§ 2.48 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the House to be again in Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly:
§ [The LORD TERRINGTON in the Chair]
§ Clause 22:
§ Repairs increase for dwelling-house in good repair
22.—(1) Where a dwelling-house is let under a controlled tenancy or occupied by a statutory tenant, and the landlord is responsible, wholly or in part, for the repair of the dwelling-house, then, subject to the provisions of this Part of this Act, —
(b) if in accordance with the Second Schedule to this Act the landlord has produced satisfactory evidence that work of repair to the value specified in that Schedule has been carried out on the dwelling-house during the period so specified;
the rent recoverable from the tenant shall be increased by virtue of this subsection so as to exceed by the amount hereinafter mentioned the rent which apart from this subsection would be recoverable from the tenant under the terms of the tenancy or statutory tenancy and having regard to the provisions of any enactment.
§ (2) The amount of any increase payable by virtue of the last foregoing subsection (which increase is hereinafter referred to as a "repairs increase") shall be at the annual rate of twice the statutory repairs deduction for the dwelling-house in respect of which the rent is payable:
§ Provided that where the landlord is responsible in part only for the repair of the dwelling-house, the amount of the repairs increase shall be reduced proportionately.
(3) The foregoing provisions of this section shall not apply if—
(d) the standard rent of the dwelling-house is a rent determined under section thirty-three of this Act.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN moved, in subsection (1) (b), after "out" to insert, "by him or paid for by him." The noble Earl said: Your Lordships will remember that last week, when the House considered this Bill, the last Amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Listowel was designed to add one more to the conditions which a landlord must fulfil in order to obtain the rent increase from his 850 tenant. Unfortunately, that Amendment was defeated, but I think it is clear from the whole Bill that Her Majesty's Government have had very much in mind the need for doing justice as between landlord and tenant. My noble friend and I do not agree that the safeguards introduced into the Bill are sufficient, and that will be clear from other Amendments that are to be moved later. But the fact that there is need for justice to be done, and to be seen to be done, between landlord and tenant is clear from almost every clause of the Bill. Therefore, I was surprised to find front Clause 22 (1) (b) that there is a curious omission. With respect, I suggest that this is due to an oversight.
if your Lordships will read that paragraph you will see that it appears that the landlord is entitled to claim rent increase whether or not he himself has spent any money on repairs. Therefore the purpose of this Amendment is to insert in paragraph (b) the words, "by him or paid by him." It is clearly the intention that the rent increase shall be allowed in respect of repairs carried out by the landlord. In fact, that is specifically stated in Paragraph 39 of the Government White Paper entitled Houses: the Next Step, which says:
It would not be fair that the landlord should get the increase if, in fact, it is the tenant who has done all the work necessary to keep a house in good repair. It will be provided, therefore, that the landlord must, as a test of good faith, show that he has recently spent a sum of money on repairs.
In order to make this clear, it seems to me that some words such as those in this Amendment should be inserted in the clause. I beg to move.
Page 18, line 20, after ("out") insert ("by him or paid for by him").—(The Earl of Lucan.)
§ LORD SILKIN
I do not want to say much in addition to what my noble friend has said in supporting this Amendment. I do not think it is part of our case that the expenditure might have been incurred by the tenant, because that is covered by the last paragraph of the Second Schedule, which says that, for the purposes of the Schedule, work shall be disregarded if it was carried out by the tenant. The fact remains, however, that the work may have been done by somebody else. One example is contained in Paragraph 7 (b) of the Second Schedule, which 851 says that word done under the War Damage Act is to be disregarded. We have an Amendment to the Second Schedule providing that work is to be disregarded if it is carried out by an authority in respect of subsidence. But we cannot think of every possible contingency where work may be done by somebody other than the landlord. It is significant that Clause 22 does not state anywhere in terms that the work must be done at the expense of the landlord: it is sufficient if the landlord produces evidence that repair work to the value specified in the Schedule has been carried out to the dwelling-house, whoever may have done the work. I am sure that that is not the intention of the Government. Their intention is that the work must be done by the landlord, or at any rate paid for by him. It is to make that clear that this Amendment has been moved. Whether we have exactly the right words or not I should not like to say, but certainly some words ought to be inserted to make it abundantly clear that the landlord gets no increase of rent unless he is out of pocket somehow to the extent of the cost of repairs.
§ VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER
I have a good deal of sympathy with this Amendment but I think there is a point which has escaped the noble Lords who have supported it. I have in mind the question of fire. Some landlords carry their own risk, though in the normal way they pay premiums. It seems hard that a man in such circumstances should not be allowed to count the repairs done and paid for by an insurance company. I do not know whether the noble Lord had that point in mind, or whether there is any way of overcoming it, but that would be my own feeling in opposing the Amendment.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am sorry that I cannot possibly accept this Amendment. When I read it, I thought there must be something behind it that I did not appreciate, but that does not appear to be so. I can see no reason at all why, if the work has not been done by the tenant himself, something which is safeguarded by the last paragraph of the Second Schedule, it matters by whom it has been done; and it would be perfectly impossible to provide for all the 852 complications that might arise. Let me give this example. Suppose the work is done not by the landlord but by his predecessor in title. Why should the landlord not get the benefit of that expense, just as, if the work is done by the tenant's predecessor in title, it is expressly provided by the last paragraph of the Second Schedule that the landlord is not to get the benefit of it. Take another example. Suppose my predecessor in title is my testator, from whom I acquired this property. Why should not the increased rent be demanded in precisely the same way, if my testator has paid for the repairs and kept the house in repair? It might be that I succeeded to the property through intestacy. It was necessary for some increase in rent to be paid, in order to keep up the property, and I ought not to be penalised because the property has been kept in repair not by myself but by my testator.
Or, again, perhaps I have bought the property and it has been kept in repair by the vendor; and because it has been kept in repair I have paid a higher price for it than I otherwise should. Why should I not get the benefit of the higher rent which the Statute provides? Perhaps I had a mortgage. I have not paid for the repairs but I have paid off my mortgage. Why should I not get the benefit? This Amendment is entirely misconceived. If there were any cases such as those provided for by sub-paragraph (b) of Paragraph 7 of the Schedule, then of course we should consider them. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin has put down a specific case, and we will deal with that when we come to it, but I do not think he makes a good case. If it is not strictly in pari materia with that for which provision is made in Part I of the War Damage Act, 1941, we will consider it; but it is impossible to consider the proposition that the landlord shall not receive an increase in rent unless he shows that he has paid out of his own pocket for the repairs which put the premises in a satisfactory condition. That is what the Amendment proposes and I could not possibly accept it. It would be a gross injustice to the landlord.
§ EARL JOWITT
Everybody listening to him must realise the force of the noble and learned Lord's observations. I certainly do. On the other hand, although in this matter I do not claim to be an 853 expert, a point occurs to me which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor might look at between now and Report stage. Suppose the repairs which have been done—by the landlord, if you like—are merely to restore something which has been knocked down. Take the case of a bus which is braked suddenly on a wet road and skids into the wall of a dwelling-house, knocking it down. I suppose the bus company would pay for the damage and the wall would be put back in the condition in which it was before. The house is no better than it was before, but cost of repairs has been incurred. Obviously, in those circumstances, it would be right that the tenant should not have to pay higher rent. He has just what he had before, though expense has been incurred by the landlord. I do not suppose for a moment that in a case like that it would be sought to make the tenant pay increased rent—because the vast majority of landlords are reasonable persons. But the language used here seems to be capable of allowing that situation to arise. All we desire is that if the repairs are merely to put back premises into the condition in which they were before an accident, even though that involves expense to the landlord, there shall be no question of a higher rent. It may be that some words are wanted to achieve that result. If the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor would look at the matter to see whether any words to that effect are wanted, I think my noble friends would be well advised to withdraw the Amendment.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am obliged to the noble and learned Earl. As I have said already, I will always look at these things again, but I hope that it will not be assumed from that that we have riot looked at this matter before. The noble and learned Earl is assuming that a wall which is in goad repair is knocked down by a bus; the landlord gets damages, and is able to restore the wall with those damages. It would be hard if, because of the fact that the wall had been knocked down, the landlord could not get the increase of rent he would have got when his wall was in good repair. Your Lordships see the complications that arise the moment you depart from this broad proposition. 854 When the tenant has paid for the repairs he should not be mulcted; but if otherwise the premises are in good repair, it does not matter who has put them in good repair. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred they will be put in repair at the expense of the landlord. If there is any particular case that can be thought of, we will consider it; but I doubt whether, with all the complications, we can make any other provision than that of the Bill as drawn. However, as I say, we will look at it again.
I do not think it matters whether this Amendment is accepted or rejected. I have never seen in any Bill a more undesirable paragraph than paragraph (b) of Clause 22 (1). Suppose, for example, that the house is, in fact, in good repair; that the landlord has spent only 6s. 8d. upon it in the last twelve months but a great deal upon it in the last five years. In those circumstances, although the house is in first-class repair, the landlord is not entitled to a repairs increase. I have made one effort to get Clause 22(1) "shot out" of the Bill, but I consider that I was "shot out" myself.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
I should be the last person to attempt to take or, if I may use a colloquialism, the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, on such a subject as this. However, he described the Amendment as misconceived, and I feel that I should draw his attention to the Government's White Paper. Paragraph 39 says:Her Majesty's Government intend that no repairs increase shall be allowed unless and until the landlord can show that he has actually spent money on repairs.If the Government mean what they say there, the clause as it stands, needs Amendment. Whether the Amendment proposed is in the right terms I should not like to say but would the noble and learned Lord not agree that there is some inconsistency between the Bill and the intentions of the Government?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Earl has asked me a question. In the White Paper the whole contrast is drawn between the case where the tenant himself has paid for the repairs, and where the repairs have been done, not at his expense. I agree that it is possible to take the verbal point, but nobody 855 could suppose that there is to be a difference between the case where the landlord himself has done it, and where he has succeeded to certain property and his father has done those repairs. I agree that the verbal point can be taken but, if I may say so, it is nothing more.
§ LORD SILKIN
It is, of course, quite logical to argue as the noble Lord, Lord Meston, has argued, and I quite follow his point. But what does it matter whether money has been spent on this property or not? If the property is in good repair and condition, the tenant should pay an increased rent. Obviously property cannot remain indefinitely in good condition without some money being spent on it. That would have been a perfectly intelligible approach to this problem, and that is the approach which the noble Lord, Lord Meston, is advocating. But that is not the purported approach of the Government at all: they have adopted the principle "unless the money has been spent"—and I have always understood it to mean, "by the landlord or his predecessor in title." The examples of the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, are, in many instances, cases where the landlord is, in fact, paying. If a landlord pays more for his property because it is in good condition, he is, in fact, paying.
§ LORD SILKIN
It is paid by him. He has paid more for his property because it is in good condition, and therefore, he is, in fact, paying for the cost of repairs. The principle of the Bill is that the landlord should be reimbursed for his expenditure. I thought that that was the whole basis upon which these increases were being justified. Admittedly, the noble and learned Lord has given a number of examples which have to be met, such as the predecessor in title; but I submit that in this clause the Government are departing from that principle, and the noble and learned Lord is doing so, too. He now says: "What does it matter who spends the money; what does it matter whether the money is spent at all?"—and it is not a far step to adding, "as long as the property is in good repair." But that is not what the public are led to believe is the principle behind this Bill. It is 856 because we want to make it quite clear that the landlord gets no increase unless he, or, if you like, his predecessors in title, have spent money, that we have put down this Amendment. I agree that in the light of the discussion we have had it is not quite so simple as our Amendment might suggest, and that we have to meet the point of the noble and learned Lord with regard to insurance. It is for that reason that I would recommend my noble friend to withdraw the Amendment. But it is a point to which I feel we must come back, unless we can get a settled form of words to cover the point that this expense is to be the landlord's expense.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I do not know whether the Amendment has been withdrawn or not, but I do not propose to keep up this discussion any longer. As 1 say, I will look into the matter again; but in saying that, I am most anxious not to hold out any hope such as that form of words does sometimes hold out. I can assure the noble Lord that we have looked into this matter fully and this is the conclusion to which we have come. Therefore, it would not be right for me to hold out hope. I am not going to reply in a sort of Second Reading, speech on what is the principle of the Bill.
§ EARL JOWITT
I can well understand that, and I should advise my noble friend to withdraw the Amendment. However, I should like the point looked at to see that the tenant gets some benefit. May I take the point of the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster. Suppose some premises are burned. The landlord is insured and pays his premiums; the insurance company provide the money; the landlord's builders, presumably, do the work, and they restore the building to what it was before. It was sound before, and it is sound afterwards. It is no better for the tenant after than it was before; he simply gets back what he had before. I cannot think it right, in those circumstances, that the tenant should be obliged to pay a higher rent for premises which are the same afterwards as they were before; and I do not believe that is what the Government intend.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.857
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ LORD BROUGHSHANE moved, in subsection (2), to leave out "twice" and insert "two and a quarter times." The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No.18 and, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to refer to Amendment No.20 at the same time, as it deals with the same point. The amount of the rent increase which by the terms of this Bill a landlord is to be permitted to make is based, as is well known, on the findings of the Girdwood Committee, which reported in April, 1953. That Committee reported, in effect, that for every £100 the landlord had to spend on the repair and maintenance of his property in 1939, he would have to spend £316 in 1953. The Government said, in effect: "We will call that three times, and we will make the permitted rent increase twice the statutory deduction"—which, as your Lordships know, is the amount which it is presumed, for lax purposes, the landlord spends each year upon his property. Since the Girdwood Committee made their Report, the cost of repairs has further risen, notably on account of two increases in the wage rates of the building trade, one in February of this year and the other so recent that it became operative only yesterday. In addition, there have been certain increases in transport costs. As a result of these factors, the Girdwood figure of £316 becomes to-day something over £330. It is in those circumstances that my noble friend Lord Wolverton and I have tabled this Amendment, providing that the permitted rent increase be increased from twice the statutory deduction to two and a quarter times. For similar reasons, it is sought to introduce at the end of the clause a proviso which would permit the Minister, as and when, and if, the cost of repairs continues to rise, to increase the amount of the permitted rent increase.
§ This Amendment is not designed merely to get a little more for the landlord. It is put forward in an honest attempt to make this Bill workable, for if the incentives offered to the landlord here are ineffective, the Bill itself becomes ineffective. My information tends to confirm what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said last week, to the effect that very few landlords at the present time have any intention of making any attempt to qualify for the rent increase permitted 858 under this Bill. To the best of my information, landlords generally are considerably bewildered by the complexity of this Bill. They are clear on one point only, and that is that any increase of rent which they may obtain will be subject to income tax. If it now becomes manifest that the permitted rent increase does not even nominally equate with the amount which they will be called upon to spend on repairs, I fear that they will come to regard these provisions as little more than than a mockery.
§ This Bill, as I understand it, is a corollary or a complement to the Government's campaign to build new houses, it being recognised that it is almost as important to prevent an old house from falling into disrepair and disuse as it is to build a new one. As regards the building of new houses, the Government have shown admirable courage, drive and determination; and their efforts have met with considerable success. But when it comes to saving the old house, the Government's approach seems to me a curiously different one. Instead of determination and drive, one discerns what I can only call a somewhat diffident optimism. When these matters were debated in another place, the Minister's words seemed to me throughout to be words of anxious hopefulness, rather than of resolution and realism. When speaking on the clause which is the subject of this Amendment he said that he could only hope that he had got the values about right. I was irresistibly reminded of the famous last words of the man who fell between two stools. Admittedly, there are difficulties here. This is a very ticklish question, but if nettles are not going to be grasped they are better left alone. Unless the Government are prepared to adopt an imperative, purposeful attitude to this matter, and to make it possible for the landlord to do what it is sought to induce him to do by the terms of this Bill, I think it would be better at once to face the fact that this part of the Government's housing problem is, if I may be permitted the expression, a non-starter. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, in winding up the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill, posed the question, which he rightly described as a fundamental one: Is the landlord able, in present-day conditions, to carry out his rôle in the 859 social structure? I would say this. If the Government cannot see their way to taking urgent measures to relieve the predicament of the landlord who, weakened and wasted by forty years of rent restriction, is nearly in extremis, I must own to grave doubts as to whether it will be possible to answer that question as the Government wish it to be answered, in the affirmative. I beg to move.
Page 18, line 30, leave out ("twice") and insert ("two and a quarter times").—(Lord Broughshane.)
§ LORD WOLVERTON
I should like to say a few words on this Amendment, which stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Broughshane, who has just admirably moved it, and myself, in the hope that the Government will see fit to accept it. It does not ask a great deal. As your Lordships know, the whole basis of rent increase is based on the formula worked out by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. To get that formula they had to get the Girdwood Committee to report as to the amount of the increase. Admirable as both the reports were, the Girdwood Report is now a good deal out of date and, as my noble friend has said, there have been two rises in costs since the time of that Committee. We are asking that the permitted increase, instead of twice, should be two and a quarter times, and with the permissive power of the Minister to go up to two and a half times, if, unfortunately, the costs go even higher. Unless a reasonable increase is allowed in order to encourage the carrying out of these repairs, then, as I said on Second Reading I am doubtful whether they will be done. While we welcome what the Government have done, we hope they will see their way to go a little further and bring this formula up to date.
I should like to support this Amendment. I hope that all your Lordships who enjoy the same political freedom as I do will also support it. I am glad to say that there is no one to "beat me up" if ever I digress from the official point of view. Let me say at once that two and a quarter times is far too little. If I were a dictator, should say something like three to four times. The proviso would give the 860 Minister power, if necessary, to increase the amount to two and a half times. If your Lordships look at the Schedule, and work out the amount of permitted increase, you will come to the conclusion that in practically every case, especially in the case of small properties, it is far too little. I therefore think that this Amendment, although it will not do much to save these properties, is better than nothing, and I hope that all your Lordships who call your consciences your own will vote actively in favour of it.
