will be ready for the Royal Assent later this week.
The hon. Member for Orpington spoke about limits set in the Bill and the possibility that the Government, certainly in the initial stages, might not use them. He has more faith in the Government than I have. I am certain that the Government will go up to the £400 limit in London and £200 in the rest of the country.
I did not say that the Government would start with the limits as set out in the Bill. I said that we have an undertaking from the Minister himself, which is on the record in the OFFICIAL REPORT, that if he finds in the light of experience that it is not necessary to have the regulation machinery applying up to £400 he will be prepared to reduce it later.
That is so naïve that it is not true. I do not know how it is to be discovered from experience that the upper limits are not needed, if they are not first put into operation.
One anomaly which will arise is in connection with blocks of flats of varying rents, some rents being as high as £600, £700 and £800. I postulate a block of flats where six flats will be subject to this Measure when enacted but six other flats in the block will be outside the Act. This is the sort of thing the rent officer will discover. The tenant of one flat in the block will be asked what his rateable figure is. He will say £425. He will be told that the rent officer cannot deal with him because he is outside the Measure. The man will reply, "But you dealt with my neighbour". The rent officer will answer that that was because his rate figure was £385.
We are not arguing about £50 only. The suggestion that we are quibbling about the difference between £350 and £400 is nonsense. It is much more than that. The extra £50 will probably bring in a much larger percentage of the higher rental flats. It does not go up by £50. Fifty pounds in this connotation in London probably means another £250 in rent. I cannot speak for my right hon. and hon. Friends, but I regard this as a very serious matter. I should like to see the £350 reduced to £250.
Whether the Minister believes this or not, I believe in the Bill. I believe that it will be a good Bill if it is properly drawn. However, like so many Socialist good ideas, it started off on the wrong foot and it has been handled in the wrong way. I prophesy that an amending Act will be needed within 12 months to correct the mistakes in this Measure. I should like to see the Bill work. I am just as keen on it as the Minister is. What I am not keen on is bogging it down with a lot of Socialist doctrines and spoiling the things which could be done properly by the Bill for people in accommodation of smaller rateable values. I hope that we shall divide on this.
I do not know why hon. Members opposite are getting so hot under the collar about what seems to me to be an extremely petty Amendment. The Amendment deals with the position in this country in two parts—one in relation to London, and the other in relation, broadly speaking, to outside London, though it divides it up.
There seems to be no difference between the Government and the Opposition as to what the proper maximum should be for the area outside London. We are agreed that it should be £200. The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), whose experience outside London is very considerable, accepts that. The only difference between the two sides of the House as to the area outside London is that the Lords Amendment would split the area into two parts, one having a maximum of £200 and the other a maximum of £150. In other words, the Lords want to do my right hon. Friend's job for him under Clause 12, but to do it in advance in the form of legislation rather than leaving it to him to decide in what areas it is right and proper that that maximum of £200 should be reduced to something lower.
The Lords do it in a way which the hon. Member for Crosby has recognised is completely anomalous, because they do it in such a way that areas like St. Helens and Warrington, which the hon. Gentleman agrees have a greater problem than areas such as Runcorn, are necessarily to have a statutory lower maximum than areas which are in the Special Review Areas referred to in the Amendment. Why not leave it to my right hon. Friend to do the thing, not in an anomalous way, but in a sensible way and to decide, if necessary within quite a short period, that the figure should be reduced for areas outside London which do not justify the maximum of £200? Why incorporate it in the Bill in a way which is bound to creat anomalies?
There is no difference in principle between the two sides of the House as to the area outside London, apart from the desire of the Opposition, as it appears, to insert an anomaly into the Bill. Why should we dispute about that?
Perhaps I might be permitted to say to the hon. Member for Crosby that it is possible that from personal experience I know more about the London area than he does, great as his knowledge is. I recognise the extent of his knowledge. I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's argument to try to discover what was the concrete point which persuaded him that the maximum should be £350 for London rather than £400. I heard him say—I agree with him—that it is right, if possible, that the correct figure should be arrived at, not a figure which is either too high or too low. That is perfectly right, but it is a generalisation which does not advance any argument. I did not hear any concrete reason to suggest that £400 is too high and that £350 is the right figure.
The hon. Gentleman's judgment may be, and probably is, better than mine. I can go only by what I know of my own constituency, which is in south-east London and is a marginal constituency which contains both working class and middle class areas. A very great number of my constituents are in the income bracket to which the hon. Gentleman referred—£2,500 a year and upwards towards £3,500 and £4,000. Many of them are professional people with families of young children. From my own personal knowledge and experience, many of them suffer considerable hardship, because they have to live in London as near to the centre as they can, often because of the nature of their work, because they are teachers, doctors, lawyers, and such people.
Under the present system they are forced to occupy accommodation at rents higher than those which they can reasonably afford to pay and higher than those which they ought to pay if there were equality between supply and demand. I am confident that it was for this very reason, to a large degree, that so many of them voted for me at the General Election rather than for the perpetuation of a rent system which continued decontrol and left the free market where it stood. They realised—they told me so—that it is only by regulation, not only of the lower rented properties but of the type of property which they were occupying, that fair rents could be introduced.
