§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
My Lords, rent restriction is a very familiar subject in your Lordships' House, and it is therefore unnecessary that I should trace all the various steps whereby provisions that were originally made to protect munition workers from exploitation during the War have since gradually come to be an integral part of the housing policy of successive Governments. The main problem towards which that housing policy has been directed could, I think, be stated quite simply. It was, and still is 711 to some extent, a problem of how by legislation to provide and maintain a sufficient supply of healthy houses to accommodate those who without that legislation would not be able to afford to accommodate themselves. That in turn involves not only the provision of those houses but also seeing that they are let at appropriate rents and are not occupied by people who could well afford to house themselves without assistance.
I mention this because it is essential to realise, as I am sure the House does, that although housing legislation may have different objectives, nevertheless it is all interdependent in the long run. It is very little use, for instance, building large numbers of new houses for the purpose of enlarging the working-class pool if, as fast as you do it, old houses that were in the pool become occupied by people of a different class. Equally, if you are too dictatorial in your methods of controlling houses belonging to other people in the interests of the pool, then you will run the risk of frightening away private enterprise from co-operating with you in the future in providing houses for the pool; so you may lose a valuable potential source of increase. I know that some people have queried this contention, but on the other hand I have never known anybody suggest that it would be an incentive to private enterprise if you controlled new houses. In fact, every Committee, including that presided over by the noble Lord opposite, Lord Marley, which was set up by the last Labour Government, has advised that continuation of control should be dependent on whether the shortage of houses in a particular class is at an end.
And indeed, apart from the practical questions of future building, there are other considerations to be borne in mind. For instance, is it just that one class of property owners, containing many people of moderate means, should be subjected to restrictions and should have to bear burdens which are not borne by other property owners? This kind of thing can only be justified as an emergency expedient, to be abolished as soon as the emergency is past. Or again, why should industrial and commercial rebuilding, which often brings wealth, prosperity and employment to a locality, be held up because of the difficulty of getting possession of a few houses at a vital point? 712 Surely, again, it must be a question of weighing up the social advantages and disadvantages. It is indeed the difficulty of balancing these conflicting interests, and the great diversity of conditions that prevail in different parts of the country, that have led to the great complication of this subject, and I think not only our thanks but our sympathies as well are due to my noble friend Lord Ridley and his Committee, for having examined the workings of many Acts of Parliament, and the effect of many legal judgments, in the light of present-day circumstances. I think every one who has read the Report will agree that Lord Ridley's Committee performed their task with ability and sympathy.
In spite of the complication of the subject, I think it will be evident to everybody that in view of the unprecedented housing activity of the last five years a further considerable measure of decontrol was to be expected, if we are going to adhere to the principles laid down by Lord Marley's Committee. Your Lordships may remember that that Committee divided all the houses then under control into three groups. Houses with a rateable value, in 1931, of £45 a year or over in the Metropolitan Police district and in Scotland, and of £35 a year or over in the rest of England and Wales, were grouped together as Class A, and were decontrolled on the advice of that Committee, because the number of new houses of that class, that had been built up to that year, was sufficient to ensure in the minds of the Committee and of the Government that their decontrol would lead to no hardship. I think events have proved that that assumption was justified. At that time the numbers of Class B houses, that is to say, the next group under the Marley Committee's arrangement, which were houses between £45 and £20 annual value in the Metropolitan Police district, between £45 and £26 5s. in Scotland, and between £35 and £13 in the rest of England and Wales—all those houses which went to make up Class B —were nothing like so great as they are to-day. In 1931 there were 1,350,000 controlled and 900,000 uncontrolled Class B houses, some being new and some being decontrolled, amounting in all to 2,250,000 houses, At the present time there are 950,000 controlled B houses and about 2,000,000 new and 713 decontrolled houses, making a total of 2,950,000 B houses; showing a total increase in the last five years of new Class B houses to the number of 700,000.
Now, as to the question of whether the decontrol of a particular class of house is likely to cause hardship, I think it is important to observe the proportion of controlled to uncontrolled houses in that class. It is therefore of interest to note that the proportion of controlled Class B houses is now only 32 per cent. of the total number of B houses, whereas in 1931 the proportion was no less than 6o per cent. As the result of going through a great deal of evidence the Committee of my noble friend Lord Ridley decided that this reduction in ratio could not be taken as applying equally all over the whole class of Class B houses, but that the bulk of the new houses built were of the more expensive type, that is, exceeding £35 value in London and Scotland and £20 elsewhere. Accordingly they recommended that the old houses of this category should be decontrolled, and the Government have accepted that recommendation.
Your Lordships may remember that the Marley Committee advised that all Class B houses should become decontrolled on vacant possession, and that has hitherto been done. Certainly it provided a method of slow and steady decontrol while avoiding hardship to individual sitting tenants, but where the class of houses as a whole is not ripe for decontrol it has simply meant that a number of houses have been lost to the working-class pool every year. Further, it has meant that working people have been afraid to leave their houses and move elsewhere for employment, for fear they may not be able to obtain other houses at equivalent rents. So the Committee have recommended, and the Government have accepted, that this process of gradual decontrol on vacant possession shall stop. So, if this Bill is passed, the Class B houses will now disappear, 400,000 of them will be decontrolled, and about 550,000 will join Class C, and remain under control. That is set out in Clause 3, and in passing I may say that it is a simplification which, I am sure, will be much appreciated by anybody who has the future task of explaining similar Bills to your Lordships' House.
The Ridley Committee then proceeded to consider the question of Class C 714 houses, that is, all houses below £20 annual value in London, £13 in the rest of England, and £26 5s. in Scotland. They grouped them together with this number of 550,000 houses in Class B which are now being retained under control by this Bill, and they recommended that, whereas the time for decontrolling this huge number of over 4,000,000 houses had not yet been reached, nevertheless, to obviate further uncertainty and further consideration of this very long-drawn-out and troublesome subject, they should be decontrolled at stated periods on a regional basis without further legislation, the determining factor being the overcrowding percentage in each of those areas. We realise very well that conditions do vary very much in different parts of the country. We realise that some areas will very probably be ready for final decontrol before others, but we hesitate in the light of past experience to commit ourselves to any automatic process in this matter. If we could believe with absolute confidence that normal conditions would prevail for the next few years, that de-crowding standards would not alter, that building would be carried out as it is at present, and that labour would not migrate from place to place, we might have been able to consider that recommendation further. But we do not want to raise any false hopes or cause disappointment, or in any way to bind future Parliaments.