§ LORD SILKIN
The noble Lord who has just spoken has really said what I was going to say. This Bill has proceeded all the way through its troublous course in another place up to here on the basis that the permitted rent increase will be twice the amount of the statutory deduction. One could agree with every word said by the noble Lord who moved the Amendment and the noble Lord who seconded it. But what will the landlord get out of it? Look at the statutory deduction. When you get to the point of a rent of £1 a week, the statutory deduction is £15 a year. Most properties that are controlled are rented at less than £1 a week—the gross value rent would be rather more. There are very few cases of this type of property where the statutory deduction is as high as £15 a year. The effect of the Amendment would be to give them, subject to the "stopper" provision which may operate, another £3 15s. 0d. a year, which is 1s. 6d. a week, as a maximum, but, in the more normal case, possibly under ls. a week. I cannot believe for one single moment that that is going to make any difference whatever. I do not think that a landlord who has not kept his property in repair, because he has not been able to get an increase in his rent to cover the extra cost, will be tempted, either by the provision as it stands or by the Amendment, if it is carried.
I do not think the Amendment will make the slightest difference. The noble Lord, Lord Meston, said that it is better than nothing. I do not think it is better than nothing. I think it merely provides a facade which will not be effective and which will lull us into a false sense of security. It will make people imagine that the problem has been solved, when in fact it has not. I think it is far better to leave it alone. I expressed my view 861 on this point on Second Reading, but I do not think for a moment that it will effect any improvement at all to adopt two and a quarter times, as against twice. If the noble Lords who put down this Amendment had had the courage of their convictions, and had said "five or six times," that might have been an incentive. They talk about the Government's lack of courage. What about their own?
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ LORD MANCROFT
This debate is developing into a form of Dutch auction. The Government say "twice," the noble Lords, Lord Broughshane and Lord Wolverton, say "two and a quarter times," the noble Lord, Lord Meston, says "three or four times," the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, says "five or six times"; and he very neatly puts it back on to the Benches behind me. May bring it back to twice, which is the figure I suggest that your Lordships should be persuaded to look to—for this reason. There is no magic whatever about this figure; it is not an intensely accurate mathematical calculation. The reasons upon which that calculation was based have been accurately described to your Lordships by both the noble Lords in whose names this Amendment stands. The justification was, first, the evidence put forward by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors that in 1939 the statutory deduction was approximately the amount that had to be spent to keep the house in good repair; and, secondly, the Report by the Girdwood Committee. I am prepared to agree that since the Girdwood Committee reported the figure may have changed; and it may change again. We cannot have some sort of yardstick, which is all this is, constantly changing its links from day to day as the price of paint goes up or the cost of timber comes down. That will not work in a Bill like this.
The purpose of the Bill is to deal with the problem of houses falling into disrepair, and to increase the income of the house by sufficient, but only just sufficient, to enable the landlord to keep it in repair. The Government's proposal, I submit, holds the balance evenly between landlord and tenant. On this basis, I would suggest that there is no justification for this constant attempt to 862 juggle the figures to meet any change, rise or fall, in the cost of repairs. This is, admittedly, a stop-gap measure, as we have said time and time again. This is, admittedly, rough justice; but I suggest that it is a great deal more desirable than the unpredictable sliding scale, which is really what noble Lords are suggesting. The scale they suggest seems to go up, but I have not heard it suggested that it should come down in favour of the tenant if the cost of repairs comes down. In any event, if the various provisions which the noble Lord put forward were to be incorporated in the Bill, it would inevitably leave both landlord and tenant in a great state of confusion and uncertainty.
Since the noble Lord, Lord Broughshane told the Committee that he was going to discuss Amendment No. 20 at the same time, I feel in duty bound to draw your Lordships' attention to one element of that Amendment with which he did not deal, if I may say so with respect, as fully as I should have liked. Of course, the Government will keep a watch on these figures and deal with them as equitably as they may. They feel that the cost of repairs has now become stabilised, or at least sufficiently stabilised. But what the noble Lord, Lord Broughshane, intends in his Amendment No. 20 is that a further increase in rent could be effected, so far as I could understand, solely by ministerial order. I feel, and I hope your Lordships will agree with me, that if any change of that kind is needed, it should not be made by ministerial order but by Act of Parliament. I therefore hope that your Lordships will, if I may say so with great respect to the two noble Lords who put their case fairly and squarely before the House, agree with me that we cannot have this constantly sliding scale; that this figure of two, which is based on a sound, statistical background, is a good form of rough justice to achieve what we want. I would ask your Lordships also to agree with rile that the slight pessimism displayed by the noble Lords, Lord Broughshane and Lord Wolverton, is quite unjustified, and that the increase proposed in the Bill is the most fair and equitable way of tackling this difficult problem.
While asking leave to withdraw this Amendment, I must say that I am unconvinced by anything that the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has said as regards the probable effectiveness of this provision. In the circumstances, it appears that the whole discussion becomes extremely academic. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ EARL BATHURST moved, in subsection (2), immediately before the proviso, to insert "or twelve pounds whichever is the greater." The noble Earl said: Before I move this Amendment which stands in my name and that of my noble friends, I must declare that I have an interest in the aims of this Amendment and, of course, in the whole Bill. I assure your Lordships it is not for that reason that I move this Amendment but rather that the noble Lord who would have moved it is unable to do so and I happened to be standing rather too close to the door of your Lordships' Library. It is claimed in the White Paper that the object is to put poor houses into good repair. The Amendment which is under my name is a small and insignificant-looking Amendment, but it has the same objective as the Amendment which has just been withdrawn by the noble Lords, Lord Broughshane and Lord Wolverton.
§ On the other hand, for the very reasons which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, opposite brought forward, this Amendment attempts to achieve the same effect by a different method. The landlord provides a service to his tenant. Whether it is a popular or an unpopular service will, of course, depend on circumstances. Nevertheless, it is a service, and the cost of providing that service, as we have heard from my noble friend, has gone up by over 330 per cent. since 1939. That is no phenomenon in any line of industry or trade. Costs have gone up in practically every imaginable direction, and the immediate result is that companies and concerns put up their charges for their services to the general public and, of course, to your Lordships. The National Coal Board, British Railways, and the municipal corporations do it—in fact, everybody puts up the price of his services except the landlord of rent-restricted 864 property, whose service price has been pegged by law since 1939.
§ Whether rightly or wrongly, the increases, such as they are, which this Bill will allow are based on the statutory repair allowances and the gross annual values of the property. The noble and learned Lord, in every reply which he gives, on whatsoever subject, is always completely intelligible and clear, especially for one who is connected with the legal profession. This Amendment asks Her Majesty's Government to acknowledge that many of the poorer and older properties mentioned in the White Paper have a very low gross annual value. I checked on my own estate of typical village houses. Possibly some of them are better than usual, due to a programme of reconstruction, but I found that my average gross annual valuation is £7. Out of those average figures there are many houses at a gross annual valuation of only £3. Think how many hundreds of thousands of houses there must be in the country, especially in rural areas, of £3 a year gross value, or even much less.
§ Take a house of the average which I have quoted, £7 gross annual value, and let at a restricted rent of, say, 3s. a week, which is by no means unusual in a rural area. The maximum increase which would be allowed and which one can calculate from the tables in the Appendix to this Bill, for a house with a gross annual valuation of £7, will be £6 a year—that is, double the statutory repairs allowance of £3. That works out at 2s. 4d. a week, or approximately that figure. That brings the rent of this 3s. a week house to 5s. 4d. per week. Well, at 5s. 4d. a week it is a physical impossibility to maintain any property in good repair. In the first place, you have to spend money to put the property into good repair. The rent of even an agricultural tied cottage is recognised as 6s. a week. Take the case of a 6s. a week cottage, which has a gross annual value of only £3. This is really the point of the whole Amendment. It might be a reasonably good cottage which, if it became empty, could be let voluntarily to a tenant at, say, a pound a week or even more. It may be a good quality cottage, but it is let at 6s. a week, which brings in a total rent of £15 a year. The gross annual value permits a statutory repair allowance of only 865 £2. Double this amount, which is the maximum which can be charged, comes to £4, bringing the total rent to £19 a year.
§ Because of the ceiling clause a little further down in this clause, however, only twice the gross annual value may be charged, after all expenses have been taken into consideration. Therefore, for this house at 6s. a week (which is recognised throughout the country as a rock-bottom rent), the maximum rent which can be charged under the Bill is £6. Therefore the interests of anybody who has such a house, which is claimed to be the sort of house which this Bill is supposed to help, are completely unaffected by the Bill. I do not think that it can be said that £19 a year is an excessive rent for a reasonable sort of house.
§ The reason why the amount of£12 is suggested in this Amendment is that it was felt that a maximum of £24 would give a reasonable rent, bearing in mind the extra expenses that are incurred on building and repairing in country districts. The same argument would apply in regard to a provincial town building. It is easy to spend £100 just on the roof of a cottage or a small house in the country, and there is little to show for the expenditure. It is not the "big, wicked landlord" who owns these private houses in the country. There are many small people, retired people, who have bought small properties with their savings with rent-restricted tenants sitting in them, and these owners cannot possibly afford to repair their properties. Again many are owned by charities and by the Church Commissioners who are in exactly the same position. As it stands, this Bill cannot help them at all, and I submit that the noble and learned Lord should give some consideration to an Amendment on the lines which I and my noble friends beg to move. It is acknowledged in the White Paper and, I believe, by one and all, that it is impossible at present to repair the old-fashioned type of house to which the White Paper refers, and I submit that even with this Bill it will still be impossible. Given the chance, however, landlords would be willing to put those houses into suitable repair, arid by making a ceiling of £12 for a gross annual value below which there could be no lower gross annual value, something might be done. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord 866 Meston, will feel disposed to support this Amendment, which I now beg to move.
Page 18, line 32, at end insert ("or twelve pounds whichever is the greater.")—(Earl Bathurst.)
I should like to support the Amendment moved by my noble friend. Here is a case of a certain not inconsiderable number of cottages which, under the Bill as it now stands, would not receive the benefit which I am sure it is the intention of the Government to confer. It is a question of saving and improving existing cottages under present-day conditions. The whole idea behind this Amendment is merely to implement the intention of the Government—namely, to put the least-favoured members of the community who live in cottages of this nature in a position, with the help of their landlord, to put their dwellings into such a state as we hope will be reached eventually, or at any rate to improve them to a considerable extent. I would appeal most strongly to the Government to take into consideration this Amendment. It has been before another place, where the Minister recognised the need to give some special consideration to, and to take action regarding, these cottages. The Government are aware of the crying need for something of the sort, whether the figure be twelve pounds or another figure. The figure of twelve pounds is largely an arbitrary figure, but there must be some "floor," as there is a "ceiling," to make it more possible for the landlord to discharge his duty in regard to these small cottages in the countryside.
§ 3.50 p.m.
The noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, has made out an absolutely unanswerable case in favour of this Amendment, and I hope that some of your Lordships, at all events, will support this in an active manner. But, at the same time, let me tell the noble Earl that he has as much hope of getting his Amendment accepted by the Government as had the movers of the previous Amendment. In the case of a cottage where the gross value is £6 the statutory repairs deduction is £3, and therefore the amount of permitted repairs increase is £6 a year, which is 2s. 3d. a week. The last thing I want the noble Earl to 867 think is that I am inquiring into his private affairs, but if you pay 19s. 6d. in the £ on 2s. 3d. a week, the answer is one halfpenny. Whether you are a belted Earl or a commoner, you cannot lead a double life or repair cottages on one halfpenny a week. Therefore, I think this Amendment, when we regard it from a serious point of view, is fortified by justice in every way. It is absolutely impossible for landlords, unless they dip into their own pockets, to do the necessary repairs to small cottages if we adhere strictly to the changes as proposed by the Bill. I therefore hope that this Amendment will, at all events, be considered by the Government.
§ LORD MANCROFT
I find myself more and more often in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Meston. I agree with him entirely that the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst has put his case before the Committee to-day with great eloquence and great fairness. I agree also with the noble Lord, Lord Meston, that he stands very little chance of getting his Amendment accepted. I should like to take up the point made by my noble friend Lord O'Hagan. He rightly tells your Lordships that this matter has been threshed out in great detail in another place, and my right honourable friend the Minister has given it the most careful consideration. I think it is probably the most important Amendment that we have on the Order Paper to-day, but I can dismiss it quite briefly, without in any way detracting from its importance, because it really poses an unanswerable problem. With Lord Bathurst's figures I would agree completely, although I did not follow the missing halfpenny quite so quickly as Lord Meston.
Briefly, the purpose of this Amendment is to allow the minimum repair increase of £12 to be obtained. It would be necessary, with this Amendment, also to amend the "stopper." Let me say straight away that the Government are well aware that the proposed repairs increase is inadequate for houses of very low gross value, say under £10 a year, to which the noble Lord referred, particularly in rural areas. How many of them there are I do not know, and I have not been able to find out, though I suspect not quite so many as the noble Earl, 868 Lord Bathurst, thinks. It is a matter of opinion: statistics are difficult to find. But Her Majesty's Government have given the most careful consideration to this very difficult point, and they have come to the conclusion that in many cases the rents of these houses to which we are referring have always been uneconomic; the houses have been kept in good repair, in many cases, only because a landlord has done it for other reasons—namely, to preserve an estate. It must not be forgotten, of course, that there are also bad landlords who have not kept their houses in repair, and who would not in any case qualify for a repairs increase. The real point is that, for many of these houses, I doubt whether any increase, even £12 a year, would make the slightest difference; and the percentage increase on existing rent which it would be necessary to allow in order to produce an economic rent would be quite enormous. I think the noble Lord mentioned a figure. I have taken at random a large number of figures of these types of houses, and in order to produce anything like a sensible result it would be necessary to have a rent increase of between 200 per cent. and 300 per cent.; and that does not make sense. The fact remains, I am afraid, that this Bill will not, and cannot, come to the rescue of the houses which the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, has in mind in anything like a workable or sensible way. The figures will not permit it. I admit most readily the justice of what the noble Earl says.
Let me remind the Committee that there is another way to deal with this particular problem, a smaller way—for example, a landlord can obtain an improvement grant under the Housing Act, 1949, as amended by this Bill. That was possible under the old Housing (Rural Workers) Acts, 1926 to 1945 and I think it was the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, who, in his eloquent Second Reading speech, drew your Lordships' attention to the surprisingly small number of claims which have been made under this Act. The long and the short of it is that the Government do not feel they can make a breach in the General scheme, because that is what would have to be done in order to produce a practical result. No tinkering with shillings or pennies is going to produce an answer to the problem 869 which the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst has put before us. To answer his problem correctly, and to meet his widespread difficulties, we should have to have a breach in the whole scheme. We do not feel, having considered the matter very carefully and sympathetically, that it would be the right thing to do, for the sake of a comparatively small number of houses suffering grave hardship, to make a breach in the general scheme which would upset the whole purpose and content of the Bill. With those words, I am afraid that I must tell the noble Earl that we are unable to accept his Amendment.
§ LORD SILKIN
Before the noble Earl withdraws his Amendment, as I gather he is eager to do, may I say that the noble Lord who has just spoken could not have spoken better in support of the case that we made on this side of the House in stronger terms than he has done. The fact is, as we have contended all along, that this Bill is a facade. It was introduced primarily for the purpose of dealing with the large number of houses that were in disrepair and which landlords were not able to put into repair because of the lowness of the rent. The Bill was an attempt to meet the problem, and I hope that it will be appreciated that I am not criticising the Government for seeking to deal with the problem. It is a problem which has to be faced up to, but my criticism of this Bill is that it does not do it in so far as the Government rely on the incentive to landlords in respect of an increase of rent to carry out these repairs. Nor in fact, does this Amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst. I agree that his Amendment does not provide any incentive to anybody to spend a half-penny. Most of the houses he is talking about, and I know something about them, do not want a few pounds spent upon them: they want £100, or more; and even if the noble Earl's Amendment were accepted it would not be an incentive to landlords who would not otherwise be spending money to do so. So, when he says that it is better than nothing, I do not agree. I think it is misleading the public and pretending we are solving this problem when we are not. On the question of improvement grants I imagine that the kind of things to which the noble Earl and Lord O'Hagan refer are not improvements but ordinary repairs, putting a place into habitable condition. Some landlords have done it, and they 870 may get a few coppers reward under the provisions of this Bill. But, those who have not done it will in no way be induced to do it, either by the provisions of this Bill or by the Amendment which the noble Earl has put down.
A figure of £24, on a gross annual value of £12, would enable the landlord to charge a reasonable rent. If the gross annual value were doubled, it would mean that we might get somewhere in keeping cottage property together. Of course you have to spend money first to repair the roof and so forth. After that it should not need a major repair for, say, twenty-five years, and the interest would begin to come in. So I think £24 is somewhere near the mark. I do not think one can possibly ask for more than that.
§ LORD SILKIN
This is not the matter of £24: it is over and above what is provided in the Bill. I put the figure that would he required for repairs very moderately, I think, at £100. I believe that it would be found, in practice, that the expenditure would be considerably more. The noble Lord who speaks for the Government has said that he is not accepting the Amendment. I am not surprised to hear that.
§ 4.0 p.m.
Perhaps I am out of order in speaking for the second time but at any rate I am out of order in good company. May I point out that, in the case of small properties, it is doubtful whether any local authority would ever make an improvement grant at all. That is the first point. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, does not wish to mislead us in any way. On the other hand, he is always so anxious to be fair that he frequently makes out a very good case for the other side. But does he really suggest that any local authority is ever going to make an improvement grant in respect of a cottage of which the gross annual value is about £6? The second point is this. We are hearing more and more about the way in which there is power, under the Housing Act, 1936, to lend money for housing purposes. Am I not right in saying that money so lent by a local authority is lent on the security of a mortgage of the house? If that is correct—and many of your Lordships who are members of building societies know exactly what is 871 meant by the intricacies of valuation—what is the valuation of an old house, out of repair, which is controlled by the Rent Acts and which is occupied by immovable tenants? The answer is a very small valuation indeed. Further, who is going to lend more than about 40 or 50 per cent. on that valuation? I think it is about time that this rather wide talk about powers under the Housing Act, 1936, to lend money should be brought into the proper channels.
