HC Deb 25 February 1958 vol 583 cc211-20

3.49 p.m.

Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to authorise local authorities to purchase land compulsorily for the purpose of preventing evictions from houses decontrolled under Section eleven of the Rent Act, 1957; to simplify and accelerate the procedure for compulsory purchase, whether made under this Act or for the said purpose under the Housing Act, 1957; to re-enact for the said purpose powers for the speedy acquisition of land in urgent cases; and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid. Most hon. Members of the House—this applies, I hope, to both sides-have been alarmed by developments which have taken place under Section 11 of the Rent Act. The number of people who have been served with notice of eviction is growing and is very alarming. Not only that, but the way in which the Act is being used to force completely unfair contracts or bargains upon reluctant tenants is an alarming feature of the use of this Section, so much so that even the Minister himself was compelled, a few days ago, to make a very strong statement on this matter.

While making that strong statement, the Minister said that there is plenty of time for the bad landlords to think. There is not plenty of time. The deadline is next October. There are only seven months. Many people are already faced with this threat. There is not much time either for landlords to think things over, or for the House to take action.

All hon. Members know the sort of problems that arise from day to day. First, there are the evictions, and, in the nature of things, these mostly apply to elderly people who have been living in their houses for many years. I have had —and I am sure that this applies to other hon. Members—sad processions of old people coming into my advice bureau to say that they are faced with eviction. They ask for aid and comfort and I can give them none. The decree is there. Next October they go out into the streets, and the blunt fact is that there is nowhere else for them to go. The possibility of large numbers of houses being vacant and to let at rents has not materialised. In Birmingham, for example, we still have 64,000 families on the register, and the prospect of these unfortunate people obtaining accommodation is practically nil.

But the problem extends beyond that because, as the Minister has pointed out, this threat of eviction has been used in tens of thousands of cases to enforce completely unreasonable contracts. For example, a family of five, whom I know, were offered a new thre-year lease—and a three-year lease offered under the Rent Act is not a permanent solution to these people's problems. It is merely a respite for an additional two-and-a-half, or two-and-a-quarter years, and then these unfortunate people will be faced again with the problem of eviction.

In this case, they were offered a three-year lease at a rent about two-and-a-half to three times what it was before for a house in a state of dilapidation. The new rent, including rates, came to about £3 10s. How can these people afford to pay it? They have to afford it and no doubt they will, but it will mean that the children will have to do with less food. When they came to me I advised them to go to the landlord to deal with the question of repairs, because one of the provisions in the new lease was a repairing clause which placed the whole obligation for repairs upon the tenant. One of the most obnoxious features of many of the new leases offered by landlords is that there is not only an exærbitant rent but the whole burden of an onerous repairing clause is placed upon the tenant.

Here is the tenant between the devil and the deep blue sea, faced with the prospect either of being turned out of his house in October or consenting to a repairing clause. The roof of this house is leaking, the doors do not fit, and neither do the windows. The house is in a state of dilapidation and the tenant can incur an obligation to the extent of hundreds of pounds or be turned out. As many of us know, this is not an exceptional case.

When the tenant made a reasonable request to the landlord that before he consented to the lease the landlord should put the house in a proper condition of repair, the landlord's response was simply to give notice to quit. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name him."] I have no doubt that that is repeated in the constituency experience of many hon. Members. The Minister has warned the landlords. He has said that the Government intend to do something, but he has not said what they propose to do. I am told that the right hon. Gentleman has called in the Law Officers of the Crown. When landlords hear that the Law Officers are being called in, I have no doubt that they are likely to be terrified! What do the Government propose to do? It is said that they are suggesting that local authorities should be allowed to exercise the compulsory purchase powers which already exist under Section 97 of the Housing Act, 1957. If that is the Government's intention, it is quite inadequate to meet the present situation. That Section provides for a local authority resolution, Ministerial consent, and all the delay and palaver and expense of public advertisements in the newspaper, notices to all parties, objections which will take some weeks and then a local public inquiry, culminating after great expenditure and delay in a Ministerial Order. And this in the case of every house. Moreover, before this procedure has gone through, it will be October, and the tenant will be out. I take it that what we want to do is not so much to penalise the landlord as to protect the tenant.

This Bill proposes to give powers of acquisition, that is, to reintroduce, under the Acquisition of Land (Authorisation Procedure) Act, 1946, the procedure for speedy acquisition which lapsed in 1951, and to give additional powers to local authorities to deal with this matter speedily, urgently and drastically as the only method to bring these recalcitrant landlords to book.