I well remember the discussion that ranged in this House when the last Rent Restrictions Act was announced as having a duration of five years and no longer. Noble Lords who were anxious to maintain control, including noble Lords opposite, were very indignant because they believed that the Government were going to abolish all control at the end of these five years; whereas noble Lords who were anxious to see the end of control described the proposition as the merest eye-wash. In this way we seemed to get the worst of both worlds, and the Government believed that it would be fairer and more appropriate that another Committee should consider in 1941, in the light of housing conditions then existing, the time and method by which local decontrol should be brought about. This date, it so happens, is particularly opportune because it is also the date at which the housing subsidies have to come up for review.
715 As I have said, the proposals I have so far described, which appear in Clause 2 and part of Clause 3 of the Bill, are the principal changes that we propose. There are others, some consequential on what I have already described, and others recommended by the Committee and adopted by the Government arising from the experience gained in various ways during the last five years. The first of these has to do with the old and complicated problem of houses that have been subdivided between two or more families. As I know this is a subject in which some of your Lordships are interested, I propose to say a word or two about it. In years past it was quite a common practice, as the housing pressure began to develop, to divide a comparatively big house in this way, and the house became as it were a kind of makeshift flat. This process of subdivision could be carried out either by the owner or, as more commonly occurred, by the tenant, who took the whole house, occupied some of the rooms himself, and then subdivided the remainder between two or more subtenants. Up to a point this was a desirable thing, because there certainly was, and still is, a very urgent demand for small dwellings, and, as in the case of London and some of the other large cities it was quite impossible to build new houses to satisfy this demand immediately, here was a solution which did provide the accommodation, if sometimes in a rather inconvenient way.
The difficulties of administering the intention of the Rent Restrictions Act obviously became immensely increased, for not only had we to protect the tenant against the landlord, we had to protect the sub-tenant against the tenant; and, in fact, it was found that, owing to the complication of the subject, there was a great deal of profiteering and evasion of the Act going on at the expense of these sub-tenants, and often without any knowledge of the original owner. This problem was carefully considered by the Marley Committee, who made various recommendations to safeguard the interests of these sub-tenants. I need not go into them now, except to remind your Lordships that whenever a question of decontrol arises they all have to be gone into again. For, obviously if you merely allowed these subdivided houses to be de- 716 controlled along with the others according to whether their total rateable value is above the datum line, then you would obviously in effect be decontrolling a much larger number of much smaller dwellings.
If that were the whole of the story the position could be easily rectified by saying that every house subdivided in this way should remain under control along with others of the lower categories. But it is not the whole story. Let us suppose that the owner of the house in question got entire possession of it, that is to say, that the tenant and the sub-tenant and everybody else cleared out and left the owner with an empty house. Now if that house remained under control you would have a position where one owner on one side of the street would have a house exactly the same as that of an owner on the other side of the street, and yet he would be controlled and the other decontrolled, simply because in the case of the former at some time or other in the past, possibly without the owner's knowledge, that house had been divided up.
We think that is an anomalous position, and we think there are enough anomalies already in these Acts. So what we propose to do is to give full protection to the sitting tenant and the sub-tenant of such subdivided houses which are to-day under control, which control will be continued even if the tenant leaves and the subtenant holds direct from the owner. But if the owner gets vacant possession of the whole house, and if the house falls within the upper category of Class B, then the house becomes decontrolled; and further, if the owner gets vacant possession of such parts of that house as, if assessed together, would fall within that category, then those parts of it become decontrolled. But it is important to notice that this provision only applies to houses that have been subdivided by the tenant. If the original owner himself had subdivided the house, then we do not think the same considerations apply, and the control will remain. Perhaps the references in the Bill are not always very obvious, but Clause 2 (2) defines the premises which are to be treated in this way, and Clause 3 (2) gives effect to the intentions I have just described.
I now come to Clause 4. Your Lordships will understand that we are not 717 proposing to re-control any Class B houses, or in fact any other house, so that it will be now necessary to make a list of all Class B houses which have already been decontrolled under a previous Act of Parliament, if they fall into the lower category of Class B in order to distinguish them from the remainder of the houses in that class that we are now proposing to maintain in control. So we are putting on to the owner the obligation to register such a house with the local authority if he claims it to he decontrolled, and unless that is done within three months of the date of the passing of the Act the house is deemed to be controlled; but there is a proviso which gives the owner a year's latitude in exceptional circumstances if the Courts agree. Subsection (3) of this clause merely applies the procedure used for registering Class C houses under the 1933 Act to the houses which have now to be registered under this Bill. Subsection (4) is necessary in order to prevent reopening the time for the registration of Class C houses, some of which, owing to the fact that there is no such limiting provision in the 1933 Act, are still being registered by permission of the Courts, though five years have now elapsed since that Act was passed.
Clause 5 provides that the standard rent of any part of a controlled house shall be ascertained by an apportionment of the rent of the whole house. This necessary because the standard rent is normally the rent in 1914, plus various permitted increases, but in the case of divided houses complications arise if the standard rent of a part is calculated in this way without any reference to the rent of the whole house, and profiteering is possible. Clause 6 is self-explanatory. There has been much abuse of the law by reason of the ignorance of the tenant, and this clause is designed to inform the tenant of the amount legally payable by him and other conditions of his tenancy. This, we think, will offer him some protection. Your Lordships will see that in the Report the Committee recommended that rent books should be required in the case of all working-class houses, but as under this Act we can only deal with the limited number that are subject to control, to carry out the Committee's recommendation it would be necessary to amend the Housing Acts, and 718 my right honourable friend has given an undertaking that this will be done.
Clause 7 carries out a number of recommendations made by the Committee, one of the most important of them being that which deals with the present methods of levying distress. This goes a good deal beyond rent restriction legislation, and my right honourable friend has announced the setting up of a special Committee under the chairmanship of Judge Lilley to go into the whole question. To revert to Clause 7, subsection (1) was inserted on the advice of the Committee in consequence of a legal judgment in 1936 which had the effect of reversing the practice of the previous sixteen years. Up to that date the onus of proving decontrol rested on the owner. We think that the effect of this judgment which put the onus on the tenant of proving control is likely to result in hardship, and that the landlord is usually in a better position to establish a legal claim than vice versa. Subsection (2) deals with two apparently conflicting judgments, one being that of Nicholson versus Jackson and the other Gregory versus Strood Estate Company.