I am confident that the Government's judgment as to the figure for London is right. It is based on facts which are identical with my own experience. I have heard nothing from hon. Members opposite to suggest that the figure which the Government have inserted in the Bill is wrong.
The hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin) said, very honestly, that he can speak only from his own experience in his constituency. I accept that. That can be the only explanation of his complete misunderstanding of the position in the rest of the country and his belief that there is no difference between the two sides of the House about the limit which should apply in the rest of the country.
I feel inclined to support the proposition that we should disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment, though for a very different reason from that which is motivating the Government. My reason is that I believe that the Lords have not gone nearly far enough in this Amendment.
Their Lordships have acted courageously in lifting a corner of this blanket control which the Socialists want to impose for control's sake. Unfortunately, they have not lifted it sufficiently. If we consider the debates which took place in another place we see that the proposer and supporters of the Amendment confirm what I am saying, but for some reason their courage failed them at the last moment. Lest the Minister be alarmed about my attitude, I hasten to add that I have decided not to support them in this proposition because I feel that the right hon. Gentleman might be embarrassed, since I do not believe that he intends to disagree with the Lords in this Amendment because it might jeopardise his Bill. I am, therefore, thankful for small mercies.
I suggest that we consider the implications of the Bill in the rest of the country, outside London and the big cities, because obviously hon. Gentlemen opposite have no idea of what is happening elsewhere. [Interruption.] I am a Scottish hon. Member and I know only too well what is happening north of the Border. We argued in Committee—and their Lordships argued this—that the proposed figures were far too high. I will not follow my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) in his flights into higher mathematics, but I recall that we did one exercise in mathematics in the Scottish Committee when the Under-Secretary suggested that for Scotland the appropriate figure to bring rent control to what it was before 1957 would be £125. That figure was mentioned in another place, too, but the noble Lord who referred to it evidently decided not to press that figure but to accept a compromise sum. I suggest that for Scotland £150 is a more than generous amount.
We need to look at this whole matter again. The subject has been argued at considerable length and it was disclosed by the Scottish Office that the number of houses which would be unaffected by the Bill, had the figure of £200 been used, would be 500 or 15 per county. In other words, it would consist of the stately mansions and baronial castles of Scotland. If the Amendment is accepted—and I recall that the Scottish Office has not been able to help me with the figures—it will, to the best of my calculations, relieve another 500 houses. So, instead of the figure being 15 per county relieved, it will be about 30.
Hon. Members who represent London constituencies may not know that the counties of Scotland are very large places. It would appear to me that there is a distinct possibility of the owner of a castle or stately mansion in upper Deeside or upper Donside, with wonderful grouse-shooting and magnificent salmon fishing, quarrelling with his tenant. If £150 to £200 is the present rateable value, a shooting or fishing tenant—perhaps someone from London—may quarrel with his landlord, the owner of the baronial house with all the amenities that some of them offer, and may invoke the protection of this Bill.
Until we bring some sense into the Bill we may well have the extraordinary situation of some wealthy man from London who, having taken to shooting in one of these baronial castles, appeals to the appropriate rent officer in Aberdeen—and a retired civil servant or trade union official will have to go to the baronial estate perhaps 60 to 70 miles away to try to sort things out.
Let us look further, over the mountains, at the County of Inverness, which includes many houses of the type I have described and which extends to the Isle of Skye and the Outer Hebrides. Here we will have the extraordinary situation of a magnificent castle, in the Outer Hebrides, with wonderful sporting amenities, being subject to a similar quarrel between the landlord and his millionaire tenant from London about the rent.
Consider what would happen in this event. Imagine a retired trade union official from Inverness, or probably Glasgow, having to make the two- or three-day journey to the Outer Island to settle a dispute between two millionaires. Then he has the two- or three-day journey back. Considering these possibilities, the Bill is beyond the limits of commonsense.
Hon. Members who represent large cities and centres of population agree that there is good reason for the Bill. But to speak about an upper limit of £200, or even of £150, for the remote parts of the Highlands is absolute nonsense, and the Under-Secretary knows that full well. As I say, I felt inclined to disagree with the Lords in the Amendment because they have not gone far enough, but I am prepared to assist the Government on this occasion so that they can get their Bill. Also, as I pointed out, I am thankful for small mercies and suggest that we agree with the Lords in the Amendment.
I will not attempt to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) into the millionaire paradise north of the Border. I wish to concentrate my remarks to those areas where the Bill can, if it is a good Measure, have a really important and useful effect.
The hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin), whose constituency is next door to mine, expressed some very real fears which have existed in the minds of many people in London about the situation which exists at a certain end of the rented property market. Like the hon. and learned Gentleman, I have always felt that something should be done to protect those individuals.