When I referred to the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, as "the noble and learned Lord" I was only meaning to be complimentary. From the reply which he has given, although I understood the word "stopper," which he used, I am afraid I could not understand that there is any magic contained therein. If one of the nationalised concerns had wished to put up their fares or their prices, and the noble Lord had been defending that action—as indeed he would have to do—the general public and all your Lordships would have had to accept that, whether we liked it or not. If, indeed, local authorities wish to put up the rents which they charge their tenants, they can do it. If a person who may have his name down on a local authority list is living in a house such as I mentioned, at a rent of 6s. a week, he cannot possibly get a new house, which will have cost the country at least £1,200, or possibly more, at under 30s. a week rent. So I feel that an increase of even 10s. a week might not have been unfair 'to ask, especially when one considers that in so many of these houses there are families with gross earnings amounting to £30 or £40 a week. Next door, maybe, there is a house which is tenanted by an old widow with no other means but her widow's pension, and there is absolutely no means of repairing that house which she occupies. Could not the wealthier tenants somehow subsidise that house? That, of course, is what happens on every large estate. It calls for only 10s. a week. With regard to what I said about families with a gross income of £30 or £40 a week, if there are a parent and two sons, or a son and a daughter, earning money, the income may well be £30 a week or more. So I feel that the repercussions which I know the noble Lord fears might result from this Amend 872 ment would not be quite so great as he anticipates. Nevertheless, because I have not had time to study all the implications of the Amendment, which is very wide and far-reaching in its scope, I beg leave to withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN moved, to add to subsection (3):
(e) the tenant of the dwelling-house is in occupation under a tenancy granted for a term of not less than three years.
The noble Lord said: I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name. Subsection 3 of this clause sets out the cases to which the rent increases shall not apply, and the purpose of my Amendment is to include in it cases where the tenant of a dwelling-house is in occupation under a tenancy granted for a term of not less than three years. In such a case, presumably, there has been an agreement between the parties. In many cases some consideration will have been paid by the tenant to the landlord—or to his predecessor in title; I must not forget that—in respect of the tenancy. In the normal cases landlords do not grant tenancies for three years or more in respect of rent-controlled properties unless there is some consideration. The consideration may be a premium, which I admit may be illegal, and it may be the purchase by the tenant of fixtures and fittings, or it may be some other consideration. At any rate, the tenant has presumably paid something over and above the rent, which is controlled, in respect of a tenancy which has more than three years' life, and the landlord has taken into account, presumably, the higher cost of repairs, if not necessarily in the rent, which I admit is controlled, then in the price which he has charged for fixtures and fittings—carpets, and so forth. In such a case, where there is a contract, there would be no justification for permitting a higher rent in respect of increase in the cost of repairs.
§ I submit that these cases are quite common. I think there are many instances of tenancies which have been granted for a period of three years or more in respect of premises which are controlled, and in the great majority of these cases there is, I suggest, some additional consideration which is intended to cover the higher cost of repairs. 873 I think that such cases need to be considered and that they are in a category different from the ordinary weekly tenancy. For that reason I beg to move this Amendment.
Page 19, line 12, at end insert the said words.—(Lord Silkin.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Lord is so moderate and persuasive that I almost wish I could make a concession to him, but I find it impossible on this occasion. The Amendment makes an unwarrantable breach in the Bill. It seeks to deny a repairs increase to the landlord of a house, which is otherwise qualified for increase, if it is occupied under a tenancy for three years or more. I find great difficulty in seeing any relation between that premise and that result. I cannot see what difference it can make how long the tenancy is. If, by arrangement between the landlord and the tenant, the standard rent is already sufficiently high, the landlord will not get any increase, because there is sufficient in rent to pay for repairs; but if it is not, why should not the statutory provision apply? I think the noble Lord was going back to what I regard as a fundamental fallacy in the view which he has expressed already, namely, that this is a prize to landlords and nothing else. As my right honourable friend said in another place, and as I repeated on Second Reading, the purpose of the Bill is to preserve a great national heritage of houses which are slowly deteriorating and to do it by means of providing the reasonable landlord with a sufficient rent to do the repairs. What possible relation could that have to occupational tenancy for three years? There is precisely the same need for the landlord to have an increase in order that he may do the repairs.
The noble Lord has spoken of "something additional": I do not know what that means. It may be that there has been some bargain between the landlord and the tenant; but we cannot legislate to cover every possible contingency. The broad principle is of an increase up to a certain point in order that the landlord may do the repairs, so that our heritage of so many hundred thousand houses may be preserved. It may be that in one case out of a hundred thousand there may be some special provision which debars 874 a landlord from getting the increase, but we cannot legislate for that. I am anxious to do more than listen to the noble Lord and to accede to his suggestions when I con, but I am afraid that in this case I must refuse him.
§ LORD SILKIN
I am not going to press this Amendment, but I hope the noble and learned Lord will do justice to the case I submit. Where a tenancy has been granted for three years or more at the ordinary controlled rent, there is a presumption that there has been an additional consideration. I speak with some experience and I know that landlords do not normally grant three-year tenancies unless there is some special consideration in addition to the rent—a payment for sale of fitted carpets or curtains, or fixtures and fittings, at inflated prices. Many tenants are only too pleased to pay in order to get possession of a rent-controlled house. Or they may take an assignment of a rent-controlled house—and it is not an illegal thing to make an assignment of a rent-controlled house—and they pay a considerable premium for it. Many people have done it. I suggest that in such cases the tenant has already paid, and paid handsomely, in respect of any moneys that the landlord may have spent in putting the place under repair. That is my justification for distinguishing between the tenant under a three-year agreement and the tenant who is paying rent in the normal way. There is a difference, and I think the noble and learned Lord did not altogether do justice to the distinction. There is a presumption in one case which there is not in the other. Having put the case, I do not wish to press it, and I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 22 agreed to.
§ Clause 23:
§ Rent not to be increased above twice gross value
§ 23.—(1) If the rent recoverable in respect of any period, apart front any repairs increase and excluding the amounts mentioned in subsection (3) of this section, equals or exceeds twice the gross value of the dwelling-house, no sum shall be recoverable in respect of that period by way of repairs increase.
§ VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER had given notice of his intention to move, in subsection (1), to leave out "twice the gross value of the dwelling-house," and to insert 875 "the amount specified in subsection (4) of this section." The noble Viscount said: This Amendment hangs together with Amendments Nos. 24 and 27. I feel I could have made a strong case in support of these Amendments, but, having heard the answer of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, to Amendment No. 19, I believe it would not be right to detain your Lordships by putting forward an Amendment which I know would be rejected. Therefore, I do not propose to move these three Amendments.
§ LORD WOLVERTON moved, in subsection (1), to leave out "twice" and insert "two and a half times." The noble Lord said: This Amendment seeks to increase the "stopper" in this clause from twice to two and a half times the gross value. When the Royal Institution of British Surveyors put forward their formula to double the amount of the gross value, they did not recommend a ceiling or "stopper." The Minister introduced this "stopper" clause. While I have no objection to it—indeed, I think it is desirable that it should be put in—unfortunately, the formula which the Minister has chosen of twice the gross annual value cuts off a large number of houses from practically any repair increase at all. Take the new controlled houses—that is, the houses which were built between the two wars in the suburbs of many of our great cities. They were nice, terraced, boulevard houses and were assessed by the local authorities at the lowest possible figure to encourage houses to be built in their areas, and a large number of them were built for letting. These houses were controlled in 1939 for the first time and then an economic rent was fixed for them. Since that time, the costs of repairs have gone up over 330 per cent. and these houses are badly cut by this "stopper."
§ A number of examples in various parts of the country have been handed to me. Some get a shilling a week increase and some practically nothing at all. If the Government and the House see fit to accept this Amendment, and I hope they will do so, the increase of the "stopper" from twice to two and a half times the gross value will give a reasonable increase, but not an extravagant one, from which to do repairs. It is an important Amendment because, as has been said 876 many times in this Committee stage and also on Second Reading, this Bill does try to help to get repairs done to houses. I am sure the Committee would like to see that under this Bill all houses get some relief, so far as possible. The Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Bathurst on the low-rented houses was rejected, and they will get practically nothing in the way of relief. However, I hope that these more modern houses, built between the two wars, which are good houses and lowly rated—and I have explained that the reason for that was to encourage owners to build houses for letting—will receive some relief, and that the Government may see their way to accept this Amendment. I beg to move.
Page 19, line 28, leave out ("twice") and insert ("two and a half times").—(Lord Wolverton.)
I should like to support my noble friend Lord Wolverton in this Amendment. If the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, who I believe is to reply is going to tell us that this will upset the general plan of the Bill, in the same way as he answered Amendment No.19, then perhaps he will also tell us how many of the 7¼ million houses referred to in the White Paper will be left within the scope of the Bill. The new controlled houses are estimated to number some 3 million, out of the 7¼ million houses to which the White Paper claims the provisions of the Bill refer. If to that number are to be added the rural houses, it seems to me questionable whether there will be any houses left at all, or whether we shall have just a paper plan with no relation to houses, landlords or tenants.
I should like to make one other point on the so-called "stopper." It is assumed that the absence of the "stopper" would be undesirable because it would serve to prolong the anomalous situation under which similar houses, sometimes in the same street, sometimes even adjoining, are controlled at widely different rents. I suggest that perhaps a little to much has been made of this point. Neither old controlled houses nor new controlled houses are paying rents which in 1954 are economic rents; it is merely that one is receiving a larger subsidy than the other. There is no hardship or injustice; there is merely inequality of benefit or 877 advantage. Where you have an anomaly which springs from the fact that one party receives a greater benefit than the other, I suggest it is not so serious an evil, and certainly not so serious an evil that the houses of some of the parties in question should be allowed to fall into disrepair and disuse owing to the fact that the landlord is not to be enabled to keep them in repair.
§ LORD MANCROFT
The three Amendments which my noble friend Lord Buckmaster has just intimated are not to be moved, were concerned with the problem of the tapered "stopper." This Amendment, which stands in the name of my noble friends Lord Wolverton and Lord Broughshare, is concerned with the higher or fatter "stopper." As the noble Lord, Lord Broughshane, has just reminded your Lordships, there are at present wide variations in the controlled rents of similar houses, and because there was a scarcity in some areas of some types of house, many rents, even in 1939, were high. Clause 23 of this Bill therefore provides a maximum of twice the gross value above which rents are not to be increased. The figure of twice the gross value is that at which from experience it seemed best to fix the "stopper." There is, again, no magic about it. It is a rough and ready but, I submit, a fair guess at what the best figure should be.
The Amendment standing in the name of my noble friends proposes to change the "stopper" to one of two and a half times the gross value. The effect would be to make the "stopper" inoperative in all but a few cases. My noble friends suggest that many houses built between the wars are prevented by the "stopper" of twice the gross value from getting any repairs increase. There is, in fact, however, so far as I can find out, no evidence to show that, where this is so, the landlords of these houses are getting insufficient rent to enable them to keep the houses in good repair. The fact that the "stopper is operating in these cases does not mean that it is wrong. I quite agree that there may be cases of hardship and inequality; and no doubt the noble Lords, from their experience—particuarly the noble Lord, Lord Broughshane, who has great experience in this matter—can produce such cases. But I submit that, by and large, this is a fair 878 and just way of tackling the problem, and the solution offered by the noble Lords, Lord Wolverton and Lord Broughshane, would not be an improvement or increase the justice of this part of the Bill. Therefore, I hope they will not press the Amendment.
Is the noble Lord saying that the rents of houses controlled at 1939 rents are, in fact, economic rents in 1954?
§ LORD WOLVERTON
The point I had intended to raise was the very point that my noble friend Lord Broughshane has just mentioned. The noble Lord said that the Government consider that these landlords are getting sufficient rent. I agree that they got sufficient rent in 1939, because when these houses were built from 1935 to 1939, they were, as I pointed out, low-rated, in order to try and get the building done; and building did take place in some of these areas. But I do not for a moment accept the position that the rents which were sufficient in 1939 are sufficient in 1954. That is one of the reasons why I asked the Committee to consider putting up the "stopper" to two and a half times. If it is not raised. these houses, which, although they are much newer and in a better condition than many others, do need money spent on them, will have little spent on them. I have some examples here which I can hand to the noble Lord later. I do not wish to detain the Committee any longer. If the Government say that they cannot see their way to accept the Amendment, I am not convinced, but I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 23 agreed to.
§ 4.29 pm.
§ VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER had given notice of an Amendment, after Clause 23 to insert the following new clause:
§ "24.—(1) The following provisions of this section shall have effect in any case where there is no such agreement as is referred to in paragraph (b) subsection (3) of section twenty-three in respect of payment for furniture or services used or provided as mentioned in the said paragraph (b)
§ (2) The landlord may serve notice on the tenant specifying the part of the rent which he claims to represent payment for services as aforesaid and requesting the tenant within 879 such period (not being less than twenty-eight days) as may be specified in such notice to enter into agreement as to the amount of the payment for services and intimating that failing agreement within such period the landlord may apply to the said tribunal to determine the part of the rent which represents payment for services.
§ (3) Where notice has been served on the tenant as aforesaid and (failing agreement with the tenant) the landlord has applied to the said tribunal to determine the part of the rent which represents payment for services then the landlord may serve a notice of increase on the tenant and such notice shall not be deemed to be invalid by reason of the fact that at the time when the notice was served agreement had not been reached with the tenant as to the amount of the payment for services or that the amount of the payment for services had not been determined by the said tribunal provided that any repairs increase in respect of the dwelling-house shall not be recoverable by the landlord until after the amount of the payment for services has been determined by the said tribunal.
§ (4) When the part of the rent which represents payment for services has been determined by the said tribunal the notice of increase shall (to the extent necessary) be adjusted to give effect to the determination of the said tribunal and thereupon the repairs increase shall subject to the provisions of this Act be recoverable as from the date of the service of the notice of increase on the tenant.>
§ The noble Viscount said: This is a highly complex Amendment, and although I do not intend to move it, in view of the Amendment down in the name of the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, No. 46A, I feel that it would be right shortly to try to explain to your Lordships the purpose of the Amendment and a lingering doubt which remains in my mind. I think this may save discussion when we come to Clause 46. The position under the Bill now is that the landlord has to serve a notice in statutory form, and he serves that notice on the last day of the twelve months qualifying period. That in itself is a little difficult, because he has to get his figures for the whole twelve months; but in order to calculate the net rent the cost of the services has to be deducted, and that can result, if the tenant is obstructive, in considerable delay. As the Bill is now framed the tenant could, by vexatious delay, make it almost impossible for the landlord to secure his increase in the time, and he would lose part of his twelve months period. The noble and learned Lord has put down an Amendment extending the 880 time in substance from twelve to fourteen months. The only doubt which now remains in my mind—and I think it is a purely ephemeral one—is this. Under Clause 39 (2) (b) the increased cost of the services—the increase which has to be added to the rent—is assessed by the tribunal, and the landlord has power to take the tenant to the tribunal. That is plain. But in Clause 23 (3) (b), we are dealing with services included in the rent, and I am not sure whether, under that clause, the landlord has power to take the tenant to the tribunal. I believe that it is implicit in the clause that he has, but it is not specifically stated, and there appears to be a difference in the two points. Having explained my difficulty, which I believe to be a small one, I should like to thank Her Majesty's Government for having met the point raised by my Amendment.
§ Clause 24 [Notice and declarations preliminary to recovery of repairs increase]:
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
This Amendment, and a whole series of consequential Amendments which appear on the Marshalled List, are little more than drafting Amendments. Subsection (1) of Clause 24, as your Lordships observe, requires the notice of repairs increase to contain the declarations which are there provided for. The purpose of this series of Amendments is to enable forms of declaration, which will vary with the circumstances, to be prescribed separately and to accompany, rather than to be contained in, the notice of increase. This will simplify both the prescription of the forms of declaration and their printing by the law stationers for sale to the public. I think these Amendments will commend themselves to your Lordships as being convenient to the administration of the Bill. I beg to move.
Page 20, line 26, leave out ("containing ") and insert ("accompanied by").—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ LORD SILKIN
I agree with the noble and learned Lord that these Amendments are drafting Amendments. Perhaps they are a little more than drafting, but in so far as they are, I think they are an improvement. I should like to ask one question. We are now introducing into this Bill the conception of a declaration 881 —in fact, it is in the Bill already. I should like to ask whether there is any significance in the term "declaration." I gather that it is not intended to be a statutory declaration; it is merely a statement which the person making it certifies to be true. I did not know whether the word "declaration" had any significance beyond some other word which we might have used, such as "statement." The term "declaration" is sometimes a term of art, and that was my problem. I take it that here it is intended to be synonymous with "statement."
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Although it is not, in a sense, a statutory declaration within the meaning of the Act which deals with statutory declarations, it is, nevertheless, a declaration required by the Statute to be made; and there are certain consequences which follow if you make a declaration under a Statute and make a false declaration. I do not know whether I can add to that. I do not know whether the noble Lord has in mind the provisions of the Perjury Act in regard to making statements which are required by Statute to be made. This certainly would be one of them.
§ LORD SILKIN
I inferred that, if this was not to be a statutory declaration, then the Perjury Act would not apply; but, of course, I would not for a moment be dogmatic. I suggest that it is worth while looking into the question as to whether, if it is not to be a statutory declaration, the term "declaration" is not somewhat misleading.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Amendments moved—
§ Page 20, line 27, after ("declaration") insert ("in the prescribed form")
§ Page 20, line 30, after ("declaration") insert ("in the prescribed form")
Page 20, leave out line 36 and insert—
("(3) The forms prescribed for the purposes of this section shall be such as, taken together, to ")
§ Page 20, line 43, after ("increase") insert ("or a declaration accompanying such a notice")
§ Page 20, line 44, after ("notice") insert ("or declaration")
§ Page 20, line 46, after ("notice") insert ("or declaration")882
§ Page 21, line 3, after ("notice") insert ("or declaration")
§ Page 21, line 4, leave out ("of increase'') and insert ("or declaration").—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ On Question, Amendments agreed to.
§ Clause 24, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 25:
§ Determination whether conditions fulfilled to justify increase of rent
§ 25.—(1) On the service of a notice of increase under the last foregoing section or at any subsequent time, the tenant of the dwelling-house to which the notice relates may apply to the local authority for a certificate that either or both of the conditions justifying an increase of rent are not fulfilled; and the local authority, if satisfied that the dwelling-house fails to fulfil either or both of the conditions, shall certify accordingly in the prescribed form and the certificate shall be deemed to have been in force as from the application therefor.
