Clause 7. — (Effect of Registration on Rent Recoverable for Statutory Periods.)

Orders of the Day — Rent Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1 November 1965.

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Lords Amendment No. 5: In page 6, line 36, leave out from "than" to first "the" in line 37 and insert: the date on which the rent was registered nor earlier than four weeks before

Photo of Dr Dickson Mabon Dr Dickson Mabon , Greenock

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Without the Amendment to Clause 7(b), in the case of a statutory tenancy where an increased rent is registered under the rent-fixing machinery, the landlord, in order to obtain the higher rent, must serve a notice of increase on the tenant giving him four weeks' advance notice of the increase. Where, on the other hand, the rent is decreased under the rent-fixing machinery, the lower rent will come into effect from the date of the application for registration, unless the rent officer or rent assessment committee decides otherwise, as provided in Schedule 3 paragraph 13.

The debate on this Amendment, together with our previous discussions on the matter, might be referred to as the goose-and-gander debate. The phrase was coined, I believe, by either the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) or the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). There was, however, an attempt in Committee on a starred Amendment to press this matter upon the Government. Quite modestly, and, I think, correctly, my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that the Government would like to think about the matter. In the impatience of the moment, however—and I do not blame hon. Members for that, because it was a hardworking Committee in which passions rose occasionally—the Opposition forced the Amendment upon the Government.

When the matter was accordingly discussed on Report, nevertheless my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary felt that we should look into the matter again. This Amendment, therefore, from another place, with which I invite the House to agree, is in response to that pledge by the Government that we would look at the matter carefully.

Some of my hon. Friends expressed doubt upon the subject and I should like to put their minds at rest by saying a few words in their support. The period of four weeks' advance notice for increases derives from Section 3(2) of the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1920, which provided that, apart from increases to take account of increases in rates, an increase to bring the rent up to the standard recoverable rent should not take effect until four clear weeks from the date of service of the notice of increase. The intention was to avoid a tenant having to face arrears unexpectedly. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) made this point in Committee.

Under the provisions in the Bill for fixing a fair rent, as provided in Schedule 3, paras 4 to 12, the rent officer in an opposed case is bound to give the tenant at least seven days to make representations against the landlord's application; and if representations are so made, the rent officer must give at least seven days' notice of a meeting with the parties to consider the matter. If the issue is referred to the rent assessment committee, a further opportunity is given for representations to be made. Thus, it can be said to my hon. Friends who have been concerned about the position that if a tenant had to face an increased rent, he would have had a fair period of warning.

The Amendment fulfils the undertaking given by my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary on Report. It has the same effect as the Amendment which the Opposition moved and lost on a Division in Committee on 12th May. The Amendment provides that where, on registration, an increased rent is fixed for a statutory tenancy, the increase may take effect not earlier than the date of registration or not earlier than four weeks before service of the notice of increase, whichever date is later. The landlord will thus be able to obtain the increase from the date of registration provided that he serves the notice of increase within four weeks of registration. As the tenant is notified of the rent which is registered by the rent office or the rent assessment committee, as the case may be, he will not face any unexpected arrears. If the landlord delays serving the notice of increase, the tenant cannot be made to pay more than four weeks' arrears and any arrears cannot be backdated before the date of registration.

The Government having given adequate time to assess this important point and so met the sauce for the goose and the sauce for the gander—and not the "sauce diable", as the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Sir A. Meyer) described it—I think that we have struck a good balance and I invite the House to agree with the Lords in the Amendment.

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland for introducing the Amendment and for his explanation of it. It was, in fact, the explanation which I endeavoured to give on the earlier stages of the Bill. I do not know why we had to wait for another place to get such a logical and sensible Amendment. It is so obviously logical that if a reduction took place at once on registration, an increase should take place at once. There is no question about the tenant not having notice of the increase. He would know about it, because he would have been party to the proceedings before the rent officer.

This is, therefore, a fair and proper Amendment to the Bill which should have been made in the very early stages. If it was missed in drafting, it should have been made when we put our Amendment forward in Committee. I am glad that it has come forward now.

Question put and agreed to.