The Clause and Amendment concern where we set our sights in giving this protection. The Government have suggested £400, which I believe is too high. I say that because that sum throws the protection net over people who do not need it. If the Government's intention is to produce legislation which will ensure a measure of security of tenure, together with a fair rent for those in real need, it is essential that the Bill should be aimed at those people.
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) suggested that the Minister had already stated that if he felt it unnecessary he would not go to the figure of £400, but that is a pious hope. Let us assume that the Minister does go to that figure. As has been pointed out, In the furnished market it would cover flats of £1,200 a year. It would take in people who are well able to look after themselves and, because it would do that, it would automatically place at a disadvantage those who cannot look after themselves. It would set up complicated machinery—rent officer, tribunals, courts; and we will be discussing those matters later—for a limited capacity. It must be wrong that the queue of people who are in need of this legislation should have to stand in that queue with people who do not need it.
It may be argued that the Amendment seeking to reduce the figure to £350 represents only a small difference, but it is a step in the right direction. I say that because if the Bill is passed containing the figure of £400 the effects will be twofold. The first is the one I have mentioned—a clogging of the machinery which is supposed to protect those in real need—and the second, much more important, is that it will destroy the private landlord. We will have the situation developing in London and other big cities where the only people who can live in them are either council tenants or the very rich.
It was stated quite unequivocally in the Milner Holland Report that the rôle of the private landlord was enormous, or, at least, important. He is an essential part of the equation if we are to conquer the chronic housing trouble in our big cities. Yet the Bill will introduce a system of legislation whereunder the private landlord controlling dwellings in London of rateable value up to £400 will face appeals to rent tribunals which, in many cases, through no particular malice on their part but merely because there is no clearly defined procedure in the Bill, will be fixing rents which are uneconomic to the landlord.
The Minister may feel that uneconomic to the landlord is synonymous with fair. It is not. We shall have a situation in which private landlords will say, "I am not going on with this; I shall get out"—I have had many letters from constituents pointing this out—and they will try to sell. I remind the House that the private landlord is not necessarily the big property developer. It is often the quite small property owner who has, say, two houses or flats or, perhaps, the lady who has one or two flats in her own house which she lets.
The private landlord will attempt to sell but will not be able to do so. No doubt, if the procedure at present being followed is continued, the local authorities will be encouraged to buy the property for their own use.
The Minister nods his assent, and we know very well that the right hon. Gentleman's intention is to cast the local authority net as widely as possible. I shall not argue that now, but let us assume that there is a situation of credit restriction such as we have now and the local authorities are not in a financial position to buy the large number of houses appearing on the market. The owners will not be able to sell, and the rents will be fixed at a level so low as to be no longer economic, presumably, at a level comparable to the rents being paid by local authority tenants which are already heavily subsidised out of the rates. Thus, those houses and flats will once again turn into slums. The rented property in our big cities will gradually deteriorate, and we shall need something like the 1957 Rent Act to get them up to standard again.
I beg the Minister, even at this late hour, to realise that the net he is casting is too wide. The intentions may be excellent, but, because of the sweeping powers which he has taken in this Bill, he will not solve the housing problem but will, in fact, aggravate it.
I support the view that this Amendment from the other place is a delaying tactic and nothing more, and it is supported with alacrity by hon. Members opposite who do not want to see the Bill go through. The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) said, "We must debate something until we are satisfied, and that is all we are doing it for". I remind him—perhaps he was not there—of what happened during the Committee stage of the Protection from Eviction Bill, which my right hon. Friend had said we should get through in one evening. On that occasion, we had the spectacle, from 3.30 in the afternoon onwards, of six hon. Members opposite rising to speak, one after the other, and then rising again one after the other, so that hon. Members on this side said practically nothing. By 2 o'clock in the morning we had got through half the Bill, and then the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) rose to say, in a very sweet and reasonable way, that he thought that the time had come to move to report Progress, which meant that we should have another sitting, because he and his hon. and right hon. Friends were very tired.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I have your guidance? Have we your leave, on the Lords Amendments to this Bill, to conduct a further debate on the procedure on the Prevention from Eviction Act? I should like to know, because I should have a number of contributions to make on that subject myself.
I was merely warning the House against a repetition of what occurred on that occasion. My right hon. Friend replied that we should get the Bill through by 8 o'clock in the morning, whereupon the other side got it through in three quarters of an hour.
The hon. Gentleman was good enough to refer to me. For his information, I was present during the whole of the proceedings on that Measure. Second, we are not supporting—
As at previous stages of the Bill, I must, in accordance with our custom, declare a possible interest in its subject matter as a member of the board of a company owning property.