§ (2) Where the local authority have granted a certificate under the last foregoing subsection and the tenant has served a copy of the certificate on the landlord, then during or in respect of any period during which the certificate is in force no sum shall be recoverable by way of repairs increase in respect of the dwelling-house; but if the landlord, in proceedings for the recovery of such a sum, satisfies the court that at the time when the certificate was given the conditions justifying an increase of rent were fulfilled, the court shall annul the certificate and thereupon it shall be deemed never to have been in force.
LORD SILKIN moved to add to subsection (1):
Provided that the increase of rent as aforesaid shall not became payable unless and until the local authority shall have determined that the conditions justifying an increase of rent are fulfilled.
§ The noble Lord said: This is not a very big point, but I think it is one which requires some—
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
May I interrupt? I am rather taken by surprise. I thought that this Amendment was exactly the one upon which we divided at the end of the last Sitting.
§ LORD SILKIN
Not quite. If the noble and learned Lord wishes to know which is the material Amendment, it is No. 31. But there is a point hare. It may be that the Amendment is badly drafted, and that is why the noble and learned Lord was misled, as I was when I saw it again this afternoon. The point of it is that if, after all these declarations and forms have been served upon the tenant in respect of a claim for an increase of rent, he is 883 not satisfied that the dwelling-house is in good repair, then, as the Bill now stands, he can go to the local authority and apply for a certificate. It may be some time before the local authority is able to get round to this particular house and come to a decision. In the meantime, the presumption is that the increase stands, and the tenant is bound to pay it and goes on paying it, even though, eventually, it may turn out that the increase was not justified and he gets his certificate.
The simple purpose of this Amendment is to provide that this increase shall not be payable until the local authority has visited the house and decided whether to grant a certificate or not. The intention, of course, is that if no certificate is granted, then the landlord will have been justified in the increase of rent from the beginning. But if a certificate is granted, then the tenant should not have had to pay the increased rent. The purpose of this Amendment is to ensure that he does not pay the increased rent at all until the local authority have made their decision. It may be many weeks, and in some cases several months, before an official will be able to get round, and before the local authority decide whether or not the dwelling-house is in good repair. That is the simple point. I hope the noble and learned Lord will realise the dilemma in which a tenant is placed, in having to pay an increased rent from the very moment that he is served with this declaration and other formalities, although he is quite satisfied in his own mind—and it may turn out that he is quite justified in his view—that the increased rent is not payable. I beg to move.
Page 21, line 16, at end insert the said proviso.—(Lord Silkin.)
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
As the noble Lord has said, I was completely misled. I thought this Amendment was just consequential on the Amendment which was negatived at the last Sitting of the Committee. I think I was justifiably misled, because this proviso refers to every case where an increase of rent is demanded; it is not confined to those cases where an increase of rent has been demanded and the tenant has then sought to obtain from the local authority a certificate that the property is not in repair. 884 I really am not able to deal with that point, for I have not had time to consider it. I suggest that the noble Lord withdraws this Amendment to-day and that, if he thinks fit to pursue it, he should put down on Report stage an Amendment in the form which he wishes me to consider. I will not say that I will give it a favourable consideration, but at least I shall have had an opportunity of considering it, which I have not had now.
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
I do not know whether my noble friend will agree to withdraw the Amendment but, before he does so. I should like to put the position as I see it. A landlord makes certain repairs. Having done so, he serves notice on the tenant and, in view of the repairs that he has done, the tenant will be called upon to pay an additional rent. I think that in a great number of cases, the great majority of cases probably, the tenant will concur in that, in view of the Bill (which will then be an Act), and nothing more will be heard of the matter. What seems to me to be the right course is this. If a tenant is not prepared to accept the view of the landlord that adequate repairs have been done to justify the increased rent, he should be obliged to notify the landlord in writing that he is not so satisfied. I suggest to the Lord Chancellor that, if the tenant does so object, either the landlord should, of his own volition, go and see the house and the tenant, and discuss it with him, or the landlord should be obliged to get from the local authority a certificate that adequate repairs have been done. I think that that would reduce to quite manageable proportions the number of cases in which the question would arise. It would place on the landlord the necessity of proving, if the tenant takes exception in writing, that he has done the work which justifies him in demanding an additional rent. I hope the Lord Chancellor will give that point of view full consideration and, if he should find some merits in it, will take the form of words which the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has said he will put down on Report stage. I should like the Lord Chancellor to be thinking the point over in the meantime to see whether some such provision could be incorporated in the Bill.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am much obliged to the noble Lord. Any 885 suggestion that comes from him will be carefully considered. I will repeat to him what I said to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that a proposal of that kind will be considered. Whether it will be better from the point of view of administration than that which the Bill provides I will not commit myself to saying at the moment.
§ LORD SILKIN
I am obviously not in a position to press this Amendment, particularly as it does not apparently carry out what I had intended. The last thing I want to do is to take the noble and learned Lord by surprise. I feel that the Amendment which is now before the Committee, the next one and several others all fall into the same category, including the point that my noble friend Lord Pethick-Lawrence has just raised. I think the whole subject ought to be reconsidered by Her Majesty's Government. I will certainly try to put something down on the Report stage which carries out what I have in mind. It is only one link in a very big chain. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will be able to find a more satisfactory way of dealing with these various clauses than appears in the Bill. I withdraw this Amendment. I shall return to the attack on the next Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN moved in subsection (2) to leave out from "dwelling-house" to the end of the subsection. The noble Lord said: The purpose of this Amendment is to leave out words which contemplate the taking of proceedings by the landlord against the tenant for the recovery of rent, after the tenant has obtained a certificate from the local authority that the premises are unfit or are not in good repair. On earlier clauses we have had considerable discussion as to whether the onus to apply for this certificate should be on the landlord or on the tenant, but we are now proceeding on the footing that the onus is on the tenant. The tenant has discharged that onus; he has obtained a certificate and he presents it to the landlord. This subsection contemplates that the landlord can ignore that certificate entirely. He goes to the county court and he takes proceedings for rent. There is nothing in this subsection which refers 886 at all to the certificate which the tenant has obtained. The matter, when it goes to the county court, is entirely open. The judge can decide that the premises are fit or in good condition, or not in good condition, just as he pleases. The certificate has no particular validity. You have to call as a witness the person who was responsible for giving the certificate. The landlord can call surveyors who can give evidence that the premises are in good repair and, as I say, the whole thing is completely open.
I would ask the noble and learned Lord, what is the purpose, then, of the certificate, if, the tenant having got it, the landlord goes immediately to the county court and sues for the increased rent as if no certificate at all had been given? But that is not all. Suppose the tenant, having got the certificate, withholds the rent. He may withhold it for a time and the landlord may stay his hand for six months, if he likes. At the end of six months, he may suddenly take proceedings in the county court for arrears of rent. Six months' increase may be, for the tenant, a substantial sum. He may find himself in considerable difficulty in providing, that money if an order should be made against him.
Furthermore, the whole of this procedure is unsatisfactory from the tenant's point of view. County courts can be quite costly. As I said on Second Reading, the county court procedure may involve in expense an unfortunate tenant who genuinely believes that the increased rent is not justified and believes it on the strength of a certificate from the local authority. He may have every justification for withholding his rent. He is then taken to the county court. He may get mulcted in heavy costs, and be unable to find the costs or the arrears of rent which eventually he may have to pay. As a result he may lose the benefit of his protection, his security of tenure. Whether that be so or not, it is nevertheless a great hardship which is inflicted on the tenant through no fault of his own. All he has done is to obtain a certificate which the noble and learned Lord has said he must get. Ha has got it, and then he is taken to the county court, possibly with those unfortunate results. In any event, if a tenant is to ensure that he gets justice in the county court, he has in many cases to obtain legal advice: he must instruct a solicitor, and generally counsel. As the 887 noble and learned Lord knows, there is no provision for legal aid in the county court; he must do it at his own expense. Therefore a tenant, having in good faith got his certificate, may find himself taken to the county court, having to pay for legal assistance, and eventually having to pay arrears of rent and the heavy costs of expert witnesses, and so on.
I can never understand why the decision of a local authority on the question as to whether or not a house is fit should not be final. Why is it necessary to have an appeal against that decision? There are a great many matters on which a judge of a county court is better equipped to decide than a local authority—I would not deny that for a moment; but in a case of this kind, involving the question of the fitness of a house, surely the local authority, with its staff, who are perfectly neutral in these matters (they have no axe to grind), are in a better position to judge than a county court judge who cannot possibly go round visiting these places or, if he did, would really not be qualified to judge for himself. I know that under existing legislation it is possible for a landlord to go to the county court and to dispute the validity of a certificate; but even under existing legislation, the certificate is good unless the contrary is proved, whereas under the wording of this subsection the matter is left entirely open. But whether it is the existing law or not, we are amending the Rent Restrictions Acts in a variety of ways, and for the sake of simplicity and in fairness to the tenant it seems to me that the decision of the local authority should be accepted, and if a tenant gets a certificate that should be the end of it.
Speaking for myself, may I say that if that position were accepted I should feel much more reconciled to the idea that the onus of applying for the certificate should be on the tenant rather than upon the landlord. As the Bill stands now, however, the onus to get a certificate being upon the tenant, who may then find that it may not only be ineffective but involve him in considerable anxiety and costs, I think that the dice is loaded very much in favour of the landlord and against the tenant. I can well imagine a good many tenants, with their inexperience of county courts and fear of being involved in litigation, forgoing 888 their rights rather than facing this ordeal. I hope, therefore, that the noble and learned Lord will regard this Amendment not only with sympathy (I think he regards all Amendments with sympathy) but with something more than that, and recognise that this is a problem which we have to face, and that the subsection as it stands does not really deal with the problem. I beg to move.
Page 21, line 22, leave out from ("house") to end of line 26.—(Lord Silkin.)
I am not always in sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, but I think he has now raised a point which requires great consideration. Let me explain the matter in a few words. Clause 22 (1) provides that the landlord has to satisfy two conditions: first, that the dwelling-house is in good repair; and secondly, that the dwelling-house is reasonably suitable for occupation. If the tenant contradicts those two conditions, or either of them, he can refer the matter to the local authority, who will adjudicate upon it and, if necessary, grant a certificate of disrepair. I regard Clause 22 (1) (b) with great disfavour. The question arising under paragraph (b), as to whether or not the landlord has spent a specified sum within a specified time, is a question of fact, and if there is any dispute upon that question of fact it must go to the county court. There you have two different tribunals deciding, two different matters.
Curiously enough, Clause 25 (2) appears to create complete confusion in the situation. It provides that where the local authority have granted a certificate of disrepair, either because the house is not in good repair or because it is not reasonably suitable for occupation, then, during the time that that certificate is in force, the landlord cannot recover any sum of money by way of increase in rent. But, curiously enough, by inference Clause 25 (2) goes on to provide that while this certificate is, as one might say, suspended, the landlord can go to the county court and sue for what he calls arrears of increase of rent, and then the county court judge has to take upon himself the duty of deciding something which under Clause 22 (1) it is the duty of the local authority to decide. That is how confusion arises.
889 As to the other point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, about the hardship and expense of going to the county court, there is one 'way out of the difficulty. The matters mentioned in Clause 22 (1) (a), art within the purview of the local authority. It may be that the local authority should also decide the points which are mentioned in Clause 22 (1) (b)—namely, the question whether or not the landlord has spent a specified sum within a specified time. I would make just one modification. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said that local authorities are all neutral. A famous philosopher once said that "All men are equal, but some are more equal than others." Therefore, one might say that all local authorities are neutral, but some are more neutral than others. That being so, I think it desirable that if, under Clause 22 (1), (b), the local authority are to be given jurisdiction to deal with these matters, then there should be an appeal from them to the county court at the instance either of the landlord or the tenant. Now I hope your Lordships are all satisfied.
§ LORD WILMOT OF SELMESTON
I should like to make a further appeal to the noble and learned Lord on this matter because, as I see it, it could give rise to very widespread hardship and distress. We know that often a number of London properties—with which I am more familiar than I am with others—are owned by one landlord, and these matters are looked after by a central office or, in many cases, by some sort of protection society. We can see what is likely to happen. A whole street, or a neighbourhood of houses, may be affected. All the houses are in like condition, and many may be condemned as a big block. Work is done on them, and a tenant who feels that his house is not up to the standard which justifies an increase of rent, goes to the local authority. The local authority think so too, and issue a certificate; and the tenants are perfectly entitled at that point to withhold the increase of rent demanded. The situation may go on like that for a long time until the central office of the landlord company or the landlord's protection society, or whatever it is, decides to take a test case. They go to the county court and win the case, and then proceedings are taken against all tenants for recovery of the 890 arrears. One can imagine, in a London slum neighbourhood, what a distressing and unfortunate situation would be created. And I can see this happening: I have lived among it, and I know the sort of thing that takes place. In my view, the arguments which have been put forward by my noble friend and Lord Meston have great substance.
§ 5.2. p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, was quite right in saying that this was an important Amendment—it is, indeed, a far-reaching Amendment. I will invite your Lordships to consider what it is proposed to do, but let me do so by stages. The landlord applies for an increase of rent. He does so making a declaration as prescribed by the Bill, and by giving proof, as required by the Bill and the Schedules to the Bill, that certain expenditure has been incurred. He runs grave risk in doing that if he makes any false statement, for he is already liable to possible proceedings under the Perjury Act; and under an Amendment which I shall move shortly, he will be liable to summary proceedings if he makes any false statement. Upon that, he makes his application for increase. What follows? The tenant, if he thinks the claim is not justified, applies to the local authority. Now let me at once disabuse your Lordships of a notion which seems to prevail, because the words "decision," "adjudication" and "tribunal" have all been used in connection with local authorities. Of course, this is nothing of the kind. The tenant goes to the local authority, which instructs its sanitary inspector to make a report; and upon that report the authority will say "Aye" or "No" to the question of whether the tenant shall have his certificate.
Now the landlord, who has already done all that is required of him and made his declaration, unheard, is, according to this Amendment, to submit to the final adjudication—because that is the word that has been used—of the local authority, and will have no remedy at all. The local authority is not a god; the local authority acts by statutory inspectors, who are fallible, and may be negligent. There is no reed to suggest that they are corrupt, biased or un-neutral, but they may make a mistake; and 891 against that, according to this Amendment, the landlord has no remedy at all. The Amendment would make the decision of an executive authority final, without any recourse to a court of law, although the person injured has not even an opportunity of being heard. This is indeed a far-reaching Amendment, and I hope your Lordships will not sanction such a thing for one moment. I was reminded, as I heard the argument of one of your noble Lordships, of a case which occurred about two hundred years ago. The question was whether Dr. Bentley had been properly deprived of his office in the University of Cambridge. A learned judge, who bore the name of one of my colleagues on the Front Bench, said that Dr. Bentley had not even been given the same chance as Adam, for in the Garden of Eden, God had at least asked Adam, "Did you eat the fruit of the tree?" Here, the landlord will have no opportunity at all. That is to my mind a grossly unfair proceeding, which I hope your Lordships will not countenance in the least.
I would remind you that, so far as the tenant is concerned, if he is not satisfied, if he is refused a certificate of disrepair, he can test the action of the local authority in the courts. He can still refuse to pay. He can say the local authority were wrong, that they were negligent or careless; and he can refuse to pay. He is taken to the county court, and it may be that the local authority may be shown to be wrong. Why, if the tenant has this relief, should not the landlord also? We are not dealing entirely with very small properties or anything of that kind. We are dealing here with substantial houses, substantial tenants and substantial sums; and a landlord who thinks, rightly or wrongly, that he has been deprived of what is justly due to him is to be told, finally and once and for all, "No," because a sanitary inspector says so. That is not right, and accordingly I ask your Lordships to resist this Amendment. I think the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has already referred to this fact. This right of appeal by the landlord would be no novelty, because a landlord already has a right of appeal to the courts if an order is made against him under Section 9 of the Housing Act, 1936. There you have a certificate that 892 the house is unfit. That does not bind him; he can go to the court. Similarly, I would remind the noble Lord that under the Rent Act of 1923 a certificate of disrepair is held to be sufficient evidence if the contrary is not proved—it is open to the landlord to go to the court. So this Bill provides no novelty.
I should feel more sympathy with the Amendment that has been moved if I did not think that the sort of case which has been advanced to support it was grossly exaggerated. I think the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, was imagining a state of things which is extremely unlikely to happen. I cannot conceive that for weeks or months landlords will rest under the suggestion that the certificate of disrepair is valid, taking no steps against the tenants to recover the increase, and will then, suddenly, issue proceedings in the county court and put people to that expense and trouble. Nor do I accept, with great respect, the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, that this will always be an expensive matter. He knows, possibly better than I do, that special rules are made under the Rent Acts which make the procedure even more expeditious and cheaper than it is in ordinary county court procedure. And, as he will see, I shall later move an Amendment to make it quite clear that the rules which the Lord Chancellor can make under this Bill will correspond with those made under the Rent Acts. For those reasons I regret once more that, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, I must reject the Amendment.
§ 5.9 p.m.
It is a surprising fact but, although I have read practically every word of the Report of the Standing Committee in another place, I never saw any mention of the fact that there was an appeal in any way whatever to the county court from the decision of the local authority that a house was not in a good state of repair or not otherwise suitable for occupation. At all events, the noble and learned Lord has now given us the construction of the Bill, which I think is most helpful; and we should be very grateful to him. But I must say that to me there is something very confusing about the actual phraseology of the Bill.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
I must say that I am extremely disappointed with the reply. Members of the general public have been led to believe that they were protected against unjust claims by landlords in respect of increases of rent, by being able to get a certificate from the local authority. They have understood that if they got this certificate they were rot going to be called on to pay the increase. Now it appears that, in substance, a certificate has no validity at all. As this subsection stands, a landlord's claim for an increase of rent is not even by way of appeal against the certificate; he merely claims an increase of rent, as if no certificate had been obtained. If the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack can show me that there is any difference between a landlord whose claim has been made out without any certificate having been issued, and one in a case where there is a certificate, he will be showing me something which I have not seen up to now. There is no reference to a certificate in the second part of the subsection. The landlord just goes to the county court, and all he has to do is to satisfy the court that when the certificate was given the conditions justifying the increase of rent were fulfilled. He does not have to deal with the certificate at all; he merely sues for the rent, and sues as if he were seeking to satisfy the conditions—
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Will the noble Lord forgive my interrupting him? He has had much more experience, of course, than I have of county courts, but I would point out that the first thing, clearly, that will be brought to the notice of the county court judge is that the certificate of disrepair has been given. The noble Lord knows as well as I do that that must weigh heavily with the county court judge and put a burden on the landlord which it will be very difficult for him to displace. It is a considerable burden, which I would say he could not displace unless he were able to show clearly that there was some ignorance or negligence on the part of the sanitary inspector. One must be realistic about this matter.