Your Lordships know that the statutory rent of a controlled house is made up in various ways, one of the factors being the amount of rates payable by the landlord. The standard rent was first calculated in 1915, and in arriving at that standard rent it was decided that the landlord should have the benefit of the compounding allowance—that is, the allowance made to him for the trouble he took in collecting the rates. The amount of that allowance was naturally determined by the percentages prevalent at that time. The question arose as to what happened when these percentages, or the rates themselves, were subsequently changed. Should a fresh calculation of the allowance, and therefore of the statutory rent, be made whenever such changes took place? The Nicholson versus Jackson interpretation of the Act was that such changes should not be taken into account, the result being to stereotype the 1915 allowances permanently. This decision had produced some anomalies because both the percentage and the rates themselves have altered considerably in the last twenty-five years, particularly through the Rating Valuation Act, 1925, and in some cases the allowance made bears no relation whatever to the actual facts; some owners 719 receiving more and some less than that to which they are fairly entitled. This matter was considered by the Committee presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Marley, and they agreed that it was desirable to alter the law as thus interpreted, but as this would have involved making slight alterations in about five million rents, they did not think it worth while doing. Since that Committee's report there has been the other decision of Gregory versus Strood Estate Company, which contrasts with the Nicholson versus Jackson decision. The Ridley Committee therefore thought that the confusion likely to arise from these two differing judgments would outweigh the disadvantages of altering the rents, and they recommended that the law should be changed as originally contemplated by the Marley Committee. This the Government have agreed to do.
Subsection (3) of this clause merely preserves the new decrowding standards when alternative accommodation is being provided. Subsection (4) is a minor amendment which sets up the necessary machinery for giving prospective tenants notice if the rent which they will be asked to pay has been increased on account of improvements carried out while the house was vacant. Subsection (5) is designed to help the tenant to exercise his statutory rights. As your Lordships know, these Acts were meant to protect people against extortion, but on occasion the safeguards have failed because the tenant has had difficulty in using them. In particular, where dealings between landlord and tenant have been effected through an agent, the tenant has sometimes had great difficulty even in discovering the landlord's name. This subsection will meet that difficulty. Subsection (6) again strengthens the hands of the tenant against illegal overcharging by the landlord, and enables the tenant to recover overpayment up to a period of two years instead of six months. It is, however, not retrospective except in a period of six months already allowed by the existing Act.
Clause 8 makes the appropriate alterations to enable the Bill to be applied to Scotland. The First Schedule deals with various small provisions into which I need not go in detail. The Second Schedule also contains a number of minor provisions, and in connection with the 720 second of these amendments perhaps I ought to explain that subsection (4) of Section 3 of the 1923 Act provided that where a tenant applied for a certificate from the local authority in order to withhold rent, on the ground that the house was unfit for habitation, the local authority should issue a certificate stating what were the works required for carrying this into effect. In certain places, particularly, I understand, in Glasgow, this has had a curious effect, because some of the houses were, in the opinion of the authority, not capable of being rendered fit for human habitation at all, and the unforeseen result was that the tenant lost the protection of this part of the Act because the authority could not give him a certificate. What this clause does is to say that this particular item in the certificate is no longer required. In regard to the position of the owner, this is safeguarded by the fact that under Section 51 of the Housing Act of 1936, the owner can himself apply for a certificate if works are carried out to make the house fit for habitation. In Scotland, however, where this particular provision of the Housing Act does not operate, another method is adopted which is set forth in paragraph (d) (i) of subsection (3) of Clause 8. I do not think I need refer to the other somewhat complicated but, I believe, quite minor matters in the Schedule, unless I am desired to do so.
That completes my observations on the clauses of the Bill, and, although I am quite conscious that certain details have been omitted, I nevertheless hope I have said enough to convince your Lordships that this Bill aims, as previous Bills have aimed, at establishing a common-sense compromise, or rather series of compromises, between conflicting interests. Like its predecessors, this Bill is an expedient, and continues for a period many of the defects and anomalies inseparable from emergency legislation. At the same time a highly representative Committee has examined, at great length, a formidable mass of evidence and has come to the conclusion that the continuance of this legislation is necessary in the interest of many millions of people who would suffer grave hardship if it were not so continued. The recommendations, I submit, are not lightly to be set aside and we agree that continued control in a modified form is necessary. As our proposals follow as a logical development 721 of those made by the Committee of the noble Lord, Lord Marley, we are hoping to receive the support of noble Lords opposite as well as those on this side of the House, but in another place the Labour Party appear to have veered away from the principles which five years ago they thought should apply, and I am not sure what line of deviation will be adopted here. As for those who think the end of control is long overdue, I would say that their best guarantee lies in the continued building of new houses. Compared with 1914, there are now 1,300,000 more Class C houses, and they continue to be built at the rate of 160,000 a year. This surely must afford everybody a considerable degree of encouragement. I therefore commend the Bill to the House, and, as I have said, I hope to receive support for it from all sides.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Gage.)
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, I think your Lordships are entitled to look forward to an exceptionally interesting debate on the Bill that is before you for consideration this afternoon, for we have the good fortune to have with us the two Chairmen of the Committees that were appointed by different Governments in recent years to inquire into the whole subject of rent restriction. I should like to take this opportunity, if I may do so without presumption, to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, on the Report that he and his collaborators have produced, and I am sure that in doing so I am speaking for all sections of your Lordships' House. Whether we agree or disagree with the conclusions that he and his colleagues reached, I am perfectly certain that this Report will be regarded as a leading authority on the subject by this and other Governments, and that it will result in very important and valuable alterations in the law. I think it is really rather a unique occasion in that your Lordships' House has the Chairmen of the most important Committees of inquiry that recent Governments have appointed to contribute their points of view in the course of the debate.
The noble Viscount opposite suggested that this would be more or less an agreed measure. I am afraid that I am bound to disappoint hire. It is perfectly true that the Labour Government of 1929 722 appointed a Committee under the Chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Marley, which dealt with the subject very exhaustively and which drew up a Report that has later been of very great service to successive Governments. At the same time I must he permitted to point out that the Government which appointed this Committee did not bind itself beforehand to accept its recommendations, and that perhaps the major recommendation is one that has proved unacceptable to those who have been considering the subject of rent restrictions from the point of view of the Labour Party. I shall pass on immediately to our fundamental objection to a cardinal recommendation of both the Marley and the Ridley Committees and one that has been endorsed by the Bill that lies before us this afternoon. Let me say, first and foremost, that we do accept gladly many of the minor and detailed alterations in the law which have been so lucidly expounded on behalf of the Government by the noble Viscount opposite. I think, however, it would be more proper for me to deal in the very short time at my disposal with the main alteration in the relationship between landlord and tenant to which we take the very strongest exception.
