[MR. W. NICHOLSON in the Chair.]
Mr. PRINGLE: Is smoking allowed in the Committee?
The CHAIRMAN: No.
Mr. D. GRAHAM: I beg to move, "That Members be allowed to smoke."
Mr. BURFORD: I beg to second the Motion.
The CHAIRMAN: The Committee must realise that the rules of the House are the rules of the Committee Room. Until we are allowed to smoke in the House of Commons, we are not allowed to smoke in the Committee Room.
Mr. BURFORD: If you bring along a box of cigars, you will expedite the business.
The CHAIRMAN: This is a Standing Committee of the House of Commons, and no smoking is allowed.
Mr. BURFORD: If you rule the Motion out of order, I will sit down.
The CHAIRMAN: I am afraid you will have to ask the Speaker about it.
Mr. J. JONES: As a non-smoker, I suggest that those who smoke be allowed to smoke.
Colonel WEDGWOOD: I beg to move, "That the Committee do report Progress." It seems to me that the entire Press of the country, at any rate, appreciate the fact that the recent by-elections have called for a change in the policy of the Government on housing matters. That is not the cry of the Labour Press, or of the Liberal Press, but of the Conservative 98 Press of the country, and I feel certain that circumstances now have so far changed that the policy of the Government in housing matters, if they were to consider it over again, would be completely different from what we are faced with to-day. This Measure, in particular, is one upon which the people have registered their votes. I have been down to all these by-elections except the one at Darlington, and the one question in which the people are really interested is this housing question. Is this Government really going to ask us to continue to sit on this Committee discussing a policy which is damned as well as condemned, and flogging a horse which is already unavailable for traction purposes? We have now before this Committee—not only before the Members of the Labour party on the Committee, but before all the Members of the Committee—the realisation that the policy on which we are started is a wrong one. I am asking this Committee now to report Progress, so that the Government may reconsider their position, not so much in the interests of the members of the Labour party, or of the Labour party outside, but in the interests of the whole people of the country, and indeed, of the Government themselves. The longer the Government go on with this suicidal policy, the deeper they will get into the mire; and, although we on these benches are ready to take over the Government of the country—and, indeed, I believe we are being asked to do so by the public at large, and we are capable of doing so—I do think the Government, in their own interests, had better reconsider this policy and avoid wasting the time of this Committee, making it more and more impossible for them to carry on the administration of the country. If I were looking at it purely from the Labour point of view, I should say, "Carry on the good work"; but we have to look at this from the point of view of the time of Members of Parliament. If this Bill pass, it will merely result in a further dislocation of the building interests of the country, and of the whole housing position. And I think, viewing all these questions, that we are entitled to ask the Government now to reconsider their position, to adjourn this Committee, and for us to meet again if the Cabinet 99 decide in favour of pursuing their policy. I ask this with additional insistence, because we have not one single representative of the Cabinet present. All along we have been carrying on the Debates on this question without a member of the Cabinet here. It is becoming more and more impossible to spend our time usefully when the one body of people whom we wish to persuade refuse to come and listen to our blandishments. It is no use our talking to the Solicitor-General and to the Attorney-General. They cannot change the policy of the Cabinet. They cannot even report to the Cabinet, because they are not members of the Cabinet.
The CHAIRMAN: Does the hon. Member wish to move the Adjournment?
Colonel WEDGWOOD: Yes.
The CHAIRMAN: That is a Motion which I cannot accept.
Colonel WEDGWOOD: I was moving to report Progress.
The CHAIRMAN: That is a Motion which I cannot accept. If the hon. Member wishes to obtain any expression from the Government as to their intention with regard to this Bill, the question should be addressed in the House of Commons, and not in Committee.
Colonel WEDGWOOD: Arising out of that, may I very respectfully point out that the Government are not here to hear the arguments which are used in the Committee.
The CHAIRMAN: I suggest that hon. Members should put those arguments in a place where the Government can hear them.
Mr. PRINGLE: On a point of Order. May I submit that it is a novel doctrine that a Minister in charge of a Bill in Committee cannot be asked for a statement of the views and intentions of the Government in regard to that Bill? I am within the recollection of many hon. Members—indeed, I am within the recollection of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle - under - Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood)—that, when the Mental Deficiency Bill was first before the House, it was a very important Measure. A great many of us had some 100 interest in it, with sympathetic regard for our colleagues. It passed through several stages, and it was nearly three-parts through a Standing Committee. My hon. Friends will share my recollection that on that occasion the announcement of the intention of the Government to withdraw that Bill was made in Committee and not in the House of Commons. I submit that that is a precedent. I could quote other precedents on the Scottish Standing Committee, and other Committees, where we had the advantage of having statements from Ministers as to the views of the Government, not only in regard to the Bill as a whole, but as to individual Amendments and Clauses. We object to having no Ministers here, and it is because we have been deprived of them on this occasion that I respectfully submit an exception should now be made, and that you should accept this Motion.
The CHAIRMAN: I have already said that I cannot accept the Motion.
Mr. PRINGLE: I desire to put a further question. [Interruption.]
Mr. KIRKWOOD: I wish to point out that thousands of postcards have been sent to me from my constituency—[Interruption.]
Mr. PRINGLE: Am I to understand—[Interruption.]
The CHAIRMAN: Does the hon. Member wish to raise a point of Order?
Mr. PRINGLE: Yes. Am I to understand that the Chair refuses to accept any further submission of Order?
The CHAIRMAN: As the hon. Member knows very well, the Chairman has the power to refuse to accept any Motion for the Adjournment.