§ LORD SILKIN
If one is being realistic, then I would point out that it is the landlord who makes his case. He does so by bringing along a number of witnesses who say that the premises are in good repair. At that stage, the sanitary inspector's certificate has not come into the picture at all. If the landlord can produce a number of eminent surveyors who are prepared to say that in their opinion the place in question is in good repair, the poor sanitary inspector's certificate will not weigh very much with the court, even though the sanitary inspector may be right. I am not suggesting for one moment that if a place really is in good repair a landlord should not get his increased rent if he satisfies the conditions. I am much more concerned with the procedure by which this case is made and the intolerable burden on the tenant in these cases of establishing what he has already secured by reason of the issue of the local authority certificate. I know that the county courts are fair and open to everyone, but they are expensive, and with all the rules that may be made it is a costly matter for a tenant to go to the county court in the light of the kind of case he has to resist. If he is to get even a reasonable hearing he must, in most cases, be represented.
If the noble and learned Lord could suggest that there was a fair, speedy and inexpensive method of getting a decision, I think he would be on stronger ground. But this most costly and intricate method of getting a decision once a tenant has obtained a certificate is going to work out very unfairly to the tenant. It means that the security which he has been led to think exists once the local authority's certificate has been issued will turn out in many cases to be non-existent. For those reasons, unless we can get some more satisfactory statement from Her Majesty's Government, I feel that this is an Amendment which we must take to a Division.
§ On Question, Whether the Amendment shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 16; Not-Contents, 61.895
|Jowitt, E.||Grantchester, L.||Pethick-Lawrence, L.|
|Haden-Guest, L. [Teller.]||Shepherd, L.|
|Alexander of Hillsborough, V.||Hare, L. (E. Listowel.)||Silkin, L.|
|Stansgate, V.||Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, L.||Sinha, L.|
|Macpherson of Drumochter, L.||Wilmot of Selmeston, L.|
|Bingham, L. (E. Lucan.) [Teller.]||Meston, L||Wise, L.|
|Simonds, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Buckmaster, V.||Gifford, L.|
|Falmouth, V.||Glyn, L.|
|Salisbury, M. (L. President.)||Goschen, V.||Hamilton of Dalzell, L.|
|Cholmondeley, M.||Leathers, V.||Hampton, L.|
|Swinton, V.||Hawke, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Trenchard, V.||Hore-Belisha, L.|
|Birkenhead, E.||Woolton, V.||Howard of Glossop, L.|
|Dundonald, E.||Jeffreys, L.|
|Fortescue, E. [Teller.]||Aberdare, L.||Lloyd, L.|
|Halifax, E.||Ashton of Hyde, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Lindsay, E.||Baillieu, L.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Mansfield, E.||Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Rathcavan, L.|
|Morley, E.||Broughshane, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Munster, E.||Carrington, L.||Saltoun, L.|
|Onslow, E. [Teller.]||Coleraine, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Rothes, E.||De L'Isle and Dudley, L.||Somers, L.|
|St. Aldwyn, E.||Digby, L.||Strang, L.|
|Selkirk, E.||Dormer, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Dovercourt, L.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Allenby, V.||Ebbisham, L.||Waleran, L.|
|Bledisloe, V.||Fraser of North Cape, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Freyberg, L.|
On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 25 agreed to.
§ Clause 26 agreed to.
§ Clause 27 [Passing on of repairs increase to sub-tenant]:
§ 5.20 p.m.
LORD SILKIN moved to leave out subsection (5). The noble Lord said: I move this Amendment in a purely exploratory spirit. Frankly I do not understand what this subsection means. Probably it is my own fault. The subsection says:
Where, at the time at which a notice was served on the tenant under subsection (1) of section twenty-four of this Act, the tenant had a sub-tenant of the sub-tenant's dwelling-house, …
That is what I do not understand. I imagine that this clause is designed to enable a tenant to recover from a subtenant a fair proportion of an increase in rent but what is the meaning of the words "a sub-tenant of the sub-tenant's dwelling-house"? I should be grateful if the noble and learned Lord could explain the meaning of it, and then I should know whether it is all right, though I imagine it is. I beg to move.
Page 23, line 42, leave out subsection (5).—(Lord Silkin.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I hope that I may satisfy the noble Lord. The purpose of Clause 27 is to enable a tenant who is paying a repairs increase to pass on an appropriate part of it to a sub-tenant. Subsection (5) does no more 896 than provide that a sub-tenant is entitled to two weeks' notice before he has his rent put up under the clause. I rather wondered when the noble Lord objected to the drafting. I think what it means is quite clear. It is the dwelling-house of which the sub-tenant is a sub-tenant. It is defined in subsection (1) (b) of the clause:Where(b) the tenant had or will have during that period a sub-tenant of premises (hereinafter referred to as 'the sub-tenant's dwelling-house') …and so on. The noble Lord must not be too severe. This is an extremely difficult and intricate problem. I venture to think that "a sub-tenant of the subtenant's dwelling-house" is sufficiently clear in meaning in its context in the clause.
§ LORD SILKIN
I understand what a sub-tenant is. What I do not understand, even now, is what is "a sub-tenant of the sub-tenant's dwelling-house." It still makes nonsense to me. Is it not possible to make it clear? I have spent sleepless nights over this phrase.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am ready to adopt any suggestion to make it more clear, but if the noble Lord will look back to subsection (1) (b) he will see that a sub-tenant's dwelling-house is there described as that part of a house of whichthe tenant had or will have during that period a sub-tenant.897 The sub-tenant lives in the sub-tenant's dwelling-house. I think it is clear. If the noble Lord can think of anything more clear, we will put it in.
§ LORD SILKIN
I do not want to be meticulous, or to take up time, but a Statute must be intelligible. Is the subtenant of the sub-tenant's dwelling-house a different person from the sub-tenant, and from the tenant, or is he the same person? Who is he? Are there three people involved in this?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
No. Just as one speaks of a tenant being in a tenant's house, or an occupier being in an occupier's house, so you speak of a sub-tenant in a sub-tenant's house, which a sub-tenant occupies; or, if I may put it another way, the house of which a sub-tenant has a sub-tenancy.
§ EARL JOWITT
I suggest that we leave out the words "of the sub-tenant's dwelling-house." I believe that the subsection would have some meaning if it ended at the word "sub-tenant." It would then read:Where … the tenant had a sub-tenant, no sum shall be recoverable from the subtenant …That, I believe, would remove the obscurity to the great advantage of all.
§ LORD SILKIN
I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, but I hope that the noble and learned Lord will have a look at this to see if he cannot save other people from the same ordeal that I have been through
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The next Amendment is really nothing than drafting. It is to leave out "subsection (3)" and insert "subsections (3) and (4)." Both of those are applicable. I beg to move.
Page 24, line 3, leave out ("subsection (3)'') and insert ("subsections (3) and (4)").—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ Clause 27, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 28 to 31 agreed to.898
§ Clause 32:
§ Exclusion from Rent Acts of lettings by local authorities, development corporations, and housing associations and trusts.
32.—(1) A tenancy where—
(d) the said interest belongs to any housing trust which is subject to the jurisdiction of the Clarity Commissioners,
shall not be a controlled tenancy, and shall not for the purposes of subsection (3) of section fifteen of the Act of 1920 (which protects a sub-tenant where an interest of a mesne tenant comes to an end) be deemed to be the interest of a tenant of a dwelling-house to which the Act of 1920 applies:
§ (9) In this section the expression "housing trust" means a housing trust as defined by the Housing Act, 1936 or a corporation or body of persons which, being required by the terms of its constituent instrument to devote the whole of its funds to charitable purposes, would be a housing trust as so defined if the purposes to which it is so required to devote its funds were restricted to those to which it in fact devotes them.
§ 5.35 p.m.
LORD MESTON moved, in subsection (1), after paragraph (d) to insert:
(e) the said interest belongs to any body corporate who by virtue of section two of the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, 1933, or section ninety-one of the Housing Act, 1936, or section five of the Housing Act, 1949, have provided houses to be let to persons of the working classes.
§ The noble Lord said: It may seem extraordinary, but in this twentieth century there are still a few people who do work for no reward, or for very little reward. It so happened that under the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, 1933, some people acceded to the Minister's request to build working-class houses to let. Virtually, the houses were built on precisely the same terms as those built by local authorities, their rents being fixed by the local authority, and so forth. By the accident of the Rent Restrictions Act, 1939, their rents became controlled, although similar local authority houses were not controlled. It is submitted that the houses to which I have referred should now be excluded from control in the same way that housing associations' property, and so on, is excluded. I beg to move.
Page 26, line 15, at end insert the said paragraph.—(Lord Meston.)
I do not know whether it will be possible to accept this Amendment. One sees the difficulty of 899 creating privileged classes; but, at the same time, I feel that these people have had a raw deal, and if they cannot be helped in this way perhaps the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, can suggest some other way in which they can be put on a somewhat better footing.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I was a little puzzled by the form of this Amendment, which deals with "any body corporate." I am not sure why a body corporate should be in a different position from an individual for this purpose. But whether it is bodies corporate only, or individuals, I am afraid that I cannot accept this Amendment I understand that the noble Lord is dealing with bodies corporate or persons to whom local authorities have lent money for the purpose of building houses. If bodies corporate or persons have borrowed money for the purpose of building houses, they really are not in a different position from a person who has used his own money for building a house. In either case the rents which they could demand have been frozen by the Rent Acts; and in either case, under this Bill, they will be allowed to ask for the statutory increase. It is difficult to see why the one should be, as the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, said, in a privileged position; and this would create a privileged class. For that reason, although I recognise the public spirit of those who have built houses, and borrowed money in order to do so. I cannot think that, for the purposes of this Bill, they should be put in a different position from that of any other landlord. Therefore, regretfully, I cannot accede to the Amendment of the noble Lord.
I appreciate what the noble and learned Lord has said about limiting the Amendment to bodies corporate; obviously that is an unnecessary limitation. However, I think the gist of the matter is this. It was not so much a question of the lending by local authorities of money to build houses, but that those private individuals were actuated in 1933, 1934 and thereabouts by a great deal of public spirit, and they were prepared to allow the rents to be fixed by local authorities at a level which the people in the neighbourhood were able to pay. However, clearly I cannot pursue this further, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.900
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR moved, in subsection (9), after "whole" to insert "or substantially the whole." The noble and learned Lord said: Your Lordships will remember that the Bill provides that certain classes of dwelling-house shall be exempted from the provisions of the Rent Acts. This Amendment is designed to remove a doubt as to whether one of the housing trusts to which Clause 32 will apply (I think there is no harm in naming the trust: it is the Sutton Dwellings Trust, which operates under a scheme settled by the court) is prevented from being a housing trust as defined in the second limb of subsection (9) by reason of the fact that its funds, which are required to be devoted to charitable purposes and are, in fact, devoted to the provision of housing accommodation for poor members of the working classes, are charged by the scheme with the payment of a small sum annually for the maintenance of the grave of the founder of the Trust. The whole of the fund is not devoted to housing; a small portion is devoted to that other purpose. This Amendment is intended to cover a case of that kind. I beg to move.
Page 28, line 20, after ("whole") insert ("or substantially the whole")—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ LORD SILKIN
I am delighted to give my approval to this Amendment, particularly as the noble Lord has told us it is to assist the Sutton Dwellings Trust, of which I was vice-chairman for a number of years. The noble and learned Lord is quite right in saying that the work of that Trust is entirely charitable. It is, in fact, carrying out housing at a cheaper rate than are local authorities, because what the Trust expects to make is 2½ percent. whereas local authorities expect to get interest at the current rate. Anything which helps a body of that kind I am sure will be commended by every Member of this Committee.
Page 28, line 23, leave out ("them") and insert ("the whole or substantially the whole thereof").—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ Clause 32, as amended, agreed to.901
§ Clauses 33 and 34 agreed to.
§ Clause 35:
§ Amendments of s. 1 of Act of 1949
§ 35.—(1) In section one of the Act of 1949 (which empowers the tribunal to determine the reasonable rent of a dwelling-house on the application of the landlord or the tenant, and provides that if the reasonable rent, or the reasonable rent less permitted increases, is less than the standard rent it shall become the standard rent) for the words "is less than" in subsection (2) and in subsection (3) there shall be substituted the words "differs from".
(5) No application shall be made to fie tribunal under section one of the Act of 1949 as respects any dwelling-house—
and paragraph (b) of subsection (7) of the said section one (which excludes from the jurisdiction of the said tribunal cases where a limitation of rent is in force under any enactment) is hereby repealed.
§ 5.42 p.m.
My knowledge of the law affecting tribunals can hardly be more limited, but I understand that once a case has been decided by a tribunal, that decision stands for the duration of the Rent Acts, except, I believe, in the case of furnished lettings, where a term may be set. Conditions of prices, costs and so forth vary considerably, and I think it is reasonable to ask that a landlord or tenant should be able to bring his case anew before the rent tribunal after an appropriate passage of years. In this Amendment I have put down five years, but that, of course, is open to alteration. I beg to move.
Page 30, line 18 after ("rent") insert "there shall be added at the end of the proviso to subsection (1) the words 'within a period of five years from the date of the application' and").—(Viscount Gage.)
§ LORD MANCROFT
My noble friend Lord Gage is over-modest. He is perfectly accurate in what he says, but there is a little more to it than that, and perhaps I may fill in one or two strokes on this picture in order to explain why it is that the Government cannot see their way to meet the noble Viscount in his Amendment Section 1 of the Landlord and Tenant (Rent Control) Act, 1949, enables either the landlord or the tenant to make application to a rent tribunal to fix a reasonable rent in reduction of the standard rent of premises first let after September 1, 1939. That section, as your 902 Lordships know, does not enable a tribunal to increase the standard rent, but Clause 35 of this Bill will empower them to do so. Once the tribunal have fixed a reasonable rent no further application to vary it can be made. The purpose of the noble Viscount's Amendment is to enable the tribunal to review any rent they have fixed at the instance of either the landlord or the tenant after an interval—as he has arbitrarily, but quite reasonably, decided—of five years.
The argument behind the Amendment, if I understood him correctly, was that the cost of repairs may go up—or, indeed, though he did not suggest it, down—and, therefore, that rents fixed by a tribunal should he open to review after a reasonable interval. There is one particular point underlying that which might be that repairs have gone up since 1949, when the first determinations under the Act to which I have referred were made. That, on the face of it, is quite a reasonable argument, but I would put these two points to the noble Viscount and ask him for agreement. The first is that the cost of repairs has gone up comparatively little since 1949, and I suggest to him that there is no urgent need to adjust rents which were fixed at that date in the light of post-war conditions. That is the first point I would ask him to consider. The second more general and, I think, more important point, is this. Other standard rents are not open to review at intervals, and I do not think that a sufficiently strong case has been made out to make an exception for these particular houses. I hope those two points will carry weight with the noble Viscount, coupled with the points we have had mentioned once or twice during the debate this afternoon on kindred Amendments—namely, the undesirability of having sliding scales or uncertainty constantly present in the minds of both landlord and tenant. I hope that, with that explanation, the noble Viscount will see his way not to press his Amendment.
I am not particularly convinced about the cost of materials not having gone up since 1949. My impression is that they have. I see the force of my noble friend's argument on the particular class of houses which I ant including in my Amendment, and also the difficulty of having too frequent changes. Although I think my suggestion 903 has certain merits, I will withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 5.47 p.m.
LORD MESTON moved, after subsection (1) to insert:
(2) An appeal shall lie both on fact and law from a determination of a Tribunal under section one of the Landlord and Tenant (Rent Control) Act, 1949, to the High Court.
The noble Lord said: I have raised this point on previous occasions, in connection with other matters, and experience has told me that I shall have been "tucked up" in Golders Green Crematorium for many years before the Government even consider touching this matter in any way; and even when they do consider it they will do nothing at all. Apart from that, I am under the impression that the Government will not consider this Amendment to-day—for two reasons. First of all, they will say that it is not proper to be raised in this Bill and, secondly, they will say that whether it is proper or improper, they are not going to have it. Those are two excellent reasons why I start off with a certain degree of pessimism.
§ Nevertheless, let me say this—and I am making no attack upon the tribunals under the Landlord and Tenant (Rent Control) Act, 1949, or under the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946. But there are tribunals and tribunals, and some are more efficient than others and give a greater appearance of fairness than others. It is most desirable, in my view, that there should be an appeal on questions of fact, as well as on questions of law, to the High Court. It may be that the Lord Chancellor will say that he is not going to have the High Court cluttered up with these appeals on questions of fact, and that the way to get over that difficulty is to create certain appeal tribunals, as has been done under other Acts. It may be said, of course, that you can appeal on a question of law. Now let me tell your Lordships a secret. If you want to appeal on a question of law you have to find somebody to dress up a lot of facts and then you take your chance. In nine cases out of ten you are sorry you did not go to the races instead. That is not a very satisfactory state of affairs.
§ As I have said, I am not here to make a general complaint about these tribunals, 904 but I have received many letters from people complaining bitterly at the way they have been treated by certain tribunals. I have no doubt that others of your Lordships have received letters of a similar kind. It is desirable that there should be some sort of appeal on questions of fact in regard to these tribunals. I hope that the Government will consider this matter. They may not consider it to-day—in fact I am quite sure they will not—but I hope they will keep it in mind, and that they will consider it favourably at some future time. I beg to move.