The Parliamentary Secretary was his agreeable self in moving that we disagree with the Lords Amendment, but he was somewhat less communicative than usual. It will be necessary, before we part with the Amendment, whichever way we do, to elicit from the Government—I hope that it will be the Minister himself who will reply—
—certain further facts which are material to this matter. However, before I come to that, I must say a few words about three extraordinary speeches which we have had during the debate. First, there was the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) who got himself into a tremendous tizzy about the wickedness of another place, apparently, in debating this issue at all. The hon. Member seemed to think—it is an interesting reflection of Liberal philosophy—that, because a matter was so important that it had rightly been discussed in this House during the various stages of the Bill, the other place, for some reason, should be excluded altogether from even discussing it, never mind putting forward Amendments. One must make allowances for a Liberal Chief Whip who has recently lost 10 per cent. of his strength and not, perhaps, take him too seriously, but I thought that the hon. Gentleman surpassed even his usual high standards of naivety when he said, "It is all right because the Minister has actually said that, if he thinks it necessary to bring the figure down, he will do so".
We know this Minister. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. McNair-Wilson) reminded us, we know that, for perfectly sincere reasons of policy, with which we profoundly disagree, this is the last Minister to wish to give those who want to provide accommodation privately to let a chance to do so, and it is extremely improbable that he would exercise these powers in order to reduce the scope of the Bill. I shall not at this stage open up all the entertaining aspects of his so-called housing plan—I should be ruled out of order were I to attempt it—but it is the fact that a Minister who takes that view of the private landlord is extremely unlikely to exercise the powers in which the hon. Member for Orpington has such pathetic faith.
I come now to the speeches of the hon. Members for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) and Watford (Mr. Raphael Tuck). In any competition about who was doing most to hold up a Bill, I should give a prize to an hon. Member who, during the debate on it, discussed the provisions of a Measure which has been on the Statute Book for the best part of a year. But that is a purely personal view. I remind the hon. Member for Salford, East, as I reminded him, apparently fruitlessly, last Thursday, that the overwhelming majority of the Amendments now coming before us from another place were put in at the initiative of the Government. Speaking from memory, I think that only about half a dozen were Opposition Amendments, and the remainder of these 50 or so were Government Amendments. I say at once that some of those Amendments were put in to meet requests made from this side of the House, but some of them were made to deal with one or other of the many patent defects of this singularly ill-drafted Measure, and all of these, except a half dozen or so, were put in on the initiative of the Government.
I hope that when the Minister replies he will express instead some gratitude to another place for enabling him to make substantial improvements to the Bill which, unless he had gone back from our Report stage and asked leave to recommit the Bill, he would not have been able to do had not another place been available in which he could do it. Therefore, it comes ill from hon. Members opposite to take the line that the Lords in amending the Bill mainly on the initiative of the Government were doing so for some improper motive connected with delay.
I mentioned that it seemed to me that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary gave us a very limited indication of the Government's reasons for rejecting this proposal. One would have thought that if he were asking the House to reject Amendments which come much nearer to the Government's point of view than any of the Amendments discussed at earlier stages of the Bill he would have told us how many houses he thought would be affected. But he did not tell us. I hope that he will give us some indication of the number of houses, first of all, in London, and, secondly, in the rest of the country which would be affected if these Lords Amendments were accepted. We were given by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary in the Committee stage fairly precise estimates of the number of houses affected by the Bill in its then form. If those figures could be given to as on the basis of rateable values of £400 and £200, then it should be equally possible to give us at any rate approximate figures to show the difference from those which would result from adopting the rateable values embodied in the Lords Amendments.
It is the more surprising that that was not done when it appears that the Government have very precise figures in their minds as to many of the effects of the Bill. On 3rd July last, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), told a gathering at Hounslow that the effect of the Bill would be to reduce the rents of 300,000 houses in the London area. I do not know how he got that figure and knew what these independent authorities, the rent officers and the rent assessment committees, would do, but at any rate he gave those figures not off the cuff but in a document carefully described as a news release issued by the Labour Party Press and Publicity Department.
I should be out of order if I probed how the figure was reached, but if such a precise figure can be forecast as to the results of decisions in hundreds of thousands of individual cases dealt with by rent officers and rent assessment committees, surely we can be given the very much simpler figure of how many houses would be taken out of control if the Lords Amendment were accepted. Unless the Minister can do that, it will seem that he is somewhat pig-headedly sticking to the figures because he put them originally in the Bill and is not applying his mind to the practical arguments which have been adduced.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary used a rather remarkable phrase when he said that the Lords Amendment embodied what he called a middle kingdom and that he rejected the middle kingdom because, taking an example from his own part of the world, St. Helens and Runcorn would be on one side and Widnes on the other of a line which would create anomalies. But as the Bill stands there is a much sharper anomaly on the edges of Greater London. If one happens to be just beyond the Greater London area, there is a difference of £200 in rateable value in houses which would be within the scope of the Bill. The anomaly, such as he sees it, on the verges of the Merseyside area would be very much smaller. There would be a disparity under these proposals of £50 a year.