The cardinal principle of this Bill to which we object is, that rents should be decontrolled—that is to say, the statutory maximum should go—as soon as there is a sufficient supply of houses to prevent landlords from exacting what might be called a monopoly or scarcity rent in addition to the normal economic rent to which they are entitled from their property. It would seem that on this view the State is only allowed to interfere when the landlord is in a position to take unfair advantage of the tenant, and that otherwise the rents chargeable by landlords for their house property are to he adjusted only by the free play of demand and supply. We cannot accept his contention for the simple reason that the economic rent of many thousands of houses that are built by private builders is still too high for working-class families to pay without very serious hardship and indeed, in many cases, privation. When we consider that food and rent are the two biggest single items in the budget of a working-class family, I think we ought to take as an axiom that a sufficient margin should be left over after rent has been deducted for the purchase of those 723 foodstuffs that are essential to a normal state of health and that prevent what is usually referred to as malnutrition. It is because, judged by this standard, there are many thousands of working-class families that cannot afford to pay more in rent, that we maintain that rents should remain controlled by the law and that a statutory maximum should remain until such time as there are sufficient suitable houses to go round among thepoorly-paid working-class families at a price that they can really afford.
On this point I think we agree entirely with a recommendation in the Minority Report of the Committee of which the noble Viscount is Chairman. On page 55 of this Report those who do not agree with the majority of the Committee say:…we consider that control of some kind is desirable as a permanent feature of the housing service.Presumably by "permanent" they mean that at any rate for a considerable time to come control should continue to apply to a very considerable section of working-class houses. We regard the supply and production of houses as being essentially a social service rather than a matter for private economic enterprise and one that is just as essential to the wellbeing of the working-class population as public health or education. We maintain that in those cases where an economic rent cannot be afforded by the families that inhabit these houses, the price of the house should be compulsorily lowered. This, I think, is the fundamental divergence between ourselves and the majority of the noble Viscount's Committee, and I think the members of His Majesty's Government, because they regard the supply of houses as essentially a matter for private enterprise, leaving the price to adjust itself in the way that the prices of other commodities are adjusted by the free play of demand and supply, and that only in the exceptional circumstances of severe overcrowding or slum conditions should the State intervene to provide houses at an uneconomic rent. That, I think, is the real fundamental difference between ourselves and the noble Viscount and his supporters.
It may be objected to this view that the State should not interfere with prices, but I do not think that contention can be very seriously held at the present time 724 when we see the compulsory adjustment of prices going on in all directions. If it is possible for the Government to protect producers by imposing tariffs and quotas and thereby enabling them to keep up or raise the prices of their products, surely it is equally possible for the Government to protect the consumers by lowering the prices of products that they have to buy. Indeed, it is in the interest of the consumers that we believe that control should be maintained and that is why we object to the measure of decontrol that will be allowed by the present Bill. It may also be said that it is an unfair advantage to take of the landlord when you deprive him of a just and economic return for his investment. I think there is a great deal to be said for that point of view, because house property is just as legitimate an investment as bonds or shares or any other way in which a return is obtained for capital. At the same time I think it would be admitted that the landlord is far more able to shoulder the burden than the tenant. When you have to judge between them on the question of real need then, as a general rule, it is the tenant who can least afford to pay an economic return to the landlord.
The Committee of which the noble Viscount was Chairman laid down as one of its leading principles that control should be continued as long as there continued to be a shortage in the supply of houses. I wish to question very strongly the estimate of that Committee on the strength of which they decided that there was a sufficient supply of houses to justify the very considerable measure of decontrol which is proposed in the present Bill. The Committee state that according to the overcrowding survey set on foot by the Government approximately 200,000 houses are required to relieve the overcrowding, of which only 2,000 have been already built. I think the noble Viscount will agree that this overcrowding standard of the Government is essentially a penal standard, and therefore a very low standard indeed, and not one which could be accepted as laying down a satisfactory standard of housing accommodation for working-class families.
It may not be far from an accurate estimate if one were to take the approximate figure suggested by Sir Ernest Simon of 4,000,000 new houses that are 725 required before working-class families are properly and adequately housed. Obviously that is a very rough and approximate figure, but it is certainly nearer the mark or nearer any reasonable standard than the proposed 200,000 new houses which have to be built in order that we may have enough houses to go round so as to conform with the overcrowding standard established in the last Housing Act of the Government. If that is the case, and if one may take Sir Ernest Simon as at any rate approximately correct, it is obvious that for a very long time there will be no justification for decontrol of working-class houses on the ground that the demand is already being met. We cannot therefore agree with the proposal in this Bill to remove control from a very large number of houses at the end of this year and to remove control altogether in 1942, that is to say, only four years hence. We object to this Bill fundamentally because it would raise the rent that would have to be paid by many thousands of working-class families. That is the practical and I think the most important objection hat we have to put forward.
The noble Viscount who spoke for the Government has stated that something like 400,000 houses will pass out of control as soon as this measure becomes law. That is to say, the provisions of this Bill when they become the law of the land will seriously affect for better or for worse well over a million working-class folk, low-paid wage-earners and their dependants. I most sincerely urge that the effect, as a general rule, will be to increase rents. I should be very glad if the noble Viscount, when he speaks, could in any way allay that fear, which is shared by many people with no particular political predilections but with a considerable knowledge of the housing question. I should like to substantiate this view by adducing at least one statement that appears in the Report of the Ridley Committee. That Report shows quite conclusively that the average rent of decontrolled houses has in the past been higher than the average rent of controlled houses of the same class. I should like to refer your Lordships to page 17 of the Report. There we see quite clearly that the difference between the average rent of the controlled house and the average rent of the decontrolled house in Greater London is between 3s. 6d. and 4s. 6d., a very considerable 726 margin indeed. The difference between the average rent of the two types of house in the county boroughs and in the urban and rural districts ranges from Is. 4d. to is. 11d.