Mr. JONES: May I be allowed to ask, in view of my previous experience, which is very short, whether the Members of the Government are allowed to make a statement of the policy of the Government in Committee when asked to do so? Have we anybody here who can tell us what the Government are going to do, in view of the expression of the country's opinion?
The CHAIRMAN: Any Member of the Government can express the opinion of the Government on any point which is raised in Committee.101 CLAUSE 1.
(1) Where notice of intention to increase rent has, whether before or after the passing of this Act, been served on a tenant in conformity with Sub-section (2) of Section three of the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1920 (hereinafter referred to as the principal Act), the notice of intention to increase the rent shall have effect and shall be deemed always to have had effect as if it were or had been also a notice to terminate the existing tenancy on the day immediately preceding the day as from which the increase is or was to take effect, or on the earliest day thereafter on which if it had been a notice to terminate the tenancy, it would have been effective for that purpose:
(2) Any increase of rent made valid by this Act is hereinafter referred to as a validated increase of rent.
Mr. WHEATLEY: I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), after the word "rent" ["Where notice of intention to increase rent"], to insert the words "on account of the increase of fifteen per cent. permitted by Sub-section (c), Section two, of the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1920." Had it fallen to me yesterday to move this Amendment, I would have been somewhat reluctant to do so in view of the emphatic decision which the Committee gave on Amendments of a similar character at our former meeting; but I am encouraged to move it to-day, although it is on similar lines, by the changed circumstances under which we meet. I do not think anyone seriously believes that the policy of the Government to-day can be the policy of the Government yesterday, because in this democratic country of ours, where the will of the people is bound ultimately to prevail, it is quite impossible, I submit, for a policy which has been so universally and enthusiastically rejected by the people to be foisted on the nation by any Govern- 102 ment, even if it were more influential than this Government. Therefore, believing that the Cabinet must change its mind on this subject, I would like to get from the Attorney-General to-day an explanation of his attitude towards the main principle of the Bill.
The CHAIRMAN: The Attorney-General cannot deal with the main principle of the Bill. That has already been passed by the Second Reading in the House of Commons. I must ask the hon. Member to keep to the Amendment which he has now put before the Committee.
Mr. WHEATLEY: The Amendment, as I have already explained, is to limit the amount which will be retained by those who have collected rents. There are people who have, by one means or another, succeeded in getting full payment up to 30th of November of rents which the Law Courts have decided they were not legally entitled to impose. They will be empowered by this Bill, if it becomes an Act of Parliament, to retain those rents in full. Up to now the Attorney-General has been remarkably successful in concealing his secret as to his ultimate intention, but I do not think anyone believes that this Clause in its present form is going to pass. The purpose of my Amendment is to limit the amount to be retained. I would have preferred that some of the other Amendments had been adopted, because that would have allowed the landlords to retain what is even more than they are entitled to—certainly more than they are legally entitled to, because legally they are not entitled to a single penny. But we want to arrive at some reasonable compromise on the matter, and we want to be just to the landlords, and, I hope, to give expression to the public opinion which is being so emphatically demonstrated to the Government outside of this House. In the circumstances in which we meet, I am bound to allow them to retain the amount that was collected as rates, because the decision of the Committee has been already favourable on that point. We have also dealt with structural repairs and with mortgage interest. The Committee has refused to be satisfied with these smaller amounts as reasonable concessions to the landlords, and I now come to a larger amount. That larger amount is 15 per cent. of the standard rent. If my Amendment be 103 carried, it will put out altogether any claim that they would have for the 25 per cent. which was permitted by the Act of 1920 to meet the additional cost of repairs. I do not think that anyone who understands the situation, particularly in its relation to the poorer class of working-class dwellings, would think that there was any hardship in that at all.
Mr. JONES: It is a hardship on the tenant.
Mr. WHEATLEY: The 25 per cent. of which I am depriving them is a concession that they should never have had. That 25 per cent. was to meet the additional cost of repairs, which in working-class dwellings are never done. This class of repairs which I am excluding is not the class of repairs to which we referred yesterday in our discussion on capital expenditure on structural alterations. This 25 per cent. of which my Amendment would deprive them is an amount that was granted them, not to meet the ordinary cost of repairs, because that was covered by the standard rent, but for another reason altogether. Prior to the passing of the Act of 1920, the landlord had to provide for the expenditure on ordinary repairs out of the standard rent. The 25 per cent. is the amount that was granted by a generous and thoughtless Parliament to the property owners to meet the additional cost arising from War conditions which those ordinary repairs entailed. It has been a remarkable fact, and one that has entered largely into all the discussions on this Bill, that, instead of the owners doing the ordinary repairs for which a charge had been included in the standard rent of 1914, they have put on to the shoulders of the tenants the burdens that they were bearing previous to 1914, or at any rate previous to 1920. The result has been to bring about this iniquitous effect, that, although the burden of ordinary repairs has been transferred by the owner to the tenant, the same owner has been authorised to impose a special increase of 25 per cent. on the standard rent to be borne by the tenant, who therefore has now to bear the additional cost of repairs. That was a result never contemplated by Parliament, and it has given rise to considerable indignation in the West of Scotland. If my Amendment be adopted, the landlord 104 who has collected the rents up to 30th November, 1922—who is the only class of landlord we are dealing with in this part of the Clause—will be entitled to retain the 15 per cent. increase on the standard rent granted by the Act of 1920, but will be compelled to refund to the tenant the 25 per cent. which was authorised by that Act and imposed improperly by him, and therefore not legally due. I do not think, under these circumstances, we shall be doing any hardship at all in adopting this Amendment. On the contrary, we shall be making an ex gratiâ grant to the owner in the shape of money to which he is not entitled by law. We shall at the same time be bringing nearer the equalisation of all classes of tenants, in fact, bringing it very much nearer than it could possibly be brought under the Bill as it stands. I do not want to take up more of the time of the Committee, because we have a great deal of work to do, and I sympathise with the desire of the Attorney-General to get on with the Bill. I therefore content myself with moving the Amendment.