I am sure that all hon. Members will realise the seriousness of the problem If only a few thousand tenants are evicted next October, they will constitute a great sea of misery with which the House must deal. It is our job as a Parliament, and the Minister's job as a Minister, to curb the rapacity of these gentlemen. The Bill proposes to do precisely that. I am sure that the House, realising the seriousness of the problem and how much pain and misery it causes, will support the Bill as the only urgent action which can be taken to deal with these gentlemen, to bring pressure to bear upon them and to prevent both the evictions and the extortionate agreements which they exact.

3.59 p.m.

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

I rise to oppose the Motion, and I hope to do so shortly and peacefully. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. J. Silverman) has referred to a great deal of pain and misery. I should like to say to him at the start that many of these examples of pain and misery have been caused by our neglect of a problem which has grown over forty years. Successive Governments have shirked this problem, and the House of Commons has not been willing to bring sufficient pressure upon Governments to take effective action.

I say to my right hon. Friend, at any rate on behalf of those of us who sit on this side of the House, that not only do we give him our support but that we also admire the courage he has shown in tackling this problem, and the patience and good nature with which he has sustained a personal attack.

I hope that it will not be considered unreasonable to ask what leads the Opposition, for the fourth time, to bring a Motion of this kind before the House. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite know that even if it were passed this afternoon, by accident, they would not be able to see either the Bill on the Statute Book or to achieve in this Parliament the repeal of the Rent Act. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I advise hon. Gentlemen opposite to delve into the depths of their own Parliamentary experience for the answer.

I ask them to consider most carefully what will be the results of this campaign. May I say, first, that we on this side of the House would find it easier to take it more seriously if they had put up some constructive alternative. I say on behalf of those who sit on this side—[HON. MEMBERS: "Not all."]—that it would appear that the Bill foreshadowed by this Motion will be one for municipalisation. We in this party would never regard that as an acceptable or practical solution to the problem we are called upon to face.

I hope that the House, and particularly those opposite, will consider the effect on various people of their persistence in bringing such Motions before the House. I ask them to think for a moment of the results on the landlord, the small landlord, in particular.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

What about the poor tenants who are to be put on the streets?

Mr. Peyton

The hon. Member has a voice which we all know very well. I hope he will listen to mine for a moment.

What is the effect on them of these constant political Motions and of this constant political campaign? I tell him and the House, without fear of contradiction, that many small landlords are now in the frame of mind to say, "I will get out of this business as soon as possible. I am not prepared to see my livelihood sunk in political quicksands."

Mr. Lewis

Ask the Minister, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke). He knows that the landlords have been behaving in a shocking way.

Mr. Peyton

The small landlord is being driven by the conduct of the party opposite to sell his property with vacant possession as soon as possible. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] I am saying, in other words, and I am expressing it as a view which I hold most strongly, that the party opposite, by its tactics are robbing the tenant of his opportunity—

Mr. Lewis

Tell them that in Hampstead. Thousands have received notices.

Mr. Peyton

Perhaps it might also be reasonable to think what is the reaction of public opinion upon the House of Commons. The public now see the House of Commons seeking to frustrate its own procedures. A major Act of Parliament has been passed. We all know that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite disagree with it—[An HON. MEMBER: "So does the country."]—but I suggest that in this constant campaign, at any rate, in the sense of abusing our procedure, hon. Gentlemen opposite are doing but small service to Parliament.

Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)

Fight an Election on it.

Mr. Peyton

May I also ask hon. Members opposite to consider what is likely to be the effect upon themselves? Many people outside the House are coming to believe that the Opposition's policy and attitude on rents is dictated more by flippancy and opportunism than by other factors.

Mr. Maurice Orbach (Willesden, East)

Stooge of the Tory Party.

Mr. John Hay (Henley)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order to call my hon. Friend a stooge?

Mr. Speaker

I do not know what stooge means.

Mr. Peyton

May I conclude by saying to the hon. Members opposite that if they continue this campaign—[An HON. MEMBER: "Another one next week"] —they will come to be regarded not so much as the champions of a practical, coherent, alternative policy, but as pedlars of prejudice and hawkers of humbug. I hope that the House will reject the Motion.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 12 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 211, Noes 259.