These figures show most clearly and most incontrovertibly that the tendency is for the private landlord, when he is under no statutory control of rent, to exact more than the private landlord when there is a statutory maximum beyond which he cannot pass. These figures are also borne out by some information that is provided by the Housing Department of the London County Council. This information shows that in the London area the rent for one room varies between 3s. and 14s.; for two rooms between 5s. and 21s.; for three rooms between 6s. 5d. and 25s.; and so on—an immense margin, and one that shows the extraordinary disparity between the same sort of accommodation provided by landlords who are not obliged to limit their rents, and by those who are obliged by Statute not to pass beyond a certain charge. Those are the reasons why we take very strong exception to the main alterations in the law and in the relationship between landlord and tenant that will be effected by this Bill when it reaches the Statute Book. At the same time we welcome some of the small and practically useful provisions that this Bill contains. I should be very relieved if the two noble Lords to whom we all look for enlightenment were able to satisfy us to any real extent that our apprehension of a very general rise in rents is, if not without foundation, at any rate much greater than it need be. I look forward with much interest to what the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, and the noble Lord, Lord Marley, will say, and I hope I shall be satisfied, because they are better qualified than any other noble Lord to allay these doubts—if they can be allayed at all.
My Lords, the general question of rent restriction as we know it is perhaps one of the most complicated and the most difficult to understand and to put on a logical basis. There is great difficulty in producing a system which is based, in the first place, on the rents which were paid for any particular house more than twenty years ago, and in the second place is confined at the present time to some 40 per cent. only of the houses in the classes which we are considering. It is true, as the noble 727 Earl has just said, that the attitude of Parliament towards house property and management has changed considerably in recent years. Since 1914 it has been much more nearly true to say that housing is becoming a national service, when one considers the subsidies which have been paid and are being paid to local authorities for purposes of rehousing. At the same time, we must remember the realities of the situation as they exist at present. I do not think it is possible, or that in the near future it is even likely to be possible, to evolve any system of control which would cover both new and old houses. It may broadly be stated that the rents of new houses which are built by local authorities are controlled, in the sense that the rents chargeable are those decided by the local authority in consultation with the Ministry of Health. As well as these two classes, of course a great number of houses have come out of control, firstly by the original provision which allowed a house to come out on the landlord obtaining possession, and secondly, under the last Rent Restrictions Act, and perhaps a certain number will come out under the present Bill.
As to the possibility of a large and widespread increase of rent under the operation of this Bill, there are one or two facts which must be considered in connection with the general theory that rent restriction is still necessary to prevent the raising of rents owing to a scarcity and shortage of houses. One must remember that the houses in the upper range of Class B do contain amongst them a largish number—I do not think it has been estimated—of houses which at present are let on double tenancies, and therefore they will not be decontrolled under the present legislation. I do not know whether any estimate has been made, but I believe they are fairly considerable in number. It has also been said that it will be possible to obtain very much larger rents for these houses when they are decontrolled. The evidence which was put before the recent Committee did tend to show that while there was still a general shortage of houses throughout the country, certainly in some parts there was a comparatively good supply. In other parts there was even more shortage, but, generally speaking, it was held that in this par- 728 ticular range of houses throughout the country there was not a shortage which was anything like comparable to the shortage in houses of other categories. There was evidence to that effect even from Scotland, where we recognise that the situation generally as to housing is worse than in the rest of the country.
The noble Earl has referred to some figures given on page 17 of our Report, which show the differences between the rents charge at the present time on similar houses in three categories, local authority houses, controlled houses and decontrolled houses. It is perfectly true that there is a largish increase as between the controlled and the decontrolled in that table, but there is, to my mind, a very great difference in considering this table in regard to houses which have come out of control through vacant possession—which means that certain houses fortuitously became decontrolled, simply because the tenant wanted to change his holding—and property which is being decontrolled under the present Bill. Therefore I do not think that this table can be taken as a very strict guide as to what would happen under the decontrolling provisions which are before your Lordships to-day.
I might perhaps refer to the suggested scheme of decontrol by areas, which was put before the Committee. It is not in the Bill, but it was adopted by the Government in principle, and they have announced their intention of appointing a Committee to investigate it at a later date. That was an attempt to use the overcrowding survey, which was not available for any previous Committee, as a guide to show where and when the necessity for control could hope to end in various districts. The chief objection, of course, was that under the scheme which we had proposed, once the decision had been taken it would be impossible to alter it. I think it was felt that it was a suggestion which would have been rather inflexible; but if the matter is considered in conjunction with the housing policy of the Government at the present time, your Lordships will remember that in regard to the recent Housing (Financial Provisions) Bill, the proposal was to build sufficient houses during the next four years to have a very large effect upon the overcrowding and slum clearance programme.
729 I do not think the Committee considered that particular scheme of decontrol to be vital or essential to the operation of this Bill. It was put forward as a means of reducing control where it was shown no longer to he needed. It was based on the principle, to which I notice that noble Lords opposite do not agree, that control is now justified by shortage in the main. There was provision under that scheme not for the present overcrowding standard but for any future standard which might be adopted by the Government. It is perfectly clear from the evidence available that the situation as regards the need for houses varies very largely in different parts of the country, and also that the scarcity of one type of house or another varies also in different parts of the country. That scheme was an attempt to put them all on the same footing, and to provide a programme so that those who were interested should know what would be the need in the future for their particular type of house in any particular district. Your Lordships will not require me to say anything further upon that subject, because it has not been put in this Bill, but I am glad to see that all the other recommendations which we made have been incorporated, in one way or another.
I might perhaps briefly refer to a reservation made by, I think, two members of the Committee, who were in general agreement except with regard to the control by stages to which I have referred. They were of opinion that the question was one of hardship, and that the solution should not be based entirely on the overcrowding standard. There was also a Minority Report which originated in very much the same attitude of mind as that of the noble Earl who has just spoken. There were various other matters which we discussed at great length during the preparation of this Report, and on which recommendations were not made. There was one very complicated and very important question, and that was the incidence of owners' rates in Scotland, where we found that inequality does exist between the Scottish property owner and the English property owner. But it seemed to us that it was impossible to suggest any method to cure this except a complete alteration of the law of rating in Scotland, which we were certain was beyond our competence.
730 A good deal of importance was also attached by many witnesses to the committees that were to be set up under the last Act by local authorities for giving help and advice to the tenants. Suggestions were made that the local authorities should be able to give individual advice, should be able to act more or less as lawyers to those who wanted advice. But after some considerable discussion we came to the conclusion that it was better to leave the law as it is and to encourage the local authorities to use their powers more than they do at present. It was felt that it would be possible by a more energetic application of the provisions of the 1930 Act to accomplish much more in that direction. We also recommended that the Acts should be consolidated, but we did that from the point of view of the difficulty that a poor man has sometimes, when wanting to get his rights or to get redress under those Acts, to find out what the law is and which Act applies.