Mr. JONES: I quite appreciate the desire on the part of our Scottish friends in moving these Amendments, but those of us who represent English constituencies, particularly in the East End of London, object most emphatically to the complete alteration of the law as adumbrated in the Amendment now before the Committee. I am speaking as a representative of an East London constituency, one of the poorest districts in Great Britain. What is it that is suggested in this Amendment? Does the tenant own the property? Why, in the district that I represent, people have been living in the same house for anything up to 40 years, and they do not own a brick. Yet we are told that they are going to be made partly resnonsible for the rates. The responsibility really belongs to the owner. That responsibility was settled upon him in 1600 by the law of this country. I am not arguing against Scotland, but I am arguing for England. The responsibility, then, was placed rightly upon the property owners. The owner of the property was the man held responsible for the rates upon that property and all the consequential results. Because, during the War, we passed certain legislation for certain purposes, it ought not now to be taken for granted that these conditions should continue. The idea was to win 105 the War. Now it seems to me we are going to lose the Peace. Up to the passing of the Rent Restrictions Act, the landlord was responsible for the rates. The object of the Amendment is to grant to the landlords a 15 per cent. increase. We object to that being done.
Mr. PRINGLE: There is a split in the Labour party.
Mr. JONES: The Bill means that in two years' time at the most the tenant will have no rights at all; although he has entered into responsibilities for the property, he can be thrown on the streets at the end of that time. He will have no compensation for disturbance. He will have no right to claim compensation for loss of interest. I know the class for whom I am speaking. I have got in mind the dockers in the East End of London, who know exactly where they are. You are going, to ask them to pay an extra 15 per cent. upon their houses. That is what you are asking them to do. We are not in the same position as in Scotland, where they have yearly tenancies. We are weekly tenants. We ask you to realise the position in which we stand. I am prepared do anything possible. [Laughter.] Members can laugh, but he laughs best who laughs last. I am venturing to suggest that the people of this country, who are returning Labour and Liberal candidates at by-elections as a protest against the housing policy of the Government, are not doing this on the same lines as those adumbrated in this Amendment. They are people who feel the position in their own homes every week. Talk about compensation for repairs! We are getting no repairs done. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Yes, I am glad to find we have some agreement. The tenant is not the owner of the property. This Bill represents an attempt to reverse the law of England. The law of England makes the property owner responsible for the rates on the property. The tenant is not responsible. The ordinary tenant of cottage property is not responsible for the rates. He was not responsible up to the time of the passing of the Rent Restrictions Act. Now you are going to reverse the law of England absolutely. Let the people who own the property pay the rates. Of course, I know that theoretically the tenant was supposed to be responsible, but, when there were 106 plenty of houses available, he could get out. Now he cannot, and so the landlord is to have the power of making him responsible. I challenge the hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Front Bench, although they are lawyers and I am not, to show where in England the tenant is the ratepayer.
Sir W. LANE MITCHELL: He is.
Mr. JONES: He is not in law, although I am no lawyer. The people responsible for the rates are the owners of the property, but now you are going to reverse the whole position. The only way in which we can deal with this matter properly is to reject the Bill, because this Bill, if it be passed, is going permanently to make the tenant responsible for all expenses connected with the property. If he owned the property, I would agree, but he is not the owner. Of the people I represent, 90 per cent. are weekly tenants, and are not the owners of a brick in their houses.
Colonel WEDGWOOD: I think it is desirable that I should explain exactly what the Amendment is, and what we propose to do. Yesterday and the day before we tried to limit the Bill to the recovery by the landlord of what admittedly is not his, of certain portions that were given him under the Act of 1920. For instance, in the first Amendment, we said that the landlords should recover only that amount which was due to the increase in the rates that the landlords had paid. We said that, although they had no legal right to that, we would, ex gratiâ, give them such right. We were voted down, and told that we were not to confine the Bill to that gift to the landlords. We had to extend the gift still further. The next question was whether we could confine the Bill to the increased rent on account of the additional cost of structural repairs. There again we said that, ex gratiâ, as a concession to the landlord, in order that we might effect a compromise and save the tenants from the rest of the additional rent which would be recoverable from them under this Bill, we would accept the proposition. That also was voted down. Then we tried to confine it to increased rent due to the increased rate of mortgage interest. That, too, was voted down. We have tried in each of these three ways to come to an accommodation with the land- 107 lord class, although under the law they are not entitled to a penny on any one of them. We are trying to-day to extend that still further. We ask the Government to consider whether it would be possible to confine the Bill to the increased cost of money over and above the pre-War rates of interest. We do not argue in favour of that amount. We know quite well with only 18 Members on the Committee we cannot defeat the Bill as it stands. We want to try and come to an arrangement with the Government whereby they will make certain concessions to the tenants, or, rather, confine the concessions in a Bill to the landlords.
Mr. JONES: We were told yesterday that they could not make any.