I do not think that it lies in the mouth of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to argue that such anomalies defeat the concept of a middle band when his own Measure provides for very much bigger anomalies, sharper and more acute, on the edges of outer London. Looking at it from the point of view of housing policy, is it reasonable to say that the same limit must apply in Birmingham as in Merioneth or in Manchester as in Inverness? Surely, once one has accepted, as the Minister accepts by putting in a different figure for London, that one ought to have some flexibility in the coverage of the figure there is as big a difference to bridge between Birmingham and Merioneth and Manchester and Inverness as there is between London and the rest of the country. It seems to me that the suggestion made in another place of taking the Minister's figure of £200 and continuing to apply it in the major conurbations is a practical and sensible one, and I think that the House will agree that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary did not direct any effective argument against it.
Now we come to London. The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) directed a rather interesting argument. He accepted that the London figures would affect some people who were quite comfortably off, but he said that it did not matter and that it was really quite a good thing. That would be an argument which would be tenable—though I personally would reject it—if there was no upward limit in the Bill at all, if the Bill applied universally, but it does not. The Minister accepts, as another place accepted, and as we all accepted, that there should be a figure beyond which control should not operate in a particular area. Therefore, the argument of the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West does not bite on this issue, which is whether we have the right figure in the Bill.
We come, therefore, in respect of London, to the very clear and emphatic statement in the Report of the Milner Holland Committee:
We are satisfied on the evidence before us that there is plently of good accommodation for rent in London at rentals of £400–£500 per annum and above".
When one is deciding that one is going to draw a line above which it is not necessary to have control and regulation, it is surely reasonable to draw that line at or close to the point at which there is a good supply of accommodation, because where there is an adequate supply to meet the demand the working of the market will itself produce an equitable price and rent. It is shortage which is the cause of excessive rents, and in the absence of shortage I do not see why control or regulation should be deemed to be necessary.
One has, as the Minister rightly reminded us, to seek to relate the figures in the Milner Holland Report, which are rental figures, to rateable values, which are the criterion used in the Bill. There was some discussion this afternoon, and considerable discussion, apparently, in another place, as to how in London one could relate the two, discussion as to what was the correct multiplier. The dashing young Parliamentary Secretary who represents the Minister in another place directed a good deal of his considerable dialectical ability to demonstrating to his own complete satisfaction that the multiplier that I had suggested in the course of our own discussions was wrong and excessive. He produced another, and I think that for the purposes of this Amendment one can accept it and apply it to the Amendment. He said that the multiplier should be 1¼ to 1½.
If we apply that to the proposal in this Amendment of £350 a year, that results, in the unlikely event of my mathematics being right, in a total of £437 10s. for the lower figure of 1¼, and on the higher figure—on which I am rather more confident—it would work out at £525. Surely that is generous in the light of the Milner Holland figures of £400 to £500, giving a somewhat higher bracket. I suggest that the figure of £350 accepts the principle of the Milner Holland figures, that it is generous and proper and that it would be wrong to go beyond it.
More than once in this debate, it has been argued that it really does not matter if this figure is put too high—that it is better to be sure and make it high. There are powerful objections to that view. First, there is the question of adding unnecessary pressure to the administrative machine to deal with these matters. The Minister is engaged in setting up a most elaborate machine of rent officers and rent assessment committees in the London area, to which, quite rightly, he is giving priority. But I think that he recognises as well as anyone that this is an expensive and elaborate apparatus which he thinks necessary, no doubt in view of the heavy volume of business with which it is likely to have to deal. In that situation we should confine the system of rent control and regulation to the level where it is needed, where there is shortage.
Secondly, there is the question of fairness. If there is an open market, an adequate supply of premises, it is not the business or the duty of the State to intervene between landlord and tenant. If there is a fair market with an adequate supply, landlord and tenant can strike a fair bargain. There is not the same justification of Government interference that shortage provides.
Thirdly, there is the effect on the supply of accommodation. It is clear that this Bill, whatever its effects—and some will undoubtedly be beneficial—if it is carried to the width of scope and the height of level of rateable value which the Government propose, will further diminish the supply of privately provided accommodation to let. It may be that it must be accepted as the lesser of two evils in the lower areas of rateable value and in the great cities, but that is in itself a powerful argument against applying it any higher than is necessary and thus covering places where there is no real shortage.
We do not want to see the local authorities being the sole providers of rented accommodation. I know the Minister's view. He gives priority to the local authorities in the provision of rented accommodation. He accepts, subject to some restraint, the position of the home owner and does not want to see further accommodation provided by private landlords. From that point of view the Bill is consistent with his views, although that is not one of the reasons that has been adduced for the fixing of these figures in the Bill. However, it is a serious objection from our point of view to fixing the figure so high.
It means that the private landlord who comes into possession will be tempted to sell either for owner occupation or to convert and that, except for luxury flats high above the rateable value in London, there will be no inducement to developers to provide accommodation to let. What those concerned in those matters want to see is an overall increase in the output of housing. It seems a pity to take any step which must have the effect of diminishing one, and not the least important, source of supply of rented accommodation.
To those who say that it does not matter if the figure is fixed too high, I say that it matters a great deal. It will over-strain the machine, will be unfair as between man and man and will diminish the supply of houses. If the Minister will not take action and realise that we have gone a long way to meet him and does not agree to think again about this, we shall have to support the other place in the Lobby.