Page 30, line 20, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Meston.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Your Lordships will have thought it worth while that this Amendment should be moved, if only to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Meston, hopes one day to perform the remarkable feat of being "tucked up" in the Golders Green Crematorium. This is, of course, a serious matter which the noble Lord has moved. In 1949, it was deliberately determined that rent tribunals should be set up to review standard rents payable under first lettings since 1939. That was to provide tenants with an easy, inexpensive and informal way of questioning rents which were said, by some, to be extortionate—and probably in some cases quite justly. That was in 1949. Though I do not doubt that in some cases there may have been ground for complaint, particularly by those who were disappointed, against the decisions of the rent tribunals. yet the experience of everybody, I think, has been that, on the whole, they have dealt with a great number of cases with marked success. As we know, there have been—I need not mention the names of the tribunals—two or three cases which have come before the courts where the tribunals appear to have exceeded their jurisdiction, or to have acted in such a way as to conflict with what we vaguely call the principles of natural justice. But, by and large, they have operated fairly well, and we do not think it is right now, in 1954, that deliberate decision having been made in 1949, to substitute another tribunal in the way in which the noble Lord suggests. Therefore, although I realise that different minds can well come to different conclusions upon this matter, 905 on the whole we do not think the time has come to make a change. But I will add this in response to the very last words that the noble Lord said: it is a matter which must be kept constantly under review; and if these rent tribunals do not appear to be doing broad justice, and if there is any general complaint against them, most certainly the matter will have to be reconsidered. I hope the noble Lord will not press the Amendment.
§ LORD SILKIN
In view of the very high testimonial which the noble and learned Lord has given to these tribunals, would he not consider that they were capable of dealing with the question of rent increases and these certificates which we discussed a short time ago? It is a very inexpensive tribunal.
§ LORD SILKIN
Strictly not, but our Rules of Order are somewhat elastic and I am taking advantage of that.
I thank the noble and learned Lord very much for his reply. If it is not impertinent for me to say so, may I suggest that the Lord Chancellor should consider making it a rule of court. a practice of court, that in every case the rent tribunal should give a speaking judgment—that is to say, that in a given case, they should give detailed reasons for their decision. Apart from that, nothing remains but for me again to thank the Lord Chancellor for his reply and to beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment by leave, withdrawn.
VISCOUNT GAGE moved, in subsection (5), after paragraph (c) to insert:
(d) the maximum rent of which has at any time been fixed under section seven of the Building Materials and Housing Act, 1945, as amended by section forty-three of the Housing Act, 1949.
§ The noble Viscount said: As I understand this clause, though I may not be correctly understanding it, one of the purposes is to obviate the submission to a tribunal of a dispute about rent once that rent has been fixed by a local authority—at least, that is what it says in paragraph (a). If that is a good principle, however. it is difficult to understand what broad merit there is in the particular Act of Parliament under which a local authority 906 exercises that function. If it is right in principle that they should do it under one Act, what is there to prevent it from being done under another Act? I understand that the Building Materials and Housing Act, 1945, was utilised principally when local authorities exercised a close control of building by the licensing of materials and licensing in other ways. It seems to be excluded under this paragraph. One wonders why. If rents were fixed properly, why should a rent fixed under that Act be subject to review by a tribunal any more than a rent fixed under some other power? I understand that there have already been certain anomalous cases which have occurred because of this omission. I beg to move.
Page 31, line 19, at end insert the said paragraph.—(Viscount Gage.)
§ LORD MANCROFT
This, I am afraid, is a complicated matter. There are times when I think I understand it and times, again, when I am quite certain I do not. I am afraid, however, that I shall have to disappoint the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, straightaway and tell him this. Difficult though it is and important as Her Majesty's Government certainly regard this matter, we are sorry that we cannot see our way to go further than the provision made in this particular clause—that is, Clause 34 of the Bill. The purpose of Lord Gage's Amendment, if I have understood it correctly, is to remove from the jurisdiction of a rent tribunal to determine what is a reasonable rent under the Landlord and Tenant (Rent Control) Act, 1949, any premises erected or converted under a building licence granted under Defence Regulation 56A, which fixed a maximum rent. This rent was enforceable under the Building Materials and Housing Act, 1945, which in its turn was amended by the Act of 1949, until December 20, 1953, when those temporary provisions were allowed to lapse. The rent at which any of these houses were first let after having been built or converted in general became the standard rent. Since it is a standard rent fixed after September 1, 1939, application may be made to a rent tribunal under the Act of 1949 to determine any reasonable rent for the letting. No such application could be made to a tribunal while the provisions of the Act of 1945 were in force, because the Act 907 of 1949 prohibited reference to a rent tribunal while there was a limitation of rent in force under any Act other than the Rent Acts—that is, in this case, the Act of 1945.
Clause 35 of this Bill, as your Lordships know, gives rent tribunals the power to increase as well as reduce standard rents fixed after September 1, 1939. The effect of the Amendment of the noble Viscount, therefore, in respect of houses that have already been let would, I suggest, be to deprive tribunals of the power either of reducing or of increasing the existing standard rent. They are, I should have thought, unlikely to do either, since the standard rent will be the rent fixed by the local authority. Rent tribunals in general may be thought to be more likely to increase than to reduce the rents of houses built fairly soon after the war, when building and maintenance costs were lower. It is doubtful, therefore, whether Lord Gage's Amendment is an advantage to landlords where the houses have already been let at the maximum rent fixed by the local authority.
Where, however, any of these houses erected or converted since the war has not yet been let, there will, of course, be no standard rent, and the first letting after that date will constitute the standard rent, which may be of any amount which the landlord may be able to obtain. The effect of the noble Viscount's Amendment in such a case would be that, however high the rent charged, the rent tribunal could not intervene. I wonder whether my noble friend Lord Gage, has quite appreciated this aspect of his Amendment. If he did take that point into account, no doubt his argument would be that the result that I have suggested would be reasonable; that the owner of such a house is no longer under any limitation as to price, if he sells it; and that to prevent a tribunal from reducing the standard rent is more likely to result in an increase in the number of houses available for letting.
On the other hand, there is nothing to distinguish houses in this category—that is, houses built under licence—from any other house which has not previously been let and which has, therefore, no standard rent. No logical distinction that I can see can be drawn between a 908 pre-war and a post-war house which has always been owner-occupied; and, if the noble Viscount's Amendment were accepted, it would seem to follow logically that Section 1 of the Act of 1949 should be repealed as respects all houses which have never been let. The Government have given careful consideration to this important point; but I must tell the noble Viscount that I am afraid we cannot go further than the provision contained in Clause 34, which will free from rent control houses erected and conversions effected after the passing of the Bill. This is a difficult matter, but I hope the explanations which I have attempted to give will satisfy the Committee that this Amendment is not one which really commends itself to the Government.
The noble Lord has given me an answer which really reminds me of the sort of answer which I used to give when I was in his position, and which I gave with very grave doubts in my mind—
Well, I did have those doubts. But I cannot pretend to understand the explanation which my noble friend has so kindly given me. I will withdraw the Amendment now; I will study what he has said, and will reserve my right to put the Amendment down again on the Report stage.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 35 agreed to.
§ Clause 36 [Application of Rent Acts to dwellings provided or improved with assistance under Part II of Housing Act, 1949]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 36 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ LORD SILKIN
I should like to raise a question on this clause, which I am sure the noble and learned Lord can explain. This clause deals with cases where an improvement grant has been made in respect of a controlled house and the local authority is required to fix a maximum rent. I will not put myself too much out of order by drawing attention to the fact that here is a local authority now fixing rents, and not the county court. Under Section 22 of the Housing Act, 1949, local authorities have this 909 power. They are enabled to fix a maximum rent, first in respect of new houses and, secondly, in respect of houses for which an improvement grant has been given but which have not been let for five years. This clause extends that power to houses which are, in fact, let and enables the local authorities, in circumstances where an improvement grant has been given, to fix a maximum rent.
What I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord to explain to me is this. In the normal way, where a house is controlled and the local authority makes a grant in respect of improvements, the owner is entitled to increase the rent by an amount which represents a return of 8 per cent. on his own expenditure. That is perfectly clear and understandable, and no objection is taken to it, except, I believe, by some noble Lords who want to increase the amount to 10 per cent.—we shall come to that. But 8 per cent. is what the Bill provides. At the same time, under this clause it looks as if, regardless of the fact that the landlord can get an increased return of 8 per cent. on his expenditure, a local authority can fix a new maximum rent merely because they are providing a grant, and may fix it, apparently, in respect of controlled premises which are already occupied, at considerably above the present rent plus 8 per cent. of the landlord's expenditure. Indeed, there is no guide, there is no direction as to how or why the authority are to fix the maximum rent. I should like the noble and learned Lord to explain the reason why, in those circumstances, it is necessary for the local authority to fix a maximum rent at all. Is not the landlord already covered by the fact that he is enabled to charge 8 per cent. on his own share of the amount that he expends in improvement? I do not know whether I have made my dilemma clear.
§ LORD SILKIN
Well, I do not know where to begin. There seems to be an inconsistency, taking Clause 36 in conjunction with Section 22 of the Housing Act, 1949. Clause 36 extends that section so as to make it applicable to houses which are now subject to control. Section 22 of the 1949 Act gave powers only in respect of houses which had not 910 been let for the last five years; this is an extension to controlled premises. Therefore, under Clause 36, a local authority have power to fix a maximum rent where they make an improvement grant. In another part of this Bill provision is made for an actual increase to be effected in those circumstances, and the increase is 8 per cent. on the amount which the landlord expends, not taking into account the local authority's portion of the expenditure. So that there are two methods by which the rent may be increased, in consequence of expenditure by way of an improvement grant. There is this provision where the local authority may fix any maximum rent they like, and there is the other provision in this Bill by which the landlord can charge 8 per cent. on his expenditure. Now which is it, and why are there these two different methods of fixing the rent?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Lord has certainly asked me an extremely difficult question upon what is perhaps the most complicated clause in the Bill. He has not given me any notice that he proposed to raise it—I do not complain about that. I suppose the short answer, is it not, is this: that if the local authority make an improvement grant, it should be a condition of the grant that the local authority should have some control over the rent of the house in respect of which they make a grant. If there is no other provision—no rent fixed under the Rent Acts—that is why it is proper that the local authority making the grant should have a right to say what shall be the maximum rent, I think that is the short answer, but I do not know whether that satisfies the noble Lord. I will read what he has said in the OFFICIAL REPORT. It is so difficult to keep all the provisions of this very complicated Bill in one's mind. I am not sure that I have either fully understood or indeed answered the question that he put, but I will certainly look at it.
§ LORD SILKIN
Just to carry the suggestion further, I appreciate what the noble and learned Lord says, and I do not expect a reply here and now; but I should like lo know how he reconciles that—it is a perfectly understandable principle: the local authority gives a grant and reserves the right to settle the rent—with the other provision, that the 911 actual rent is already fixed by allowing the landlord to charge 8 per cent. on his part of the cost of the improvement.
§ LORD SILKIN
Where public money is available the landlord can charge 8 per cent. on his share, and that is what I do not understand. The two seem to be irreconcilable, but perhaps the noble Lord can answer that.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Let me read out a little note which I have just received. The landlord will not get the 8 per cent. increase where the local authority fix the rent. The new rent becomes the standard rent as from the completion of the improvement. Therefore the improvement is earlier in date than the standard rent and will not give rise to an increase. Does the noble Lord follow that?
§ Clause 36 agreed to.
§ Clause 37:
§ Exemption from s. 2 (2) of Act of 1949 for long leases
§ (2) Where on the coming to an end of a tenancy the person who was tenant thereunder immediately before the coming to an end thereof becomes (whether by grant or by implication of law) tenant of the whole or any part of the property comprised therein under another tenancy, then if the first tenancy was, or is deemed by virtue of this subsection to have been, granted for a term of years certain exceeding twenty-one years the second tenancy shall he deemed for the purposes of this section to be a tenancy granted for such a term.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN moved to leave out subsection (2). The noble Lord said: I am almost reminded of the noble Lord who, many years ago, told the House that he fell asleep while he was speaking; he was so bored with his own voice. I feel very much the same, but this Bill was not considered very carefully in another place. I beg to move Amendment No. 39, and the purpose is to delete subsection (2). Subsection (1) of this clause permits a landlord to charge a premium in respect of the assignment of a tenancy granted for a term of years certain exceeding twenty-one years. That was, I 912 think, accepted in another place by everybody, and I have no objection to it. Then comes the second part. At the end of the tenancy, where a new tenancy is granted—for whatever term: even a weekly tenancy—the landlord is entitled to charge another premium. That provision seems to require some explanation. I can understand that if the tenant has been given another term of, say, twenty-one years, or longer, he would expect to pay a premium again comparable with what he had paid in the first instance. But even if the second tenancy is granted merely on a weekly basis, under the terms of this subsection it is to be deemed for the purpose of this clause to be a tenancy granted for twenty-one years or more and, therefore, to justify payment of another premium. I cannot believe that that was ever intended, and the Bill may not mean that, but I thought it did. I move this Amendment in order to get an explanation.
Page 33, line 5, leave out subsection (2).—(Lord Silkin.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I can see the difficulty of the noble Lord. It is a difficult and intricate subject, but, of course, Clause 37 does not deal with tenancies as such, but with assignments of tenancies; and it is in the light of that subject-matter that he was reading subsection (2). Now subsection (1), as the noble Lord says, is a clause which allows a premium to be charged on the assignment of the tenancy originally granted for a period of more than twenty-one years. That provision is aimed not at ordinary rent-controlled tenancies but at ground leases, reserving a rent of probably slightly above two-thirds of the rateable value. Subsection (2) aims at nothing but a technical extension of subsection (1). When there is a continuation of a lease originally granted for a period exceeding twenty-one years—that is to say, the tenancy with which you are dealing in subsection (1)—the continuation shall count as though it were part of the original lease. It is difficult to see what objection can be had to that. Supposing there has been a period of twenty-one years and a continuation for a period, it is all treated as if it were the tenancy of which an assignment is made. The original tenancy may have been for twenty-one years and may be continued for a time, and it is to 913 be treated as though that was the original tenancy of which an assignment is permitted by the Act; and that is what, in practice, may have happened often enough. Will the noble Lord consider and read my explanation in that light, because if there should be any difficulty or doubt of course I will consider whether it cannot be made more clear. It is difficult, and with some things it is not possible to be more clear that the subject-matter admits. The noble Lord, Lard Pethick-Lawrence will remember that Aristotle said something of that kind long ago. But if it is not sufficiently clear, I promise to consider what the noble Lord has said and to see if it can be made more clear.
§ LORD SILKIN
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his explanation. May I add one sentence explaining my difficulty? In subsection (2) there is a reference to "the second tenancy"—it is not a continuation of the first tenancy of the original period of twenty-one years, which is presumed to have come to an end. There is now a second tenancy. If it is to be treated as if it were a tenancy for twenty-one years or more, whatever may be the length of the second tenancy, it means that a new premium may be charged. That is what I understand.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 37 agreed to.
§ Clause 38 agreed to.
§ Clause 39:
§ Increase for rise in cost of services provided under pre-1939 lettings
(a) by an agreement in writing relating to the services mentioned in paragraph (b) of the last foregoing subsection and made after the commencement of this Act between the landlord and the tenant or a former tenant of the dwelling-house it has been agreed that the landlord shall be entitled to an increase of rent, of an amount specified in the agreement, in respect of any rise, over the period beginning with third day of September, nineteen hundred and thirty-nine and ending with the commencement of this Act, in the cost of the provision of the services, or
the landlord shall be entitled to recover the amount of the increase agreed or determined as aforesaid notwithstanding anything in the terms of the tenancy or statutory tenancy or any enactment, subject, however, to the provisions of the nest following subsection.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN moved, in subsection (2), to omit paragraph (a). The noble Lord said: I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name. This is rather more than an Amendment requiring an explanation. We are dealing now with the cost of providing services, and the particular provision that I would seek to delete provides that where a landlord has made with a tenant an agreement in writing relating to the cost of services which he provides, then that is taken out of any sort of control, and the tenant cannot then go to the tribunal to have the cost of the service examined. I have in mind this kind of case: a large block of flats where the tenancies are controlled and the owners of the block provide central heating and central hot water. Is there anything to stop them in future, as a condition of a tenancy, saying: "The rent of your fiat is £150 a year"—and here I am deliberately exaggerating and giving an extreme case—"the cost of providing central heating and hat water is £500 a year. On those conditions you can have a tenancy. Your total rent is £650 a year. Take it or leave it"? Is it not open under this prevision for a tenant and a landlord to make an agreement in writing on such a basis?
§ I know the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack will not say: "Caveat emptor; you take this with your eyes open and you know what you are in for." He knows the extreme pressure which there is on accommodation to-day, and the difficulties which exist especially in the case of young married people who are seeking accommodation at a rent which they can afford to pay. People become desperate, and they are then prepared to let themselves in for anything, merely to get accommodation, After all, under this and earlier measures we are endeavouring to protect people of that kind. We wish to protect them even though they make an arrangement to pay an excessive rent. This provision seems to me to be an exception to that rule. If I am right, if such an 915 arrangement as I have outlined is possible, and if it is correct that a landlord can adhere strictly to the law by not charging a penny more than the controlled rent in respect of the letting, but can charge anything he likes for the services if it is agreed to in writing, then it is a way of circumventing the intention of the Rent Acts. That, I am sure, is not the intention of Her Majesty's Government in inserting this provision in the Bill. Therefore I move this Amendment in the hope either that the provision here does not mean what it says, or that the noble and learned Lord will agree to modify it so that in cases where extortionate charges are made it will be possible for the poor tenant, even if he has made an agreement in writing, to have that agreement reviewed. I beg to move.
Page 34, line 15, leave out paragraph (a).—(Lord Silkin.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
As I read this section of the Bill it is certainly possible for the landlord and the tenant to come to an agreement. That is the purpose of it. But this is a case where the tenant has ample security of tenure under the Rent Act. He is in occupation and he cannot be turned out. He has no reason to fear that pressure will be put on him and that if he does not come to an agreement he will be turned out. On the contrary, he is absolutely free. I should have thought that this was a case where landlord and tenant might very. properly agree. Just consider the alternative. It is that every case would have to go to the rent tribunal. It is curious that with respect to another part of the Bill noble Lords opposite have said "Cannot the parties come to an agreement?". This is a matter in which, above all things, the parties can so easily come to an agreement as to what increase shall be made in the charge for services. Otherwise, in every case it will be necessary to go to the rent tribunal.
I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lork Silkin, and those associated with him have considered the point, but I should have thought that a great many tenants would strongly object to the proposal that they could not agree but must go to the rent tribunal to have this matter settled. I would have said that 916 surely the vast majority of people would say: "We can come to an agreement." If they cannot come to an agreement the tenants have no reason to fear being turned out. All they have to do is to say, "We will have the rent tribunal settle the matter for us." I should have thought that that was a reasonable and practical way of dealing with the matter, fair to landlord and to tenant. Let them have an agreement. If they do not, then no harm is done; the tenant stays where he is, and it is left for the rent tribunal to fix the amount to be charged. I think that is fair.