Colonel WEDGWOOD: We have been told by several Members of the Committee that, if we could make an arrangement which would meet their wishes as to what the landlords ought to get, they would be prepared to support it. We want to discover what concession we could make, so that we could make a united recommendation on this Bill. I do hope that the Attorney-General, when he gets up, will not deal with this Amendment on its narrow lines, because it is very easy to argue against the Amendment, as it stands, alone. That the Bill should be confined to the 15 per cent. increase and that we should take into consideration the increases in rates and on structural costs, is not a very unusual Amendment from the point of view of the Government. It is moved in this spirit of trying to include in the Bill one thing or another which will show that the Government are going to meet us in any direction. I quite agree with the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. Jones) that, if we could, we should resist this Bill from top to bottom, but we realise we cannot get our way. We are seeking for a balance of interests. It is in order to get a compromise that we are seeking to get these Amendments—to search the mind of the Government so as to give us some hint of what they consider reasonable terms to be.
Mr. PRINGLE: Did you say their mind?
Colonel WEDGWOOD: Well, their minds change from day to day. Let us try to find out to what form of solution we can come. There are five different 108 classes of increases, and I believe we can all come to an agreement on the main points. There is the increase in the cost of structural repairs, there is the increase in rent due to the mortgage interest, and there is the increase due to the increased cost of money—
Mr. PRINGLE: That is the same thing over again.
Colonel WEDGWOOD: The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Pringle) has not followed my argument. He was not, I am afraid, paying attention. Finally, there are those who have increased their rent by the 25 per cent. Where the landlord has spent money on structural improvements—[Interruption.] This is really a sound point I am making. There is a possibility of compromise, if we can get an Amendment which will meet some of these points in connection with which money has been expended by the landlords.
Mr. PRINGLE rose—
Mr. J. STEWART: May I call your attention to the fact that my name is down to second the Amendment?
The CHAIRMAN: I am quite aware of that fact.
Mr. PRINGLE: I feel somewhat surprised at the Amendment which is now before the Committee. I supported hon. Members opposite in all the other Amendments, because in respect of each one it seemed to me that they could put forward a case as to money actually expended by the landlord. But in this Amendment no such case can be made out. I agree with the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. Jones). I was surprised to find that it was necessary that the hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) should have had to instruct the hon. Member for Silvertown in the provisions of this Amendment.
Mr. KIRKWOOD: You understood wrong.
Mr. PRINGLE: Well, I am sorry to say anything that would seem to depreciate the intelligence of my hon. Friend and the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood). I know that in other parties in the past there has been procedure of that kind. In a technical 109 matter such as this, it is useful for Members to give their attention to it. I was not disparaging the Labour party, I was only showing the efficiency with which they conduct their Parliamentary operations. With that explanation, I have no doubt that I have appeased the indignation of my hon. Friend opposite. [Interruption.] I resent these irrelevant interruptions.
Lieut.-Colonel CROFT: Is not my hon Friend's speech wholly irrelevant?
Mr. PRINGLE: I have been drawn away by irrelevant interruptions of supporters of the Government, and I was going, Sir, to ask your protection. I think I have made it clear that it is an extraordinary thing that this proposition should come from the Labour party. I listened with the utmost care and attention to the very admirable speech by the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley). I have been greatly impressed by his speeches on these Amendments. I think nothing could excel them in point of lucidity or persuasiveness. On this occasion both of these characteristics were singularly absent.
The CHAIRMAN: Perhaps the hon. Member will now come to the Amendment.
Mr. PRINGLE: Well, I am just explaining that my hon. Friend opposite has not been able to make out the case for the Amendment. I have pointed out that in all previous Amendments the case made was that money had been spent. In the present case, there is no such suggestion that any charge has fallen upon the landlord—that he has been out of pocket in any degree—and, consequently, there is no ground for indemnifying him by this Amendment. Therefore, I hope that the majority of the Members of the Labour party will support the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. Jones) in resisting this Amendment.
Mr. J. STEWART: I quite agree with the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. Jones) that this looks rather a peculiar kind of Amendment to be put down by those who are desirous of not seeing this Bill further proceeded with. But it is put down in that spirit of reasonableness which has been characteristic of the Members on this side of the Committee since we started to discuss the various Amend- 110 ments connected with the Bill. Our motive in dealing with this Amendment was to show that, while we are against the Bill in its entirety, we are also prepared to consider making the Bill somewhat less offensive than it seemed to us in its original form. This Amendment is put down to give effect to that desire. In 1918, when it was mooted that an amending Act of the Rent Restrictions Act might be passed, I was among the unsuccessful candidates who pointed out that if a Coalition Government were returned to power, a Rent Act would undoubtedly be passed that would give landlords power to increase rents by something like 50 per cent. I opposed it then, and I am still in opposition to it to-day. The reason, as I have already said, I am supporting this Amendment on this occasion, is so that the Bill, if it be going to pass, may not make the burdens of the poor people practically unbearable. For these reasons, we have proceeded with this Amendment. We are now not wanting to block the business. That is not our desire at all. Our desire is to have a Bill of such a nature that the Government, after they have finished, will be rather proud of it, and not to make it such a Bill as they have made of it up to date—one that is doing them, much to my regret, immense injury throughout the country. No one wants to see the wrong proceed any further than it has done; least of all the Members on this side of the House. Consequently, having given expression to our opinion, we think that we might withdraw the Amendment with the hope that the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General will see that our Amendments have been perfectly reasonable and will try to give effect to them to the best of their ability.