The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) mentioned that our rejection of this Amendment reflects our philosophy about the Bill. Although this is a minor Amendment, I agree that it does reveal a genuine difference between the two sides. The difference can be summed up quite simply. I have done it before but one sometimes has to be guilty perhaps of tedious repetition at this stage of a Measure. The difference is between those who feel that it is their duty wherever possible to tip the thing a little further in favour of the landlord and those of us who feel that the pendulum up to now has swung a very long way in the opposite direction and that the tenant must now receive the primary consideration.
I have certainly considered the position of the landlord, but by and large every Amendment moved by the party opposite, which is primarily landlord-minded, as the right hon. Gentleman clearly showed, shows that basically right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite consider it their duty to strengthen the position of the private landlord.
It is my considered view that, when the Bill comes into operation, those landlords who want to improve their properties and are prepared to do repairs will, for the first time, if they carry out such work, have a chance of getting a fair rent. But I must say that, having done that for the landlord, which was our prime duty to them, we had to make absolutely sure that we were giving the tenant in marginally difficult cases the benefit of the doubt.
Of course, one of the things we had to consider was the level of rateable value at which to set control. I do not deny that it will be an inconvenience to private landlords who are used to thinking of control as something which affects only a certain area of property but which is now extended to both furnished and unfurnished dwellings up the scale. I am not shocked by this, for the reason given by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock).
The middle class have a right to security in their homes. I have no reason to believe that the exploitation of the tenant, or his unfair treatment, is exclusively at the lowest possible level. I believe that at a higher level there are great pressures. After all, exploitation occurs where there is artificial scarcity of accommodation. From my knowledge of middle-class people in London I know that many are paying far more in rent than they can afford and are living beyond their means and under great difficulty.
I cannot see why the Conservative Party should spend hours trying to deny to this group of people the protection of this Bill. Why should not the middle class be allowed to have their rents considered in order to see whether or not they are fair? These people frequently find it difficult to get rented accommodation and often have to pay £150 or £200 more than they can comfortably afford because they have to have rented accommodation. Why should they not have the same rights as the working-class people?
It is indeed paradoxical that the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. McNair-Wilson) should plead, in effect, "We say that this procedure of rent regulation should be available to working-class people but we should deny it to the middle class. We must not let them clog the wheels. We must keep them out. We are concerned with natural justice. We see the overwhelming need of the working class to get to these tribunals and therefore the middle class should not be allowed in."
I listened with great attention to the hon. Gentleman's speech. I put it to him that there is no firm knowledge that there are not cases of exploitation of scarcity by landlords at quite high levels of rent. I happen to live in a rented house in London and I have not heard that people would not like security of tenure if they could get it.
That is perfectly true and I said what the right hon. Gentleman has quoted. But I leave it to the Labour Party to bring class into this. There was no question in any of my remarks of the middle class or the working class or anybody else. What I was saying was that those in real need should be protected and not those who could look after themselves.
That is exactly the point. The hon. Gentleman has made a very curious assumption. It is the assumption that the need for security of tenure is limited to the poor. That is what he means by "actual need". He thinks that the person paying several hundred pounds a year in rent has no need of security. He correlates need for security with an income level. The point I am making is that if the hon. Gentleman studies the conditions of the middle class in his constituency a little, he will find that many need security and would not be at all unwilling to have the chance of going to the rent officer.
Having made it his first argument to say that it was those people in need who wanted security most, he said that his real concern was with the landlords and that if control were extended upwards and tenants of middle-class properties could go to rent assessment committees to get a fair rent, rents would come down. He asked where the poor landlords would then be. The hon. Gentleman argues that the landlords would not be making any money at the lower level and that at the one level where they are luxuriating, this prosperous level, they would be clipped. We thus have the strange situation of the Conservative Party determined to prevent a fair and equal share of security of tenure from being allocated irrespective of class. The Government are trying to give security of tenure irrespective of class.
I will be perfectly candid about that. If the hon. Gentleman goes back to the Protection from Eviction Act, in which we fixed a limit in a rough and ready way, because we used the limit of the county court, he will find the reason for the limit. However, if he is prepared to move an Amendment to provide that there shall be no limit, I will very seriously consider it. Is that what he is saying? I do not think that he is.
What I am saying is that we have decided to extend the limit of rateable value upwards because we want to discover whether there are not scarcities, and exploitations of scarcities, even in blocks of flats where people are paying quite large rents. Hon. Members opposite are so anxious about this matter because they know that if some of those tenants go to the rent assessment committees, rents will come down. That is what they are alarmed about. That is what the hon. Member for Lewisham, West said. He said that the landlords would not be able to keep up the houses, because rents would be reduced as a result of appeals to the committees. Indeed, that was his central argument.
There are two possibilities: either rents are too high and there is exploitation of scarcity, in which case they ought to be reduced and it is very unreasonable to leave out these people. Or they are not too high, in which case they will not be reduced by the rent assessment committees. Landlords will be able to appeal to the committees, as I have no doubt they will, and will see whether they can get their rents approved.