Representations were made to us from several quarters on the question under what conditions a landlord should be allowed possession without offering alternative accommodation. It was said that in many cases it was impossible for a landlord to repair his property and keep it in good condition because he could not obtain possession, and that that was a reason for giving him possession of the house without alternative accommodation. I think the Committee recognised that there was a good deal of truth in that. In fact, there had been cases, we were told, where certain property had been condemned as slums owing to the inability of the landlord to get vacant possession in order to improve it. The Committee, I think, recognised that to be so, but felt that on the whole, as things were at present, there was nothing else that could be done.
Then there was one matter to which the noble Viscount who introduced the Bill referred. It is a matter of detail but one of great importance. That is, the decision in the case of Nicholson versus Jackson, which this Bill proposes in effect to reverse. That was a proposal which was in the Report of the last Committee and of the Committee before that. The reason why I think it is important that it should be given effect to at the present time, even more so than on the last occa- 731 sion, is to be found in the decision a year ago in the case of Gregory versus Strood Estates. Either one or the other should be amended, and I think that the right course has been taken in this Bill in the clause which operates in that direction. This Bill is the best compromise which could for the time being be found in a very difficult and complicated situation, and, though there are many other detailed points which could be referred to, on the whole I think that the more important issues have been mentioned.
§ LORD MARLEY
My Lords, I shall try to be as objective as the noble Viscount who has just spoken and speak from the point of view of an ex-Chairman of one of these very complicated Committees. I agree with what he said in this matter, and particularly I agree that the whole question of rent restriction has no logical basis to-day. It must therefore be treated, I think, as a detached problem which has remained with us after the War and which will gradually be eliminated. The noble Viscount, Lord Gage, said it was a complicated matter, but he made it very simple to us and, if I may say so, I think he explained it extremely well. I do not know whether the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, as an ex-Chairman of a Committee, felt as I did immediately after the Committee over which I presided, when I had a feeling that I knew extraordinarily little about the subject, even after many months of inquiry. I felt horribly ignorant and I am bound to say I still do.
I do not agree with one remark of the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, when he said that he had great sympathy for the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, as Chairman of that Committee. I do not think he needs any sympathy; certainly not if he had a Committee as easy and pleasant to work with as that over which I had the honour to preside. I do not think I ever had a more pleasant task than dealing with those earnest members, drawn from all Parties, and I see that he had the advantage of having six members of the former Committee, whom I am sure he found as admirable aids and as reasonable as I did. He also had the same assistant secretary to the Committee, a most admirable young man, who helped enormously. I notice there was a change in secretary. The secretary of the Marley Committee was very rapidly seized by the body pre- 732 sided over by my noble friend Lord Snell, the London County Council. They saw a good thing going, and they very quickly took him up, and he is now on the other side of the river. I do not know whether the same fate will come to the admirable secretary of Lord Ridley's Committee, who helped in doing a very good job of work. Again I do not know what Lord Ridley feels about that, but I always felt that the secretary was really the author of very much of the work that emerged in the Report.
I want for a moment to leave aside the details of the Bill and to say a word or two somewhat on the lines taken by my noble friend Lord Listowel. I would remind the House that rent restrictions as a whole arose as a War-time measure, and tile way it arose was because immediately after the beginning of the last War there were a number of very serious evictions, particularly in Scotland, which bitterly roused the people affected because they were the wives—probably soon to be widows—of reservists who had been called up, and who were very quickly pm out on the streets because they could not pay their rents. The result was that a number of these reservists and their friends refused to make munitions. They said: "What is the good of being called to fight the Prussians if we have Prussian methods at home and our wives are put out on the streets?" The Government at that time, with great wisdom, immediately introduced rent restriction as a means of pacifying the reservists and encouraging recruiting, so that future recruits would not say, "Well, we're damned if we're going to fight for the country if our wives are going to be evicted because they cannot afford to pay the increased monopoly rents which result from the absence of any control."The result was that the people were very critical of the rise in rents and at the same time aware of their power to compel the Government to take action.
The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, and his Committee dealt with this matter on page 25 of their Report, and it is rather an interesting—perhaps the first—reference to the possible approach of another war. The Report says in paragraph 60:It is true that certain happenings, such for instance as a major European war, might necessitate the reimposition of a measure of control on houses, but it is equally clear that should such a course become necessary a 733 system of control based on rents charged in 1914 would not adequately meet the case and that some new system applicable to all houses would have to be devised.It does seem odd that if in fact rents are, as my noble friend Lord Listowel suggested, rather higher than many people who are unemployed or on low wages can afford to pay, we should have to wait for another war to remedy that state of things as regards the vast mass of houses outside the area of rent control. In other words, the problem exists in peace, but we shall not know about it until the people have sufficient power to compel the Government to take cognisance of the whole problem by refusing to co-operate with them in a national emergency.
Therefore I am inclined to think that in the general approach to these problems just now, when we are making demands on all sections of the community in a preparation for defence against threats of aggression from other parts of the world, we should realise that the problem of the distribution of the national income should be very carefully considered and that it is one on which we must be very fair. We should make certain that we do not have a state of affairs in which the members of one section of the community have not enough and therefore are troubled with unrest which perhaps they cannot express, with dissatisfaction, and even with inadequacy of the ordinary foodstuffs and necessities of life, while on the other hand another section, which is sometimes called—perhaps miscalled—the landlord section, should have more than enough and should flaunt in luxury and so on a display which causes unrest. Unrest on one side from dissatisfaction, and unrest on another from envy, in the end cause the building up of a feeling of desire to bring force to bear, resulting in the development on the other side of a Fascist spirit which is against the whole spirit of democracy in this country.
Housing in particular demands great fairness because it is so vitally important. I had hoped that the noble Lord, Lord Horder, would have been here to-day because he has recently taken a very great deal of interest in this matter. I want to call your Lordships' attention to a statement he has just made in a hook I came across called Europe Rehoused, in which he says that shelter is almost on an equality with food as our most 734 essential necessity. And he says that if we are to have unity in this country the people must be housed comfortably and rents should be at such a level that they leave ample money for food. It is also a fact, according to some statistics prepared by a very well-known economist, Mr. Colin Clark, that as compared with 1933 the proportion of the national income going in wages has diminished from 42 per cent. to 40 per cent., and the proportion going in rent interest and so on has increased from 30 per cent. to 34 per cent. It is within the knowledge of many of your Lordships that to-day, in point of fact, there are a large number of cases in which the actual money left in the lower incomes, the unemployed incomes, of this country, is really inadequate for a proper supply of food. That is of course the basis of the case for some form of control into which I shall go in a very few moments.