Colonel WEDGWOOD: Perhaps we might have an explanation from the Attorney-General on this Amendment before it is withdrawn.
The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Douglas Hogg): I understand that the hon. Member who moved, and the hon. Members who supported the Amendment, are now proposing to withdraw it, and I do not propose, therefore, to take up the time of the Committee in discussing its merits or its absence of merit. I understood the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) to tell us that he would not have moved this Amendment but for 111 the changed circumstances, and we do not grudge the Opposition a legitimate chuckle over what really was a remarkable triumph. Perhaps our turn will come later on, and now that they have had an opportunity of sounding their pean, I am glad to find that they have adopted the attitude which the hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme suggested, some time ago—that we should avoid, as far as possible, wasting time discussing Amendments that are not seriously put forward, and cannot be seriously pressed. I am anxious to meet any legitimate demand of the Committee. The Government have no intention of changing its policy, for we are not the Coalition Government.
Mr. JONES: Resign!
The ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No, we are not going to do that, and a good many hon. Members would be very disappointed if we did. I wish to remind the Committee that this Bill has nothing in the world to do with the housing policy. It is dealing simply and solely with one particular mistake made in 1920, and pointed out by the House of Lords in 1922.
The CHAIRMAN: Is it the pleasure of the Committee that the Amendment be withdrawn?
Mr. SULLIVAN: I would like the Attorney-General to make some statement as to—
The CHAIRMAN: I must point out that I have put the Question, "That the Amendment be withdrawn."
Mr. SULLIVAN: I am objecting because of a statement made by the Attorney-General. He has said so little. I should like the Attorney-General to make some statement as to—
The CHAIRMAN: The hon. Member (Mr. J. Stewart) has asked to withdraw the Amendment. If the hon. Member (Mr. Sullivan) objects, I shall have to put the Amendment.
Mr. JONES: We are surely in order in speaking when hon. Members withdraw an Amendment on the understanding that they are going to get a declaration of policy. We have had no declaration of policy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"] 112 It is very clever of you. I am not clever, but I hope I am clean. I do not want to support this Amendment, because we are in a different position in England than are some hon. Members in Scotland. What policy is the Government going to pursue?
The CHAIRMAN: I merely want to point out, as there has been an objection taken to the withdrawal of the Amendment, that I shall have to put the Amendment, and then hon. Members will have an opportunity of voting against it.
Colonel WEDGWOOD: Is it not the ordinary procedure, when an hon. Member objects to an Amendment, that the Debate goes on automatically to its close.
The CHAIRMAN: Yes.
Mr. SULLIVAN: I do not want to get at loggerheads with the Chair. So I would appeal to hon. Members who are not taking part in the Debate just to keep quiet. We have thought fit to make certain proposals in order to try to get a modification, and, if we fail to get a modification, then our attitude is just the same as it was at the beginning. It takes all sorts of people to make a community, and, while hon. Members think they have to fight for the property class, I would like to remind them that there are people beside the property class in this country. Prior to the war an owner of property had certain obligations to carry out, and, in order to carry out those obligations, he fixed the rent at a given point, and, in return for that, he kept the house in habitable repair. Where he had to pay rates, he paid them. During the war, because some people were making money, the owners of property wanted to get their share. They were quite right in trying to get their share, but the Government, because of the national necessity, took away that right. In addition to that, they took away the right of the bondholders to increase the rate of interest, so that what they lost on the one hand they gained on the other hand. A number of people in this country say that wages require to come back to the pre-War standard. Most hon. Members on the other side of the Committee take that view. I am talking as a working man, and I want to put my case. On the pre-War wage, I had to pay a pre-War rent. If I have to pay an increased rent on a pre-War wage, I shall have great difficulty 113 in making ends meet. Whatever reason existed for a change has passed away. The cost of repairs has come back, though not so much as it should have done. In order to get through this difficulty, our party has agreed to give the increase of 15 per cent. against the will of hon. Members of this Committee and of a number of people outside, but we want to take away the right to the increase of 25 per cent. for repairs. The rent was originally based on keeping the house in repair. An honest landlord spends his money on repairs on the assumption that he is going to get it, but nine out of ten do not expend any money in making repairs, and they get the 25 per cent., just the same as the man who has spent his money. Some people occupy certain houses because they are working for certain employers. The 40 per cent. has been put on. We are putting it that it is much better to get back to the pre-War method, the rent being fixed to cover everything. We are repeatedly asked as to the method of paying rates in Scotland. The tenant is responsible for his own rates. The rent may be fixed at £12 in a rural area, so he pays £12 and his own rates. Whatever increases there are, the tenant has to meet them. Whenever the landlord can prove that the rates have increased, he can put that increase on to the rent and get it. The owners are saving nothing in connection with the manipulation of rates. But the occupiers have been paying 25 per cent. for repairs that have not been done, and we want to take away that right. The Attorney-General says that they are going to stand by this Bill. If he will take my word, the complications under the old Act will be nothing compared with those under the new Act. If the Government are not going to make any modification, we would do much better to allow them to get the Bill through. They have blamed another Government for the original Act; if we allow this to go through, they will not be able to blame another Government for this Bill. It is a worst-drafted Bill than the last one. I hope hon. Members will take a reasonable view. I should like to hear reason from the other side.
The ATTORNEY-GENERAL rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
Question put, "That the Question be now put."114
Mr. WHEATLEY: I am going to appeal to the Committee to allow me to withdraw the Amendment.
The CHAIRMAN: I am afraid that it is too late.
Mr. WHEATLEY: What is the Division on?