§ LORD SILKIN
The noble and learned Lord is not dealing with the case which I have sought to make. My fear is with regard to premises which become vacant and where a new tenancy is created. 1 recognise that an existing tenant has a certain strength in bargaining. He is there, and he will probably not agree to pay an unconscionable amount. It is the new tenant for whom I fear.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
There, again, one is in a dilemma, because the alternative is that which the noble Lord suggests—in every case go to the rent tribunal. I should have thought that this is just one of those instances where hard cases would make bad law. It may be—I do not know—that there will be cases where a landlord will say to a tenant seeking accommodation: "I am going to demand so much for increased services, and so on. Unless you pay it, I will not have you as a tenant." There may be that possibility—I do not know. But, by and large, we must legislate for the bulk of the cases with which we are concerned. Therefore I cannot, I am afraid, accept the Amendment, which would have, as I think, a grave effect upon the administration of the Bill when it becomes law.
§ LORD SILKIN
I am sorry about that. If the parties do not want to go to the tribunal, there is nothing to make them go. I do not wish that every single agreement should be submitted to the tribunal for approval.
§ LORD SILKIN
I have not attempted to draw these Amendments necessarily in the way in which a Parliamentary draftsman would draw them. But I would 917 put before the Committee the purpose of this Amendment, which is to protect new tenants when they are driven to make an agreement which is harsh and unconscionable. If the agreement is all right, of course they need not go to the tribunal. If my Amendment does not make that clear. I am willing to accept language which will make it clear. I would even be willing, as a gesture of reasonableness, to limit it to the case of new tenants. Existing tenants are in a better position to look after themselves. But I do fear—and I speak with some knowledge of this matter—that in the case of new tenants you are, by this provision, driving a very big coach and horses through the protection which tenants normally have. I beg the noble and learned Lord to look at this matter again, as I have done, with a view to seeing whether some protection can be given.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I do not complain in the least, for the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, is always helpful; but once again he has moved one Amendment and then, when I have put forward what I conceive to be irresistible objections to it, he has suggested another. I will certainly look into this matter.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 6.28 p.m.
VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER moved to add to the clause:
(6) In any case where the amount of an increase of rent is determined under paragraph (b) of subsection (2) of this section in respect of any dwelling-house in a building containing two or more houses (whether or not all such houses are dwelling-houses as defined in this Act) the amount of such increase shall be so determined that such amount shall beat to the amount of the increase in the cost of providing the services, in respect of the building the same proportion as the gross value of the dwelling-house bears to the aggregate of the gross values of all the aforesaid houses in the building.
§ The noble Viscount said: This is a perfectly simple Amendment. The Bill, as it stands, contains no provision for apportionment in respect of services. I feel that unless there is some such provision there may be delay and there may be unnecessary work cast on the tribunal. In substance, what this Amendment does 918 is to provide that the total gross value of all the flats in a building shall be calculated; the cost of the services is then taken, and each flat in the building is then allocated its share in the increased cost of the services in the same proportion which its gross value bears to the total gross value of the whole building. If, for example, the gross value of one flat were one-quarter of the total gross value of the building that flat would bear one quarter of the increased cost of services. I beg to move.
Page 35, line 10, at end insert the said subsection.—(Viscount Buckmaster.)
§ LORD MANCROFT
The point which my noble friend Lord Buckmaster raises is a practical and important one. The purpose of his Amendment, if I have understood him correctly, is to lay down some rule for determining (where there is no pre-existing agreement) the appropriate increase under this clause in the case of individual flats contained in a large block. My noble friend's Amendment provides that the increase shall be calculated in such a case by apportioning the total increase in cost to the landlord for providing services for the whole building in accordance with the gross value of each flat. For some services, such as central heating or hot water, I do not doubt that that method is fair and equitable; nor do I doubt that, without the Amendment, the tenants will agree that some such method is equitable, or that the rent tribunal will determine that that or some similar system should be applied. Therefore, for such services there does not seem to be any need for special provision in the Bill.
However, there are other services provided by the landlord, in particular, electrical appliances in all their modern variety, which may vary greatly from flat to flat and yet will not be reflected in the gross value. For appliances of this sort I should have thought it would be most inequitable to apportion the increase to the various flats according to the gross value. It is true that where lifts are provided there may be some difficulty in determining whether the tenant of a ground floor flat should pay the increase, but that is a comparatively small difficulty. It can be settled either by agreement between landlord and tenants or by the rent tribunal. I submit that there is 919 no need for making special provision in the Bill. Therefore, I think the noble Viscount's Amendment, although one with which we have considerable sympathy in principle, goes far beyond what is necessary for the case he has in mind.
§ VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER
I am obliged to the noble Lord. He will allow me to consider what he has said, and if I feel there is some alternative solution he will, of course, allow me to put it forward on Report stage. I proposed the Amendment not to give advantage to the landlord but to avoid constant and unnecessary reference to the tribunal. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 39 agreed to.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT GAGE moved, after Clause 39 to insert the following new clause:
§ Power for landlord and tenant to agree on increase of rent in respect of improvements.
§ "40.—(1) Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this Part of this Act where a dwelling-house is let under a controlled tenancy or occupied by a statutory tenant the landlord may agree with the tenant to carry out works of improvement at a cost of not less than one hundred pounds in consideration of the tenant paying an agreed increase in rent for the premises so improved.
§ (2) Where the landlord and tenant have so agreed and the tenant certifies in writing that such works of improvement have been carried out in accordance with the agreement, then the landlord may apply to register the said agreement and certificate with the local authority and from the date of registration the rent of the dwelling-house increased as aforesaid shall become the standard rent of such dwelling-house notwithstanding any provision of this or any other Act to the contrary.
§ (3) If the tenant unreasonably withholds his certificate for twenty-eight days after the completion of the said works in accordance with the agreement, the landlord may apply to the county court to determine whether the agreed works have been carried out and if on such application the court are satisfied that the agreed works have been carried out the court shall certify accordingly, and the order of the court shall take the place of and have the same effect as the certificate of the tenant under the foregoing paragraph had such certificate been given.
§ (4) Where the standard rent of any dwelling-house is increased by virtue of this section the landlord may not apply for any further increase of rent in respect of the same works under the Act of 1920."920
§ The noble Viscount said: Unlike some of the Amendments which have been moved, this Amendment is very simple—indeed, almost naïve. It is to the effect that if a landlord and tenant come to an agreement whereby the landlord repairs and modernises a house and the tenant agrees to pay an appropriate rent, the State shall not intervene to upset that agreement because one party or the other has failed to implement it. I have in mind a limited number of houses—namely, rural cottages. I speak about them because I know something about them and do not know about low-rented houses in large urban areas. In rural areas we frequently find cottages of sound construction, not, perhaps, in a first-class state of repair, without modern conveniences, such as a bath and indoor sanitation. Such a cottage would let at about 5s. a week and might have a rate-able value of £5 to £6 a year. It is true that many rural cottages are either tied or service cottages and do not come into the category I am describing, but there is a large number that do. I am convinced that many tenants of these cottages would like to have them modernised and would be willing to pay 15s. a week. They would consider themselves better off than their neighbours in council cottages, who are paying up to 27s. 6d. a week for rent and rates, which latter in the case of the cottage would have to be borne by the tenant.
§ It is possible under present law for the landlord and tenant to come to an agreement, but there is always a danger that if the tenant's successor applies to the court and shows that the statutory rent is exceeded, the court will have the rent reduced and award a good deal of back rent to the tenant. The statutory maximum rent for the sort of house I have in mind, where the owner spends, say, £100 on repairs and £200 on modernisation, is 12s. or 13s. a week. It may make the whole difference to an owner, who out of the 13s. would have to pay combined rates and probably loan charges on the money he would have to borrow to make the improvements. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has told the House that the Bill will not help in the case of the low-assessed house; noble Lords on this side have said so and sneakers for the Government have said so. 921 Nobody has suggested anywhere that it is possible to deal with these low-assessed houses. Some time ago we had a debate, initiated by my noble fiend Lord Buckmaster, about old houses, and a great sense of urgency was expressed about saving them. I have not detected the same urgency in this Committee. I have heard only one suggestion about dealing with low-rented houses, and that is the Labour solution of handing them all over to the local authorities. Although I am ready to believe that there are councils prepared to take them, I am equally convinced that to rely on rural district councils to take over these houses in time to save them is no solution. And even if they did save them, the rent they would charge to the tenants would be very high. The whole conception seems to me to be somewhat unrealistic.
§ The only bright spot I can see in regard to the low-rented houses is the possibility that housing associations, which have not often been mentioned in this debate, may take some of them for re-conditioning. On Second Reading, I said that the housing associations are grateful to the Minister for that concession. My Amendment suggests that where a tenant and landlord come to an agreement, that shall be the standard rent; but no doubt I shall be told that that will at all times be capable of abuse. I shall be told of possible connivance between landlord and tenant and of the putting of pressure on the tenant. All these things may be true. But we have been legislating for years on the basis that every landlord is a rogue and every tenant is a simpleton, and I do not know that we are very satisfied with the position we have got into. I agree that such a basis might have been necessary in the past, but now that we have built a million and a half houses, ought we not to be prepared to take some risk to save the houses that remain? And is it a very great risk? I am not suggesting for a moment that anybody should be compelled to come to an agreement with the owner of his cottage. Let people, by all means, rely on the remaining parts of the Bill, if they like. They can rely on inspection and compulsion, and the whole scheme of dealing by sanction, to which noble Lords opposite seem to be rather partial. I feel that we have got to get 922 out of this straitjacket into which we have been placed for so long. I beg to move.
After Clause 39, insert the said new clause.—(Viscount Gage.)
§ LORD MANCROFT
The noble Viscount, Lord Gage, has travelled a good way round and about the purpose of his actual Amendment. He told us that he thought he was subject to the accusation of being a little naïve; I feel that he is also being a little naughty. What he is trying to do by this Amendment, in plain language, is to enable the landlord and the tenant of a rent-controlled house (whether occupied under a controlled tenancy or under a statutory tenancy) to contract out of the Rent Act limitations on the increase of rent permitted by the Rent Acts in respect of improvements carried out to the house. Let me say straight away that that is a general principle which Her Majesty's Government cannot accept. The question whether the 8 per cent. permitted by the Rent Acts for improvements is right or wrong raises a general point which can be considered only under a review of the Rent Acts as a whole.
I remember the noble Lord, Lord Uthwatt, of happy memory, telling me once that he suffered from a recurring dream; that he was back at school facing an examination paper, and the first question on the examination paper required all the students to translate the whole of the Rent Acts into Greek verse. We are not faced with any problem approaching that. This Bill is not the vehicle for making any such change in the incidence of the Rent Acts. The principle of allowing parties to a controlled tenancy or a statutory tenancy to contract out of the Rent Acts—
Perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord. I am not suggesting that they should contract out of the Rent Acts. I am saying only that the tenant would still have a statutory protection. It is simply a question of the amount of rent that should be fixed in this way.
§ LORD MANCROFT
Perhaps I misunderstood the noble Lord, but he certainly gave roe the impression that the effect of his Amendment would result in a contracting out of the Rent Acts, whether it be at any particular figure or 923 not. The effect of what he has been arguing would appear to me to be that landlords and tenants could agree an increase of rent on account of improvements, notwithstanding that the improvements might have been carried out with the aid of a grant from the local authority, who, in that event, under Clause 6 (1) of the Bill, would have fixed a new rent. If the noble Viscount tells me that that is not what he had in mind, I would again have to say that, even if he were to change his Amendment to obviate the difficulty I have just mentioned, it would still be an objectionable Amendment, because it goes to the vital principle, on which 1 will not waste more of your Lordships' time, the undesirable principle of contracting out of the Rent Acts.
With the other point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, in his brave attempt to meet this problem, which we have all acknowledged this afternoon, and particularly the problem of the low gross value, I most cordially agree. I hope the noble Viscount will not think I am being discouraging to him; I am not. I wish we could find a solution to the problem, but I am afraid that contracting out of the Rent Acts is not a solution which at the moment commends itself to Her Majesty's Government.
I have been duly slaughtered. I do not wish to take up your Lordships' time in fighting the inevitable, but I should feel a great deal happier if someone had suggested some way by which these low-rated houses might have been saved. I feel that the attitude so far expressed is rather the attitude of the Greek chorus who say, "Woe, woe!" However, I do not wish to pursue this matter, and beg to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clauses 40 and 41 agreed to.
§ 6.45 p.m.
VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER moved, after Clause 41 to insert the following new Clause:
42. Subsection (2) of section three of the Act of 1920 (which relates to the service of notice of permitted increases of rent) shall be read and have effect as if the words '(other than an increase on account of an increase in rates in respect of which no notice shall be required to be given by the landlord)' were inserted after the word 'increase' where first occurring in the said subsection and as if the
words 'or, where such increase is on account of an increase in rates, one clear week' were omitted therefrom.
The noble Viscount said: This Amendment has the same advantage as that of my noble friend Lord Gage, in that it is simple. I only hope that it will not suffer an equal fate. We are nearing the end of the proceedings and, with great respect, none of us has been successful in getting any Amendments accepted. This is a perfectly innocuous Amendment, I suggest. All it does is to relieve the landlord of the responsibility of giving notice in a specified form of an increase of rent. That notice is not quite so simple as at first sight it might appear. Originally, the statutory form was contained in the First Schedule to the Act of 1920. That was eventually replaced by the Schedule to the Act of 1933; and that, in turn, was replaced by the rent restriction regulations of 1934, of 1938, and of 1939. And now—I do not blame the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for looking a little weary—they have been replaced finally by the regulations of 1940.
§ It is easy, in a mass of regulations, superimposed on each other, to make a mistake. The present form is by no means simple. There are a number of heads: the standard rent has to be given, the net rent, the amount in pounds, shilling and pence spent on repairs, and details of that kind. I suggest that this form is a trap for the small landlords, and imposes unnecessary work on the big ones. A great deal of time, trouble and labour is involved in sending out these forms correctly. It is a difficult and complex thing, and I doubt whether, when the tenant receives it, he understands it. What hardship does he suffer if he does not get notice? He is in the same position as the owner of a house, because the owner of a house receives no notice. Those of us who live in our own houses are well accustomed to the rates going up, and we do not expect notice. It is hard to see why a tenant of a rent-restricted house should be in a better position than he would be if he owned his own house. Therefore, with some—I will not say confidence, but with some hope of softening the heart of the noble Lord. Lord Mancroft, I beg to move this Amendment.
After Clause 41, insert the said new clause.—(Viscount Buckmaster.)
§ LORD MANCROFT
I am so abashed at the language used to me by my noble friend Lord Gage that I fear I may have been unduly harsh to him in regard to his Amendment, and I must be particularly careful in dealing with the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Buck-master. Both he and my noble friend Lord Gage have been at such pains to try to improve this Bill, and have given us such help, that I should not like them to think that I was not appreciative of what they have done. With what my noble friend Lord Buckmaster has said on this Amendment I largely agree. I see his difficulty, and I think he has made out a valid point. My difficulty is this. I do not think it is in this Bill that the Amendment should be made; I believe that it would come more under the Rent Acts. I may be wrong about that, and perhaps he will allow me to discuss it further with my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor.
§ LORD MANCROFT
If I make the noble Viscount that promise, perhaps he will forgive me for any harshness I may have shown, and will agree to withdraw the Amendment.
§ VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER
I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment, on the understanding that the noble Lord will kindly look into the matter again.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clauses 42 to 45 agreed to.
§ Clause 46 [Procedure of tribunal]:
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I think the Committee will have no difficulty in agreeing this Amendment, which has the intention that I indicated some little time ago of making it clear that the provision of the Rent Act, 1920, will apply to this Act also, so far as the making of rules by the Lord Chancellor is concerned. I beg to move.
§ Amendment moved—
Page 36, line 29, at beginning insert—
("(1) Subsection (1) of section seventeen of the Act of 1920 (which empowers the Lord Chancellor to make rules and give directions for the purpose of giving effect to that Act) shall apply in relation to this Part of this Act as it applies in relation to that Act.")—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ Clause 46, as amended, agreed to.926
§ Clause 47:
§ Interpretation of Part II
§ good repair," in relation to any premises, means that having regard to the age, character and locality of the premises they are in good repair both as respects structure and as respects decoration;
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN moved, in the definition of "good repair," to leave out "character and locality." The noble Lord said: On behalf of my noble friend Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, I beg to move this Amendment. We have now reached the definitions, and from the definition of "good repair" I want to leave out the words" character and locality." I suggest that the only criterion that should be adopted, in deciding whether premises are in good repair, both as respects structure and as respects decoration, is the age of the premises. As respects structure, it seems to me quite simple, and I fail to see how the character and locality of the premises can make any difference in deciding whether or not the structure is sound. Either the structure is good or it is not good, and the character and locality of the premises must, it seems to me, be an irrelevant factor. I can see that there might be a better case when we are discussing decoration, but even here, in the case of rent-controlled premises, in considering whether they are in good repair we are not taking the standard of decoration which would be appropriate in Grosvenor Square. I imagine that to qualify for this definition of good repair—which is only a definition to justify an increase of rent—the place has to be clean and tidy. I do not mean that it is necessary to have three coats of good oil paint, or anything of that kind. It would satisfy this definition if the place had the minimum amount of decoration, so long as it was clean. If it was not clean, whatever the locality and whatever the character, it would not pass; so again the character and locality of the house seem 10 me irrelevant.
§ Those words, by their inclusion, seem to imply that there are different standards of good repair for rent-controlled premises. I cannot believe that that is the real intention. I submit that it would be simpler to have the one standard. Obviously, the age of a building must 927 be a factor. You cannot expect a new roof, and you must expect walls to be, perhaps, a little bulging at times; and there may be old settlements which have been dealt with which would not be found in a new building. The question of structure is understandable, but it seems to me quite irrelevant where those premises are. With decoration, I understand that conceivably there might be a difference, but that is a difference which would be much greater in the case of expensive premises than in the case of rent-controlled premises. As I say, nobody would expect a high standard of decoration. It would pass this test if it were clean. Therefore, I submit that there is a good case for leaving out the words "character and locality" which can only be misleading and can only lead to difficulties of interpretation and judgment. If a local authority have to decide whether a place is in good repair they can do it, but if you introduce this qualification of having regard to the character and locality, then I submit that you are confusing and making it more difficult to decide. I beg to move.