I think we may say that economic rents are too high in Great Britain. By that I do not mean that the amount charged in rent is too high for the economic cost of the house. Lord Horder, in the book to which I have just referred, points out that we have spent more money per dwelling than any other country in the world. I suppose we have spent well over five hundred million pounds on housing as compared with a very few millions in any other country—more money in cash and more money per house than any other country in the world. Lord Horder says that is only justified if these expensive British homes surpass those of other nations. He adds:Alas, this is not the case because most of the money has been spent on land and materials.Therefore the actual value in houses has not been adequate; but the economic rent charged for the house includes the cost of the land and of the materials. The result is that private enterprise in this country, which has been responsible for such an enormous number of houses, largely deals with the higher rented houses, and that is why we get overcrowding. We get overcrowding because the smallest houses are the cheapest houses and are naturally inhabited by the largest families, for the reason that the largest families have least money left for rent. That is why the Ridley Committee drew particular attention to the question of municipal housing.
735 On page 18 of the Ridley Committee's Report they point out some very interesting figures. They say that 57 per cent. of working-class houses have an average rent of 6s., and are controlled. I want to change the order in which the Ridley Committee put their figures. Sixteen per cent. have an average rent of 7s., and are municipal or local authority houses; 19 per cent. have an average rent of 7s. 6d., and are decontrolled, and 8 per cent. have an average rent of 10s. and are the new private houses. That means that the new private houses are built only for people who can afford 10s. or thereabouts; decontrolled houses went up from 6s. to 7s. 6d. on an average; and between the two come the municipal houses, keeping rents down by municipal control and possibly representing what the noble Viscount had in mind in that connection regarding the reimposition of some form of control if ever, unhappily, we come to another war. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, rather suggested that rent restriction might form a means of dealing with this matter, but I am inclined to think that there is not a very fundamental difference between us because the Ridley Committee did realise that rent restriction would not constitute a permanent and widespread control and that some new form of control would be desirable. Personally I believe that possibly some form of municipal control will he what we have to undertake.
I welcome this Bill because it maintains protection for a very large number of houses which are to-day controlled and which will remain controlled. It is, of course, a fact that certain houses will become decontrolled, and some of them will have their rents increased. I know that that will happen in the upper grade of the Class B house, but the alternative apparently was the decision of the Government in the 1933 Act which, to use their own words, stated that "rent restriction would continue until 1938 and no longer." I do not know why they put in "no longer," and that was the reason why I found myself unable to support the 1933 Bill when it came before your Lordships' House. However, the Government have now seen reason and have come round to my point of view, and I want to congratulate them on that fact. In these days the question of continuing control of any particular class of 736 house must be regarded as depending on whether the shortage of houses in that lass is at an end. Now that principle has been adopted. I need hardly say that it is due to pressure by the Ridley Committee which adopted the same point of view, a common-sense point of view. Other people have also now come round to that point of view. I think that means that we should secure that decontrol in this utterly illogical state of affairs, in which houses on one side of a street are controlled and houses on the other side of the same type are decontrolled, shall take place with the minimum of hardship. But superimposed upon all that is the general hardship to which I have referred, and the remedy for which is not in rent restriction but is in another attiture of mind to the whole question of the relation of housing to the needs of the people and their available wages, to which reference was made by my noble friend Lord Listowel.
Finally, let me say that there are a number of improvements which are included in the Bill that I specially welcome. I well remember calling attention to the question of sub-tenancies, and I very much welcome the decision embodied in this Bill to protect sub-tenants against the decontrol of a whole house which would come into the upper Class B category. I think that is very important. I welcome also the onus being put upon the landlord to prove that his house is decontrolled. It is not that I am anti-landlord, it is that I feel the landlord is in a better position than the tenant in many cases to make this decision, and the tenant should be protected when it comes to a question of a legal decision. I was glad, too, to hear about the rent books. I know it will mean legislation. I understand, at least, that it will involve some modification of the Housing Acts, but I believe it is very important. If I recollect correctly, the Committee over which I presided recommended it, or something like it. Though at the time the Government were not converted they have now come round to our point of view, and that is always an extremely good thing. I welcome also what is being done in regard to the sanitary certificates. I felt at the time that these certificates from the sanitary committee were not entirely satisfactory. We were always surprised to find how few people would go and ask for a certificate even though 737 their house was on the point of collapse. That I gather will be altered now, due to the conditions in Glasgow. The very logical Scottish point of view in these matters is being adopted. I welcome that, and I was also very glad to find that there is a reference to the question of levying distress orders. I am very pleased that a new Committee is being set up, over which, I understand, judge Lilley is to preside, to deal with the question of the law of landlord and tenant. On the whole I am very glad that my Party did not see fit to divide against the Bill in another place on its Third Reading. I think the benefits of the Bill outweigh any disadvantages, and, personally, I shall support the Second Reading.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (THE MARQUESS OF ZETLAND)
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Snell, is rather fond of accusing His Majesty's Government in the pleasantest of language of being guilty of self-satisfied complacency. I hope that the noble Lord will not think that I am adding to the Government's guilt in that respect this afternoon if I say that we have noticed with satisfaction the general measure of support which we have received from all quarters for this particular Bill. Even the noble. Earl, Lord Listowel, who dissented from one of the main proposals of the Bill, expressed his gratification at a considerable number of the proposals which it contained. He asked whether we could give him any sort of assurance that if the measure of decontrol which was provided for in this Bill did in fact take place there would be no unreasonable rise in rents. The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, has pointed out that one of the main reasons why increases in rent have taken place as a result of decontrol in the past has been that decontrol has taken place as a result of the landlord obtaining vacant possession, and now that that is to come to an end, at any rate in so far as the houses in the lower range of Class B and in Class C are concerned, one cause of the rise in rents at any rate will he removed. But I can also give the noble Lord some actual facts, which I hope will to a large extent relieve his mind. I am informed that in Glasgow, where as we all know housing conditions are not of the best, some 5,340 decontrolled Class B houses changed hands in the year 1936–37. The aggregate rent of those 738 houses while they were controlled was £180,687. The aggregate rent of the same houses after they had become decontrolled and had changed hands was £181,000. That is to say, the total increase in the rents of 5,340 houses amounted to only £300 or £400 in an aggregate sum of £180,000. There you have an indication of actual experience which will, I hope, go a long way to relieve the noble Earl's anxieties on that score.