Division No. 47.] AYES [4.8 p.m.
Ainsley, J W. Bacon, Miss Alice Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S.E.)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Baird, J. Beswick, Frank
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Balfour, A. Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J. Blackburn, F.
Awbery, R. S. Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.) Blenkinsop, A.
Blyton, W. R. Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Plummer, Sir Leslie
Boardman, H. Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Popplewell, E.
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Irving, Sydney (Dartford) Prentice, R. E.
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.) Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Bowles, F. G. Janner, B. Probert, A. R.
Boyd, T. C. Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T. Proctor, W. T.
Brockway, A, F. Jeger, George (Goole) Rankin, John
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Jeger, Mrs. Lena(Holbn & St.Pncs.S.) Redhead, E. C.
Burke, W. A. Jenkins, Roy (Stechford) Reeves, J.
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Johnson, James (Rugby) Reid, William
Callaghan, L. J. Jones, David (The Hartlepools) Rhodes, H.
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Robens, Rt. Hon. A.
Champion, A. J. Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Chetwynd, G. R. Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Clunie, J. Kenyon, C. Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Coldrick, W. Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead) King, Dr. H. M. Ross, William
Cove, W. G. Lawson, G. M, Royle, C.
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Lee, Frederick (Newton) Short, E. W.
Cullen, Mrs. A. Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Shurmer, P. L. E.
Darling, George (Hillsborough) Lewis, Arthur Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Davies, Harold (Leek) Lindgren, G. S. Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)
Davies, Stephen (Merthyr) Lipton, Marcus Skeffington, A. M.
Deer, G. Logan, D. G. Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)
de Freitas, Geoffrey Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Slater, J. (Sedgefield)
Diamond, John McCann, J. Sorensen, R. W.
Dodds, N. N. MacColl, J. E. Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Donnelly, D. L. MacDermot, Nial1 Sparks, J. A.
Dye, S. McGhee, H. G. Steele, T.
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. McGovern, J. Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Edelman, M. McKay, John (Wallsend) Stonehouse, John
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)
Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) McLeavy, Frank Stones, W. (Consett)
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles) Stross,Dr.Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent,C.)
Finch, H. J. MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Swingler, S. T.
Fletcher, Eric Mahon, Simon Sylvester, G. O.
Foot, D. M. Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Mann, Mrs. Jean Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N. Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A. Thomas, George (Cardiff)
George, Lady Megan Lloyd (Car'then) Mason, Roy Thomson. George (Dundee, E.)
Gibson, C. W. Mellish, R. J. Timmons, J.
Gooch, E. G. Messer, Sir F. Tomney, F.
Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C. Mikardo, Ian Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Greenwood, Anthony Mitchison, G. R. Warbey, W. N.
Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R. Monslow, W. Weitzman, D.
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.) Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Morrison, Rt.Hn.Herbert(Lewis'm,S.) Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Griffiths, William (Exchange) Mort, D. L. West, D. G.
Hale, Leslie Moss, R. Wheeldon, W. E.
Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Moyle, A. White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Hannan, W. Mulley, F. W. White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.) Neal, Harold (Bolsover) Wilkins, W. A.
Hastings, S. Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon) Willey, Frederick
Hayman, F. H. Oliver, G. H. Williams, David (Neath)
Healey, Denis Orbach, M. Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'tillery)
Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regfs) Oswald, T. Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Herbison, Miss M. Owen, W. J. Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
Hobson, C. R. (Keighley) Padley, W. E. Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)
Holman, P. Paget, R. T. Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)
Holmes, Horace Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley) Winterbottom, Richard
Howell, Charles (Perry Barr) Palmer, A. M. F. Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Howell, Denis (All Saints) Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.) Woof, R. E.
Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Parker, J. Yates, V. (Ladywood)
Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Parkin, B. T. Younger, Rt. Hon. K.
Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Pearson, A.
Hunter, A. E. Peart, T. F. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hynd, H. (Accrington) Pentland, N. Mrs. Braddock and Mrs. Butler.
Agnew, Sir Peter Balniel, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.
Aitken, W. T. Barber, Anthony Boyle, Sir Edward
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.) Barlow, Sir John Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)
Alport, C. J. M. Barter, John Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.) Ball, Philip (Bolton, E.) Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry
Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton) Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Brooman-White, R. C.
Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William Bennett, F. M. (Torquay) Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton)
Arbuthnot, John Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Bryan, P.
Armstrong, C. W. Bidgood, J. C. Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.
Ashton, H. Biggs-Davison, J. A. Butcher, Sir Herbert
Astor, Hon. J. J. Black, C. W. Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)
Atkins, H. E. Body, R. F. Carr, Robert
Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M. Bossom, Sir Alfred Channon, Sir Henry
Baldwin, A. E. Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan) Chichester-Clark, R.
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.) Hulbert, Sir Norman Page, R. G.
Cole, Norman Hurd, A. R. Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)
Conant, Maj. Sir Roger Hutchison, Michael Clark (E'b'gh, S.) Partridge, E.
Cooke, Robert Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh, W.) Peel, W. J.
Cooper, A. E. Hutchison, Sir James (Scotstoun) Peyton, J. W. W.
Cooper-Key, E. M. Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry Pilkington, Capt. R. A.
Corfield, Capt. F. V. Iremonger, T. L. Pitman, I. J.
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Pitt, Miss E. M.
Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Pott, H. P.
Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—North wood) Jennings, Sir Roland (Hallam) Powell, J. Enoch
Cunningham, Knox Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Price, David (Eastleigh)
Dance, J. C. G. Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.
Davidson, Viscountess Joseph, Sir Keith Profumo, J. D.
D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Kaberry, D. Ramsden, J. E.
Deedee, W. F. Kerby, Capt. H. B. Remnant, Hon. P.
Digby, Simon Wingfield Kerr, Sir Hamilton Renton, D. L. M.
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA. Kershaw, J. A. Ridsdale, J. E.
Doughty, C. J. A. Kimball, M. Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)
Drayson, G. B. Kirk, P. M. Robertson, Sir David
du Cann, E. D. L. Lambton, Viscount Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)
Duncan, Sir James Lancaster, Col. c. G, Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)
Duthie, W. S. Langford-Holt, J. A. Roper, Sir Harold
Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir David Leather, E. H. C. Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West) Leavey, J. A. Russell, R. S.
Elliott,R.W.(N'castle upon Tyne.N.)
Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Leburn, VV. G. Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.
Farey-Jones, F. W. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Sharples, R. C.
Fell, A. Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Shepherd, William
Finlay, Graeme Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.) Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)
Fisher, Nigel Linstead, Sir H. N. Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Forrest, G. Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)
Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale) Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral) Spearman, Sir Alexander
Freeth, Denzil Longden, Gilbert Speir, R. M.
Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D. Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard
Gammans, Lady Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.) Stevens, Geoffrey
Garner-Evans, E. H. Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm
George, J. C. (Pollok) McAdden, S. J. Storey, S.
Gibson-Watt, D. Macdonald, Sir Peter Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)
Glover, D. McKibbin, Alan Studholme, Sir Henry
Glyn, Col. Richard H. Mackie, J. H. (Galloway) Summers, Sir Spencer
Godber, J. B. McLaughlin, Mrs. P. Sumner, w. D. M. (Orpington)
Gomme-Duncan, Col. Sir Alan Maclay, Rt. Hon. John Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)
Goodhart, Philip Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.) Teeling, W.
Cower, H. R. MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty) Temple, John M.
Graham, Sir Fergus Macmillan, Rt.Hn.Harold(Bromley) Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Grant, W. (Woodside) Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax) Thompson, R. (Croydon, S.)
Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R.(Nantwich) Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries) Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.
Green, A. Maddan, Martin Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin
Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle) Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)
Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G. Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark) Tilney, John (Wavertree)
Gurden, Harold Markham, Major Sir Frank Turner, H. F. L.
Hall, John (Wycombe) Marples, Rt. Hon. A. E. Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Hare, Rt. Hon. J. H. Marshall, Douglas Tweedsmuir, Lady
Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.) Mathew, R. Vane, W. M. F.
Harris, Reader (Heston) Maudling, Rt. Hon. R. Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.
Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon) Mawby, R. L. Vickers, Miss Joan
Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C. Vosper, Rt. Hon. D. F.
Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere(Macclesf'd) Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R. Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.) Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh Wakefield, Sir Waved (St. M'lebone)
Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Moore, Sir Thomas Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Derek
Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Morrison, John (Salisbury) Wall, Patrick
Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G. Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester)
Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton) Nabarro, G. D. N. Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold
Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Neave, Airey Webbe, Sir H.
Hirst, Geoffrey Nicholls, Harmar Whitelaw, W. S. I.
Hobson, John(Warwick & Leam'gt'n) Nicholson, Sir Godfrey (Farnham) Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Holland-Martin, C. J. Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch) Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Holt, A. F. Noble, Comdr. Rt. Hon. Allan Wills, G. (Bridgwater)
Hope, Lord John Nugent, G. R. H. Wood, Hon. R.
Hornby, R. P. Oakshott, H. D. Woollam, John Victor
Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)
Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. D. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J. Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.) Mr. Hay and Mr. Gresham Cooke.
Hughes-Young, M. H. C. Osborne, C.