Page 37, line 12, leave out ("character and locality").—(Lord Silkin.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I do not think the Amendment makes much difference, because I am quite sure that any local authority considering whether premises are in good repair will take into consideration all the circumstances, which will include not only age but character and locality. I see the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, in his place. I venture to think that if you are dealing with an area in which there has been subsidence, owing to mining operations, you will often find a bulge or crack, or whatever it may be, which you would not expect to find in another locality, and which would be tolerated in that locality, knowing that, even if you did something to it, it would be likely to occur again very soon. Equally, I might say that you would expect a different standard of repair to houses which vary in character—a stone-built house or cottage in the Cotswolds and a brick-built house in an industrial area. It is also a matter of decoration. Structure and decoration are bound together, as the noble Lord said. One does not want to introduce 928 class prejudice in the matter, but the local authority might well take the view that a different standard was to be applied in one place than another. I will not name them. I think that it would hinder, rather than help, local authorities, if we were to remove these words and, by removing them, indicate that there was a common standard, which there is not. On the whole, I cannot agree to the deletion of the words. I think they help the local authority and not hinder them.
§ LORD BURDEN
I must say that we are greatly disappointed by the reply of the noble and learned Lord. As I read this definition, it is a question of comparison. I wish to put this to the noble and learned Lord. Take the district of Canning Town, where there is some of the worst jerry-building to be found in the East End of London. It also happens to be an area where German bombs have wreaked a good deal of havoc; and relatively nothing has been done to clear those areas. There are a number of houses still standing there in some streets, and in relation to the decoration of the bomb-shattered houses, or the houses that have fallen down because people have moved out, the structure of those houses and probably the repairs inside are much better. Therefore, taking into account the locality and the character of the houses in the immediate vicinity, these houses may be relatively in a state of good repair. It is introducing an almost impossible method of comparison. As we understand it, it is not only the local authority who may be involved in this, but other people, too. These limitations introduce comparisons which have no absolute standards at all, but have only a relation to what obtains in the particular area. The Lord Chancellor has, in this definition clause, something that it is almost impossible to carry out with any reason and satisfaction. I would ask him to accept the Amendment proposed by my noble friend.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am sorry. I think that what the noble Lord has said really helps me, because every local authority and every county court judge would inevitably, in considering, whether premises were in good repair, take into consideration the age, the character and the locality of the premises. 929 If that is so, it seems to me desirable that they should find their place in the Bill. I am sorry; we must disagree.
§ LORD BURDEN
Either I have not made my point clear or I am taking this wrongly. The county court judge and the local authortiy will have to take into account the whole area or the surrounding area and, in relation to the other houses or partly destroyed houses in the area, these particular houses may be in a state of good repair. Therefore, they stand because they are, relative to the other hovels which have been partly destroyed, in a state of good repair.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ LORD MESTON moved in the definition of "good repair" to insert the ward "external" before "decoration." The noble Lord said: I should like to move this Amendment in a very few words. In my submission, the landlord should always be responsible for external repairs but not for internal repairs. I should have said in the first place that, of course, the definition of "goad repair" has direct reference to the landlord's liabilities under this Bill. The noble and learned Lord who is going to reply for the Government will say—I can assure him that he is going to say this—that a state of internal disrepair may be such as to affect the structure of the premises. I agree with that, but I would point out that if the state of internal disrepair affects the structure of the premises, then the premises do not come within this existing definition of "good repair." In other words, the definition of "good repair" would be effective if it were amended as I am now suggesting. I know that this point has been raised on a previous occasion, and I do not propose to waste any more time upon it now. I beg to move.
Page 37, line 14, after ("respects") insert ("external").—(Lord Meston.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Lord has perhaps ignored, from the point of view of the balance between the landlord and the tenant, the provisions of Clause 29 (3) of the Bill. That Provides that, where there is no express liability on either landlord or tenant to carry out "internal decorative repairs," then the landlord may elect not to be 930 deemed to be responsible for them. That really covers the point. The noble Lord will remember that the effect of any such election by the landlord is that the repairs increase he is to get and the expenditure test he has to satisfy are both reduced by one third. That is because the increase of twice the statutory repairs deduction is based on the case where the landlord is responsible for all the repairs and decorations, both external and internal. Perhaps that point will meet the object that the noble Lord has in mind.
I am much obliged to the noble and learned Lord for reminding me again of Clause 29 (3), but, with the greatest respect, that does not meet my submission. In my submission, the landlord should not in any case be responsible for internal decorating and repair. As the noble and learned Lord shakes his head, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 47 agreed to.
§ Remaining clauses agreed to.
§ First Schedule agreed to.
§ Second Schedule:
§ PROOF OF PAST REPAIRS BY LANDLORD
§ 1. Subject to the provisions of the next following paragraph, the declaration mentioned in paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of section twenty-four of this Act is a declaration in the prescribed form that during the period of twelve months ending with the date of service of the notice of increase containing the declaration (which date is hereinafter referred to as "the relevant date") work of repair of a general description specified in the declaration has been carried out on the dwelling-house to a value not less than three times the amount of the statutory repairs deduction for the dwelling-house.
§ 2. Where the relevant date falls within four months of the commencement of this Act, the notice of increase may in lieu of such a declaration as is specified in the foregoing paragraph contain a declaration in the prescribed form that during such period of three years as may be specified in the declaration, being a period falling within the four years ending with the relevant date, work of repair of a general description specified in the declaration has been carried out on the dwelling-house to a value not less than six times tie amount of the statutory repairs deduction.
§ 3. Where—
- (a) under the terms of the tenancy, if the dwelling-house was let at the relevant date, or,
- (b) under the terms of the last subsisting tenancy, if the dwelling-house had been let before the relevant date but was not let at that date,
§ 4.—(1) Within twenty-eight days after the relevant date the tenant may apply to the county court to determine whether work of repair has been carried out on the dwelling-house during the period specified in the declaration to a value not less than that so specified and whether that value is at least the value required by the foregoing provisions of this Schedule; and if on such an application the court is not satisfied that work of repair has been carried out as aforesaid and that the value, specified in the declaration is at least the value required as aforesaid, the court shall certify accordingly and thereupon the notice of increase shall be, and be deemed always to have been, of no effect.
§ (2) Where, on such an application as aforesaid, it is necessary for the court to determine the extent to which the landlord is or was responsible for the repair of the dwelling-house.—
- (a) section thirty-one of this Act shall apply to that determination, and
- (b) notwithstanding anything in subsection (5) of section twenty-two of this Act, the determination shall have effect (so far as relevant) for the purposes of that section.
§ (3) In the case of a building containing two or more dwelling-houses the landlord may elect that for the purposes of this Schedule the value of the work carried out on each of the dwelling-houses during any period shall be determined as follows:—
- (a) there shall be ascertained the aggregate value of all work of repair carried out during that period either on the building or so as to enure solely for the benefit of premises comprised in the building;
- (b) the value of the work of repair carried out during that period on any of the dwelling-houses comprised in the building shall be taken to be an, amount which bears to the amount of the statutory repairs deduction for that dwelling-house the same proportion as the aggregate value mentioned in the last foregoing sub-paragraph bears to the aggregate of the amounts of the statutory repairs deductions for all the dwelling-houses comprised in the building.
§ 7. For the purposes of this Schedule work shall be disregarded—
- (a) if or in so far as it was carried out by and at the cost of the tenant or any predecessor in title of his, or by and at the cost of any person claiming under the tenant or any predecessor in title of his;
- (b) if or in so far as the cost thereof has been or will be reimbursed under Part I of the War Damage Act, 1943.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
This Amendment is really consequential upon a series of Amendments which I moved at an earlier stage. If your Lordships 932 will allow me, I will move together Amendments numbers 46 (1), 46B, 46C, 46D, 46E and 46F. I need say nothing about them. I have already said what I have to say at an earlier stage. I beg to move.
Page 42, line 5, leave out ("in the prescribed form").—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ Amendments moved—
§ Page 42, line 7, leave out ("containing") and insert ("accompanying")
§ Page 42, line 13, leave out ("notice of increase may in lieu of") and insert ("declaration required by the said paragraph (b) to accompany a notice of increase may, in lieu of being")
§ Page 42, line 14, leave out ("contain") and insert ("be")
§ Page 42, line 15, leave out ("in the prescribed form")
§ Page 43, line 2, leave out ("of a notice of increase containing") and insert ("with a notice of increase of").—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I need say little about this Amendment because my noble and learned friend, Lord Buckmaster—I said "learned"; he is so learned upon this Bill that I shall continue so to describe him—has already fully explained why he did not move certain Amendments that stood in his name. He did so upon the footing that I proposed to move an Amendment enlarging the period of twelve months to fourteen months in order that within the extra two months the question as between landlord and tenant of the amount of the rent to be apportioned to service should be agreed or determined. That seems a very fair arrangement. I hope it will commend itself to your Lordships. I beg to move accordingly.
Page 42, line 6, leave out ("the period of twelve") and insert ("such period of twelve months as may be specified in the declaration being a period falling within the fourteen").—(The Lord Chancellor.)
THE LORD CHANCELLOR moved, after paragraph 5 to insert:
6. If in such a declaration any person makes a statement which he knows to be false in a material particular or recklessly makes a statement which is false in a material particular he shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding thirty pounds.
§ The noble and learned Lord said: This is the Amendment which I indicated on Second Reading I proposed to move as a further safeguard to the tenant to ensure that the landlord shall not recklessly, wantonly or, perhaps, criminally, make a statement of expenditure which he has not made. The Amendment really owes its origin to members of the Opposition in another place, and I think my right honourable friend there agreed that such an Amendment should be made in this House. I move it accordingly. I think it will satisfy the Committee that the tenant will be further protected in the way have suggested.
Page 43, line 10, at end insert the said paragraph.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ LORD SILKIN
In an earlier statement I think the noble and learned Lord rather suggested that this declaration would be a protection to the tenant, so as to assure him that the dwelling-house was in good repair. Of course, it does not go as far as that; I take it that the protection would be against the making by the landlord of a false or reckless statement as regards expenditure.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
May I express my apologies to the noble Lord? I noticed in the OFFICIAL REPORT that inadvertently I had made a mistake. I hope the noble Lord will forgive me.
§ LORD SILKIN
Certainly. But of course this has some relevance to our earlier discussions this afternoon. The tenant is not protected against the statement by the landlord, whether he makes it in good faith or otherwise, that the premises are in good repair. There the protection is the illusory one which we discussed earlier, to which I intend to return. As far as it goes, I think this is a protection. A landlord who makes a false statement about his expenditure does fall within this provision. But that is as far as it goes.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN moved, in Paragraph 6, to leave out sub-paragraph (3). The noble Lord said: This is the penultimate Amendment, and I find myself in difficulty in moving it. I move it, but I recognise that this is merely a deletion and that probably something must go in 934 its place, even if the noble and learned Lord accepts my contention—and I have not suggested anything to go in its place. My objection to Paragraph 6 (3) of this Schedule is that it enables a landlord who has a building consisting of a number of dwelling-houses, to carry out work and to make certain apportionments. He may, if he so desires, concentrate the work on one of the dwelling-houses and not on others. He may, indeed, as is fairly common in London and other places, acquire a building which consists of a converted house with two or three flats, live in one himself and let out the others. He may carry out a good deal of work on his own flat and then count that as an expenditure which he has incurred in respect of the other dwellings, using that to justify the increase in respect of the other dwellings, when in fact he has not incurred the expenditure. I submit that this is a point that ought to be looked at. I say, quite frankly, that I do not think that deleting the provisions is in itself adequate, although it may be sufficient to enable me to draw attention to the point. I should be content to-day if the noble and learned Lord expressed the view that he thought there was something in the point that was worthy of consideration. If he thought that, I should be glad to withdraw the Amendment and see whether some more effective Amendment could be produced.
Page 43, line 21, leave out sub-paragraph (3).—(Lord Silkin.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
May I, at this late hour, say just two or three words about this matter, because I think it may save time eventually. It is impossible, I believe, for the landlord to evaluate to the satisfaction of every tenant in the dwelling the amount which he has spent in respect of each flat or other set of premises within the dwelling-house. That would impose a great burden upon the landlord: it would be extremely difficult for him to do so, and the object of this provision is really to forestall litigation disputes that might arise. It is not really any relaxation of the landlord's obligations; it is a simplification of them. The noble Lord will, of course, bear this in mind; that this evidence of expenditure is something additional to the condition which the landlord has to satisfy, because he has to establish, 935 first, that the dwelling-house is in good repair, and, secondly, the other condition in Clause 22. Therefore, supposing the obligation is to spend a certain amount upon the premises, it will not help him to prove that he has spent that amount on the premises if, in respect of part of the premises, a single flat, the condition of disrepair is obvious—if, for instance, there is a hole in the roof which may vitally affect the top floor but does not for a long time operate to affect the bottom floor. So that really the tenant will be protected.
I freely admit that this is a case where, for convenience of administration, we have to choose a certain course which may have certain disadvantages. We have to weigh the advantages against disadvantages, and on the whole we think that this is the best way of dealing with it. Certainly we will consider any other way of dealing with the problem which the noble Lord may suggest, but in the meantime, having given much thought to it, we consider that this method will probably operate most fairly to everybody. With that explanation, I hope the noble Lord will be satisfied. We will continue to look at it.
§ LORD SILKIN
Well, I am not satisfied. One can pay a big price for simplification of administration, and it seems to me that the simplification may, in this case, have an unfortunate result for the tenant who has been called upon to pay an increased rent without getting anything for it. Having said that, I am in no position to press the Amendment, and I beg leave to withdraw it.
§ VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER
May I say just this, as the noble Lord has raised the point. I am not proposing to pursue the matter, but I would ask whether the word "building" does not need a definition. I am not raising the point.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.936
§ 7.19 p.m.
LORD SILKIN moved to add to Paragraph 7:
(c) if or in so far as the cost thereof has been or will be reimbursed by the National Coal Board under subsidence provisions.
The noble Lord said: Paragraph 7, the last paragraph of the Second Schedule, sets out a number of cases where the work shall be disregarded for the purposes of justifying an increase. This Amendment seeks to add one more circumstance in which the increase would not be justified. The Committee will remember that in an earlier discussion I sought to secure agreement to an Amendment which would have provided that the expenditure would have to be carried out by the landlord himself, at his own expense, and the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, gave cogent reasons why, in certain cases, that would not be right. I think he will admit, however, that there might be cases—indeed, this Bill provides some cases—where the increase would not be justified even though the expenditure had been incurred by somebody other than the tenant. It provides, for instance, for cases where the work is done out of money which was reimbursed to the landlord under the War Damage Act. This Amendment deals with another such case, that where money has been reimbursed to the landlord by the National Coal Board in respect of work which has been carried out in connection with subsidence. I see no reason why, where a landlord has received benefits under the provisions of various Acts in respect of subsidence caused to his property, and has expended that money in carrying out work on the premises, that should justify an increase in the rent. I hope that this, being the last Amendment, may receive a better fate than the earlier Amendments which I have moved.
Before I sit down may I say this. We have had a very good and adequate discussion on this Bill, and I make no complaint about it at all. But we are left with a number of loose ends which the noble and learned Viscount has said he will look at without giving any commitment. I would ask him if he will be good enough, in the interests of an efficient Report stage, to see that we are informed in good time what action Her Majesty's 937 Government propose to take on some of those matters, so that we can decide what Amendments, if any, need to be put down at the next stage of this Bill. I beg to move.
Page 43, line 43, at end insert the said paragraph.—(Lord Silkin.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
May I answer the last observation of the noble Lord. Of course we will do everything we can to assist him and let him know what action we propose to take in regard to those matters in which I said, without any commitment, that I would give further consideration to what had been said. I could do no less after the uniform courtesy and kindness with which noble Lords have presented their Amendments. As to this Amendment, it raises just the difficulty which I had in mind at an earlier stage. The landlord owns property which is in perfectly good repair; he has spent his money upon it and he has qualified to get a repairs increase. We will assume, however, that a few months ago damage has been done by coal-working and he gets that damage repaired by the National Coal Board. Is he to be in a worse position than if no such damage had occurred? In each case, so far as he is concerned, he has spent all that is necessary and he has done his duty and kept the house in good repair, and it will have remained in good repair up to the date he demands his rent increase. An accident happens. Lord Jowitt gave us an example, that of a bus running into a wall. It is the same thing. Damage is done by subsidence, or whatever it may be, and that is made good. Why should he not have the benefit of the good work he has done in keeping the house in good repair? That is the difficulty.
I realise that the noble Lord may ask, "What is the case where the house was not in good repair when the damage was done by subsidence, and the result of that happy accident has been that the National Coal Board have put the house in a better state repair than it was before?" It is really perfectly impossible to look into every case and examine it. It is much better to take the broad principle which we have adopted in this Bill, that where the premises are in good repair then, unless the tenant claims he has put them in repair, the landlord shall get the benefit. We have to remember this— 938 I have repeated it more than once—that the object of the increased rent is to enable a landlord to keep the house in repair in future as well as he has done in the past. I appreciate that there is a sort of anomaly in that we do include in the Bill (I am not at all sure it is wise) a provision concerning payments made to a landlord, reimbursing him under the War Damage Act, which mostly happened long ago; but it would not be fair to extend that provision to other cases Although I would gladly accept this, as the last Amendment of the noble Lord, I do not think it would work out fairly. Therefore, with very great regret, I cannot concede it.
§ LORD SILKIN
I just put this point for the noble and learned Lord's consideration. He asks: Why should not a landlord get an increased rent merely because he has recovered money from some authority, say from the National Coal Board, in respect of subsidence? The premises might have been in good condition before, but if they had been the landlord had complied with the conditions required and he would be entitled to get his increased rent in respect of having satisfied those conditions. I do not see why he should get it merely because he recovers money from the National Coal Board. If he has satisfied the conditions, of course he will get it.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ Second Schedule, as amended, agreed to.
§ Remaining Schedules agreed to.
§ House resumed.