The CHAIRMAN: The Closure.
Mr. WHEATLEY: Could not we save time? Why should we waste time, when we are all agreed?
Mr. MCENTEE: May I put a point?
The CHAIRMAN: No, you cannot put a point.
Mr. MCENTEE: It is not fair. [Interruption.] You may shout as much as you like. I am appealing to the Chairman, and not to you. [Interruption.] If you people think you will shout me down, you do not know me. Just keep yourselves quiet, and I will put my point to the Chairman. I want to put a point of Order, Sir. I suggest that before the Mover gets the leave of this Committee to withdraw his Motion, we should have the right to ask one or two questions of him, through you. I want to ask him a question—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]
Colonel WEDGWOOD: May I explain—[Interruption.]
Mr. MCENTEE: I am asking the Chairman a question, and I would like an answer.
The CHAIRMAN: I shall be very glad to answer the question. I have already put the Question. We cannot go back upon that.
Mr. MCENTEE: I am not objecting to the Amendment being withdrawn, but I want to ask a question.
The CHAIRMAN: As the question, "That the Question be now put," has been put from the Chair, the Amendment cannot be withdrawn. Consequently, the Division must take place.
Sir W. LANE MITCHELL: On a point of Order. If the Division be not challenged, what then?
The CHAIRMAN: It is a question of the Closure. The question is, "That the Question be now put."115
Mr. JONES: It is not a Division on the Amendment, but on the Closure?
The CHAIRMAN: It is on the Closure. Those who wish to have the Amendment put at once will vote "Aye," and those who are against it will vote "No."
Major Sir GEORGE HAMILTON: On a point of Order. The Division was never called outside the doors.
The CHAIRMAN: I gave orders that it should be called.
|Division No. 6.]||AYES.|
|Attorney-General, The||Holbrook, Colonel Sir Arthur||Pringle, Mr.|
|Bentinck, Lord H. Cavendish-||Hood, Sir Joseph||Privett, Mr.|
|Blades, Sir Rowland||Hutchison, Mr. William||Roberts, Mr. Samuel|
|Bruford, Mr.||Lorden, Mr.||Solicitor-General, The|
|Cope, Major||Lowe, Sir Francis||Somerville, Mr. Annesley|
|Croft, Lieut.-Colonel||Milne, Mr.||Stewart, Mr. Gershom|
|Elliot, Captain||Mitchell, Sir William Lane||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid|
|Evans, Mr. Ernest||Molson, Major||Sykes, Major-General Sir Frederick|
|Fermor-Hesketh, Major||Newman, Sir Robert||Ward, Colonel Lambert|
|Ford, Mr.||Nield, Sir Herbert||Wheler, Major|
|Hamilton, Major Sir George||Pennefather, Mr.||Wise, Mr.|
|Harrison, Mr.||Perkins, Colonel|
|Buckle, Mr.||Groves, Mr.||Robertson, Mr. John|
|Davies, Mr. Rhys||Hill, Mr.||Short, Mr.|
|Edwards, Mr.||Jones, Mr. John||Sullivan, Mr.|
|Fildes, Mr.||Kirkwood, Mr.||Wedgwood, Colonel|
|Graham, Mr. William||McEntee, Mr.||Wheatley, Mr.|
Mr. FILDES: On a point of Order. I would like to ask if the Members of the Committee will have an opportunity of referring to the disparaging remark of the Attorney-General with regard to the late Coalition Government.
Question, "That those words be there inserted," put accordingly, and negatived.
The ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I am sorry to hear from one Member of the Committee that I said something which he resented. I would like, as a matter of explanation, to say at once that perhaps I spoke too lightly in dealing with what I did not take as a very serious observation, which came from behind me. I am very sorry if anything I said offended the feelings of any Member of the Committee, and I shall be pleased to withdraw it.
Mr. DOYLE: I wish to rise to a point of Order, in regard to the Division which has just taken place. I was very anxious to take part in that Division. I was next door, in another Committee, for a few minutes and was listening for the116
Sir G. HAMILTON: It was not done.
The CHAIRMAN: The doors shall be opened and the Division called.
The ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I do not know whether, as the Division was not called outside, the withdrawal of the Amendment could be accepted by consent now.
The CHAIRMAN: I am afraid that cannot be done.
The Committee divided: Ayes, 35; Noes, 15.
Division to be called, but I never heard it. I do not know whether it was called.
The CHAIRMAN: I understand that in the first place it was not called outside, as it ought to have been called, but my attention was drawn to the fact, and I ordered the attendant to call it a second time.
Sir G. HAMILTON: Could we have it called a little louder in the corridor? In the House we are used to a policeman, with a very powerful voice.
Mr. PRINGLE: On a point of Order. Is not the procedure and the practice of Committees altogether different from that of the House?
The CHAIRMAN: The Divisions are not called in the other Committee rooms. The Divisions are called only in the corridor outside, so that Members who are in there may have the opportunity of coming in to take part in the Division. The next Amendment is that standing in the name of the hon. Member for the St. Rollox Division (Mr. J. Stewart)—in Sub-section (1) to leave out the words "whether before or."117
Mr. J. STEWART: I am giving way to my hon. Friend (Mr. D. Graham) who will move the Amendment.
Mr. PRINGLE: On a point of Order. Are we to understand that the Amendment to allow the 25 per cent. increase to meet the cost of repairs is abandoned?
The CHAIRMAN: Yes.