The noble Lord, Lord Marley, whose support of this Bill I welcome, seemed, if I may say so, to travel this afternoon a little beyond the scope of the actual Bill which is under your Lordships' consideration. He touched upon the whole vexed question of the distribution of the national wealth, and he will forgive me, I hope, if on this occasion I do not follow him into that interesting and indeed fascinating field; but let me assure him that we welcome the support which in the circumstances of to-day he is willing to give to this Bill. What the Government have done is really to accept, with one exception, about which I shall say a word in a moment, the recommendations of the Committee which reported under the Chairmanship of Lord Ridley. The Government, of course, are enormously indebted both to the labours of Lord Marley's Committee in 1930 and to the labours, more recently, of Lord Ridley's Committee, and I would certainly like to join with my noble friend Lord Gage in expressing the most sincere appreciation of His Majesty's Government for the immense amount of time and thought which Lord Ridley and his Committee gave to this most difficult question.
What is the effect of accepting the recommendations which have been made to us. The effect is, I think, broadly speaking, to hold the scales evenly as between landlords on the one side and tenants on the other. The Government cannot agree for a moment with the contention made by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that a measure of control should become a permanent feature on the Statute Book of this country. We dissent entirely from that. We agree with the recommendation of both Committees that control should come to an end as soon as the housing situation is such as to make it possible to bring it to an end without hardship to the public at large. So far as landlords 739 are concerned, they will certainly benefit to the extent to which houses in the upper range of Class B become decontrolled. They will also have the advantage in those cases in which they have raised money on mortgage of having the mortgages protected for a period of six months after the Bill becomes law. That should give them time to adjust their arrangements. It is quite true that in the case of a house in the lower range of Class B which the landlord claims to be decontrolled, he will have after the passing of this Bill to make his claim normally within three months. On the other hand, provision is made in exceptional circumstances for that period to be extended to one year provided that he can satisfy the Courts that he had adequate reason for not making his claim during the earlier period.
Then, again, some landlords at least will benefit from the provision of the Bill which seeks to obviate the effect of the decision in the case of Nicholson and Jackson which has been referred to on more than one occasion this afternoon. It is possible that in other cases the tenant will benefit, and I know that in the case of Liverpool there are particular circumstances which may give rise to certain anomalies in the working of this particular proposal. But we have, of course, to legislate not for one town but for the country as a whole, and all the Committees who have considered this question have recognised the inequity of the existing system under which the landlord gets the benefit only of the compounding allowance as it stood in 1914 and have recommended that when a suitable opportunity occurred a change in that respect should be made. Then, again, many landlords who cannot at present obtain possession of their houses for their own occupation without providing alternative accommodation, or at any rate showing that alternative accommodation is available, will be in a position after the passage of this Bill to secure possession for their own occupation.
Finally, I would suggest that the landlords will benefit from the decision of the Government that in future decontrol, in the case at any rate of England and Wales—I am afraid Scotland, where the housing conditions are not so good as they are in England and Wales, will have to wait—shall take place quite definitely 740 by areas, and that a Committee shall be set up to report by the autumn of 1941 as to the exact method and time of further stages of progressive decontrol. The fact that the Report of this Committee will be available in the autumn of 1941 will have this advantage, as my noble friend Viscount Gage pointed out, that it will be available to the Government of the day at the time when the general review of housing finance will be taking place. It will no doubt be said that we have departed from the exact recommendations of the Ridley Committee. It is quite true that we have done so, but we have done so only so far as methods are concerned and not in principle. The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, I was glad to find from his speech this afternoon, did not dissent from the decision at which the Government have arrived with regard to that matter. I do feel myself—and here I share the views of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel—that the overcrowding standard as defined in the Housing Act is a low one, and it is inevitably a low one, because as he I think pointed out it was provided as a basis of penal action. I am satisfied that there are more elements than the actual element of overcrowding as defined in the Housing Acts which have to be taken into account before a reasonable decision can be arrived at as to whether in any particular area any particular class of house can be decontrolled without hardship to the general public.
Let me say one word with regard to the advantages which tenants, as it seems to me, will obtain as the result of the passage of this Bill. They have this advantage, that control will continue in the case of houses in the lower range of Class B and in Class C. That, I think, was welcomed by the noble Lord, Lord Marley. These houses will in future be amalgamated and form a single class. The tenant will have the further advantage, which has already been pointed out during this debate, that if he is a sub-tenant in a divided house he will continue to receive protection even if the landlord obtains possession from the tenant in chief. Then again, a tenant of a house which is decontrolled in the upper range of Class B will be entitled to at least one month's notice, with the further provision that that notice cannot be made effective before September 29, 1938, thus giving him ample time to make arrange- 741 ments. If the tenant has used the house mainly or partly as a shop or place of business, he will be entitled to the advantages of the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1927, in the event of control ceasing. Under that Act provision is made for compensation for improvements or for loss of goodwill. He will also obtain the advantage which was referred to by Lord Marley, from the clause in the Bill which seeks to obviate the effects of another decision in the Courts—namely, that in Heginbotham versus Watts, which put upon the tenant the onus of proving that the house was controlled. By this Bill that burden will be placed upon the landlord. The period during which a tenant will be entitled to recover overpayments of his rent will be increased from six months to two years. In future rent books will be obligatory.
Finally, the tenant will surely derive great advantage from the rapid increase in the provision of new houses which experience has shown to have followed the decontrol of existing houses, and—if I may say so generally without incurring once more a charge of self-satisfaction from the noble Lord, Lord Snell—from the general sense of confidence which has grown up in this country as a result of the establishment in power of a National Government! Decontrol has of course been proceeding rapidly during recent Years, and it is surely not a mere coincidence that simultaneously the number of houses produced by private enterprise has enormously increased. I am informed, and I believe the information to be correct, that during these years something like a quarter of a million houses have been built by private enterprise every year. Surely, if building continues at that sort of speed, we may look for- 742 ward before very long to the necessity for control disappearing altogether. I do not think that an answer was asked for to any of the other points which were raised, and I commend, as did my noble friend Viscount Gage, this Bill to the favourable consideration of your Lordships.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.