What it will get is confidence and stability in that section of the market. We are concerned to establish cases and precedents, and I have no doubt that this issue will be settled ii the first two or three months of the working of the London rent assessment committees, because I have no doubt that landlords will rapidly wish to test cases and will quite properly do so. The hon. Gentleman and I will soon discover who is right and who wrong.
I am sure that in some cases we shall find that landlords will be able to show their rents are fair, while in others we shall be able to discover that they are not fair. What baffles me is why we should spend hour after hour on an attempt by the Tory Party to prevent that process from taking place. Once that has been done, and once decisions have been made, this area of the market will quickly react and will know quite well what the decisions are, will be sensible about them. And we shall have gained something from that.
This is a very interesting argument, but does it follow from it that the right hon. Gentleman is rejecting the finding, on evidence, of the Milner Holland Committee, which was that in London there was plenty of good accommodation at rentals of £400 to £500 a year and therefore a market which would find its own level in the presence of an adequate supply?
I am not rejecting what the Milner Holland Committee said. It said that there was plenty of this accommodation in London. Again we return to this recognition that if there is a statement that there is plenty of accommodation in a huge area like London, one generalises into saying that there will therefore be no exploitation anywhere in London. There may be plenty of accommodation globally in London and yet acute scarcities in different parts of London. There may be plenty globally in the whole country but a shortage in certain areas. In that sentence the Milner Holland Committee made that generalisation and from our evidence I think that it was a remark which, on reflection, some members of the committee might have qualified.
I do not want to spend more time on this issue, because we have ventilated it thoroughly, but I ought to reply to the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry). He talked of the blanket of control which he wanted to strip off. It was a very misleading simile. What we have is a pillow of security and not a blanket of control, and in my view even the middle class would like a pillow of security.
The tenants paying these higher rentals will not feel smothered by the chance to appeal against their rents if their rents are too high, and that is the only issue which we have to discuss.
Finally, I come to the speech of the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames. He is not often like this, but he went a little far in calculated discourtesy when he said that he knew that I was the kind of Minister who, having given an assurance, would not keep it for a moment. I therefore have to repeat that of course we have framed the Bill throughout for the maximum flexibility. We have given ourselves power to reduce the rateable value levels wherever we find them too high. We would not dream of keeping them at levels where there was clearly no advantage in doing so, where there was clearly an open market.
The right hon. Gentleman may not believe me now, but there will not be many weeks before he will be able to see whether what I have said is true, because by next spring we shall know which of us is right and which wrong about London. Why not give us the chance to find out at the high levels what the situation really is and to give the right to a fair rent and security of tenure irrespective of class?
|Division No. 271.]||AYES||[6.9 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Hannan, William||Owen, Will|
|Albu, Austen||Harper, Joseph||Padley, Walter|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Page, Derek (King's Lynn)|
|Alldritt, Walter||Hart, Mrs. Judith||Palmer, Arthur|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Hattersley, Roy||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Hazell, Bert||Park, Trevor (Derbyshire, S. E.)|
|Atkinson, Norman||Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Parker, John|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret||Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)||Pentland, Norman|
|Beaney, Alan||Holman, Percy||Perry, Ernest G.|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Hooson, H. E.||Popplewell, Ernest|
|Binns, John||Horner, John||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Probert, Arthur|
|Boardman, H.||Howie, W.||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W. (Leics S. W.)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Redhead, Edward|
|Boyden, James||Hunter, Adam (Dunfermline)||Rees, Merlyn|
|Bradley, Tom||Hunter, A. E. (Feltham)||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Rhodes, Geoffrey|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Hynd, John (Attercliffe)||Richard, Ivor|
|Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper)||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Glasgow, Provan)||Janner, Sir Barnett||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Buchanan, Richard||Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Rose, Paul B.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Jeger, George (Goole)||Ross, Rt. Hn. William|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St. P'cras, S.)||Rowland, Christopher|
|Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E.|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Shore, Peter (Stepney)|
|Coleman, Donald||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Short, Rt. Hn. E. (N'c'tle-on-Tyne, C.)|
|Conlan, Bernard||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Silkin, John (Deptford)|
|Cousins, Rt. Hn. Frank||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Silkin, S. C. (Camberwell, Dulwich)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Kelley, Richard||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Lawson, George||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Leadbitter, Ted||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Crossman, Rt. Hn. R. H. S.||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)||Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)||Small, William|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Lomas, Kenneth||Snow, Julian|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Loughlin, Charles||Solomons, Henry|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Lubbock, Eric||Soskice, Rt. Hn. Sir Frank|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Delargy, Hugh||McBride, Neil||Stones, William|
|Dell, Edmund||McCann, J.||Stross, Sir Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)|
|Dempsey, James||MacColl, James||Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley|
|Diamond, Rt. Hn. John||MacDermot, Niall||Swain, Thomas|
|Doig, Peter||McGuire, Michael||Swingler, Stephen|
|Driberg, Tom||McKay, Mrs. Margaret||Symonds, J. B.|