Mr. PRINGLE: If the Committee is passing to the Amendment of the hon. Member for the St. Rollox Division, may I submit that my Amendment lower down should come first, because it proposes to leave out only the word "whether."
The CHAIRMAN: We cannot do that.
Mr. PRINGLE: But there is a consequential Amendment. The object of my Amendment is to prevent this Bill operating in the future.
The CHAIRMAN: The hon. Member is quite right. I think his Amendment should come first.
Colonel WEDGWOOD: On a point of Order. The Amendment is to leave out the words "whether before or." When that Amendment is put, you will put it so as to preserve the hon. Member's right to put in words in place of the word "or."
Mr. PRINGLE: If that be settled, my Amendment is ruled out. Consequently it should come first.
Colonel WEDGWOOD: No. If your Amendment comes in, ours will be ruled out. We are first on the Paper, and therefore it is six of one and half-a-dozen of the other.
Mr. PRINGLE: On a point of Order. There are really two different points under this Bill. My hon. Friends opposite are arguing that this Bill should not be retrospective at all. My argument is that it should not apply to the future at all. I say that the only necessity for the Bill is to deal with the House of Lords' decision. The House of Lords made the law clear so far as all future cases are concerned, and therefore it is unnecessary to legislate for the future. The object of my Amendment is to say that it will only deal with rghts already prejudiced. In the future there is no need to confuse the law at all.
Mr. WHEATLEY: On a point of Order. I am sorry to have to disagree with my Friend the hon. Member for Penistone.118
The CHAIRMAN: I think we should take the Amendment of the hon. Member for the St. Rollox Division (Mr. J. Stewart), because it really covers the point of the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Pringle).
Mr. PRINGLE: If I were entitled to argue my Amendment on this Amendment, it would mean that we would be arguing two propositions which would abolish the Bill.
The CHAIRMAN: I am afraid we cannot help that. They both leave out the same words, and, as the other is the first on the Paper, I must take that.
Mr. PRINGLE: Is there no power in this Committee to prevent the words "or" and "whether" being confused?
The CHAIRMAN: I have ruled that we will take the Amendments as they stand on the Paper. The word "whether" comes in both, and one cannot preserve the second one.
Mr. PRINGLE: The point of Order which I wish to put is this. If my Amendment be allowed, and, on receiving a reply from the Government, I am willing to agree to its withdrawal, that would not deprive the hon. Members opposite of their opportunity of arguing the other question.
The CHAIRMAN: The two Amendments are almost on the same point. The one covers the other, but, as the Amendment of the hon. Member for the St. Rollox Division is on the Paper first, I think it is right to take it.
Mr. D. GRAHAM: I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the words "whether before or."
Mr. PRINGLE: I will move an Amendment to your Amendment.
Mr. GRAHAM: I can assure my hon. Friend that he will have abundant opportunities of speaking on the various points connected with this matter. It will be necessary for me to read Section 2 of the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1920, to make clear to the Members of the Committee what is the purport of my Amendment. Section 2 (1) of that Act reads as follows:
"The amount by which the increased rent of a dwelling-house to which this Act applies
may exceed the standard rent shall, subject to the provisions of this Act, be as follows, that is to say:
Mr. ROBERTSON: On a point of Order. A Member of this Committee is on his feet dealing with a very complicated question. We want to be kept right, and I do not think that the Chairman is paying sufficient attention to the Debate, being engaged in conversation with another Member. [Interruption.]
Mr. KIRKWOOD: The man need not sit down for you.
Mr. ROBERTSON: No man in this room is more ready to obey the Chair than I am. Anything that I have to say I shall say in the most respectful fashion, but I am not going to be howled down.
The CHAIRMAN: I was paying attention to what the hon. Member (Mr. D. Graham) was saying so far as I could, but at the same time I was looking at an Amendment which had just been handed in with a view to seeing whether it could be accepted. In fact, I was carrying out the duties of the Chair.
Mr. ROBERTSON: I accept that explanation. [Interruption.] Whenever the Chairman tells me to sit down I will sit down, but I am not going to be howled down. I repeat that I accept what the Chairman has said, but such procedure is not in accordance with my idea of how the Committee should be handled.
Mr. GRAHAM: I must apologise to the Chairman and to the members of the Committee. I am sorry to find that I have been reading the wrong Section. I 120 had no intention of taking up more time over this matter than was necessary. The part of the Act we are seeking to amend is Section 3 (2) of the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1920, which reads: "Notwithstanding any agreement to the contrary, where the rent of any dwelling-house to which this Act applies is increased, no such increase shall be due or recoverable until or in respect of any period prior to the expiry of four clear weeks,"— that is, a month—a lunar month— "or where such increase is on account of an increase in rates, one clear week, after the landlord has served upon the tenant a valid notice in writing of his intention to increase the rent, which notice shall be in the form contained in the First Schedule to this Act, or in a form substantially to the same effect." The First Schedule of this Act here referred to describes the notice that is to be given by the landlord.
Colonel Sir A. HOLBROOK: I propose that this be taken as read.
Mr. GRAHAM: It is very important, and I think I must read it. It begins in this way, after referring to the date and the address of the premises—
"Take notice that I intend to increase the rent of l. s. d. per at present payable by you as tenant of the above-named premises by the amount of l. s. d. per."
This is a very important matter, because upon it depends the whole question of the points we are intending to put before the Committee. It continues as follows:
"The increase is made up as follows:
Mr. G. STEWART: I want to know from what document the hon. Member is reading. It seems to have nothing to do with this Bill. We are only considering the Amendment.