|Duffy, Dr. A. E. P.||MacMillan, Malcolm||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Dunnett, Jack||MacPherson, Malcolm||Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)|
|Edwards, Rt. Hn. Ness (Caerphilly)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Tinn, James|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Tomney, Frank|
|English, Michael||Manuel, Archie||Tuck, Raphael|
|Ennals, David||Mapp, Charles||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Ensor, David||Mason, Roy||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Finch, Harold (Bedwellty)||Maxwell, Robert||Wallace, George|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Mayhew, Christopher||Warbey, William|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Mellish, Robert||Weitzman, David|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Mendelson, J. J.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Floud, Bernard||Millan, Bruce||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Foley, Maurice||Miller, Dr. M. S.||Whitlock, William|
|Foot, Sir Dingle (Ipswich)||Molloy, William||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Monslow, Walter||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Ford, Ben||Morris, Charles (Openshaw)||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Galpern, Sir Myer||Morris, John (Aberavon)||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Garrett, W. E.||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Sheffield Pk)||Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Gourlay, Harry||Murray, Albert||Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Neal, Harold||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly)||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Winterbottom, R. E.|
|Griffiths, Will (M'chester, Exchange)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.)||Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.|
|Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.||Ogden, Eric||Woof, Robert|
|Hale, Leslie||O'Malley, Brian||Zilliacus, K.|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Orbach, Maurice|
|Hamilton, William (West Fife)||Orme, Stanley||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hamling, William (Woolwich, W.)||Oswald, Thomas||Mr. George Rogers and|
|Mr. Charles Grey.|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Gower, Raymond||Murton, Oscar|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Grant, Anthony||Neave, Airey|
|Astor, John||Grant-Ferris, R.||Nicholls, Sir Harmar|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Gresham Cooke, R.||Nicholson, Sir Godfrey|
|Awdry, Daniel||Grieve, Percy||Nugent, Rt. Hn. Sir Richard|
|Balniel, Lord||Griffiths, Peter (Smethwick)||Onslow, Cranley|
|Batsford, Brian||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian|
|Bell, Ronald||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Page, John (Harrow, W.)|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm)||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Page, R. Graham (Crosby)|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)||Peel, John|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Harvie Anderson, Miss||Percival, Ian|
|Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel||Hastings, Stephen||Pickthorn, Rt. Hn. Sir Kenneth|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Hay, John||Pitt, Dame Edith|
|Blaker, Peter||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch|
|Box, Donald||Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward||Prior, J. M. L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. J.||Hendry, Forbes||Pym, Francis|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Higgins, Terence L.||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter||Hiley, Joseph||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James|
|Brooke, Rt. Hn. Henry||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Hirst, Geoffrey||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Hobson, Rt. Hn. Sir John||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Buck, Antony||Hordern, Peter||Roots, William|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Howe, Geoffrey (Bebington)||Royle, Anthony|
|Buxton, Ronald||Hunt, John (Bromley)||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Carlisle, Mark||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Iremonger, T. L.||Sharples, Richard|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)||Shepherd, William|
|Chataway, Christopher||Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Kerby, Capt. Henry||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Kerr, Sir Hamilton (Cambridge)||Smyth, Rt. Hn. Brig. Sir John|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Kilfedder, James A.||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Cooke, Robert||King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Stainton, Keith|
|Cooper, A. E.||Kirk, Peter||Stanley, Hn. Richard|
|Costain, A. P.||Kitson, Timothy||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Courtney, Cdr. Anthony||Lagden, Godfrey||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)||Lambton, Viscount||Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)|
|Crawley, Aidan||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. Sir Oliver||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Teeling, Sir William|
|Crowder, F. P.||Litchfield, Capt. John||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Cunningham, Sir Knox||Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)||Thomas, Sir Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Curran, Charles||Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral)||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Longbottom, Charles||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hn. Peter|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.||Longden, Gilbert||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Loveys, W. H.||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John|
|Dodds-Parker, Douglas||MacArthur, Ian||Walder, David (High Peak)|
|Eden, Sir John||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain||Walker, Peter (Worcester)|
|Errington, Sir Eric||McNair-Wilson, Patrick||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|Eyre, Reginald||Maitland, Sir John||Wall, Patrick|
|Farr, John||Marten, Neil||Walters, Dennis|
|Fisher, Nigel||Mathew, Robert||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles (Darwen)||Maude, Angus||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Sir John (S'pton)||Mawby, Ray||Webster, David|
|Foster, Sir John||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Whitelaw, William|
|Gammans, Lady||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Gibson-Watt, David||Mills, Peter (Torrington)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, Central)||Mitchell, David||Wolrige-Gordon Patrick|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||Monro, Hector|
|Glyn, Sir Richard||More, Jasper||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B.||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Mr. Martin McLaren and|
|Goodhew, Victor||Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Mr. R. W. Elliott.|