Mr. GRAHAM: It is quite obvious that a number of Members have not got copies of the Principal Act. I am reading 121 from the first Schedule of the Increase of Rents and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1920, and I want the Members of the Committee to understand clearly what the effect of the Amendment which I am moving will be if they are foolish enough to pass it. My hon. Friend has put me off the place where I was reading. The form of notice continues: "(c) l. s. d. under paragraph (c) of Sub-section (1) of Section two of the Act, being per cent. on the net rent of the premises. The net rent is l. s. d. The standard rent is l. s. d. (d) l. s. d. under paragraph (d) of Sub-section (1) of Section two of the Act, being per cent. on the net rent of the premises. The net rent is l. s. d. The standard rent is l. s. d. The increase under head (b) will date from being one clear week from the date of this notice, and the remaining increases from, being four clear weeks from the date of this notice. The increase under head (d) is on account of my responsibility for repairs, for no part [part only] of which are you under an express liability. At any time or times, not being less than three months after the day of 19, you are entitled to apply to the county court for an order suspending the increases under heads (c) and (d) above if you consider that the premises are not in all respects reasonably fit for human habitation or otherwise not in a reasonable state of repair. You will be required to satisfy the county court, by a report of the sanitary authority or otherwise, that your application is well founded, and for this purpose you are entitled to apply to the sanitary authority for a certificate. A fee of one shilling is chargeable on any application for a certificate, but, if the certificate is granted, you can deduct this sum from your rent. The address of the sanitary authority is—." I have read my Amendment, and I have read the Section of the Act and the Schedule, and you will see that there is very considerable material in all this to carry us on for a day or two. It is impossible for me to deal with all the questions that arise on this particular Amendment in the short space of time between now and 6 o'clock, and I hope that the members of the Committee will exercise forbearance and tolerance, because there are a number of things that I should like to say in connection with this matter. As I have already promised my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Pringle), I will not deal with the legal aspect of the question. I want to draw attention to the fact that when this Act was passed— 122 the principal Act was passed in 1920—it was very much against the will of a fairly large section of the Members of the House of Commons, and the Members who opposed this Act, granting any increase whatever, had the backing of the people outside, as was evidenced by the fact that on the very first opportunity that the people got to record their votes as to who should be their representatives in the next Parliament they upset the Coalition cart entirely and created the Labour party. I want to suggest to the Attorney-General that there is a considerable danger. I have no desire to come into contact with the Chairman or Members of the Committee, but I am entitled, and I hope I shall be able, to deal with the questions in the way they are most familiar to my own mind. When the electors got the opportunity, they seized it. Probably one of the most important questions that was before the country, particularly in the industrial centres, was this question of rent and the number of houses, and I attribute a very large part of our success to the fact that—
The CHAIRMAN: The hon. Member is not in Order in touching upon these outside points. I want him to discuss the question why the words "whether before or" should be left out of this Clause.
Mr. GRAHAM: If this Amendment be carried, it will finish the work of this Committee and the Government will then have to consider the question of the withdrawal of the Bill, because what we are driving at here is to get rid of the retrospection. I was going to proceed to point out to the Members of the Committee that we are quite willing that the present permitted increase of rent should continue, but we are very strongly opposed to any attempt being made by the legislature to allow the restrospection where the landlord has failed to carry out the law. I have already read the Section concerned, and made it perfectly clear, and I am sure everybody understands every word in that Section. There is no landlord who did not know perfectly well that he had to give notice to quit as well as notice to increase rent. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is not so!"] Well, I was a member of the Earl of Onslow's Committee. On that Committee there were many members of the householders' associations, and there were various representatives of 123 legal societies. The question was put to them as to whether they knew that there was an obligation on them to give notice to quit, and their answer was that they had been advised by their legal advisers that they had to give that notice. As a matter of fact, in Scotland, which is looming very largely in this discussion, and in that part of it that can be spoken for by the hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. William Graham), notice was given and the retrospection would not apply to the tenants there. There are any number of places where landlords have given notice because they were advised to do so. There are Members of this Committee who look at this matter from a prejudiced standpoint.
The ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Hear, hear!
Mr. GRAHAM: I am sorry if this be the case. Every man understands why it is that we are so very strong upon this particular matter. There are any number of owners of houses with whom I am on strong personal relationship and have the best possible regard for. It is not out of any prejudice or class point of view that we are advocating this particular Amendment. I want to draw the attention of the Members of the Committee to this fact. In the district of Lanark which I represent, according to the census of 1921, 81·4 of the population were living under overcrowded conditions.
Lieut.-Colonel CROFT: On a point of Order. The hon. Member will agree that the Committee is trying to give a fair hearing to him, but is it not desirable that we should be a little more businesslike?
The CHAIRMAN: The hon. Member is not keeping to the Amendment.
Mr. GRAHAM: The point I want to make in this connection is that we have people living in an overcrowded condition in the West of Scotland and in certain parts of London, and you create an atmosphere of hostility and suspicion and all that follows upon that. You make it impossible for these people to be as beautifully impartial as some of my hon. Friends are on the other side, who live under better conditions. I sometimes travel from Glasgow to London, and from London to Glasgow. [HON. MEMBERS: 124 "Order!"] The Chairman will keep me in order. Sometimes I have travelled in compartments with a dozen persons, and when I have reached Glasgow I have not been in a very good humour. I venture to suggest that nobody on the other side would be in good humour. I suggest that the people who suggest this retrospection are not the people living under these overcrowded conditions. They have not a good temper and cannot be expected to have a good temper. We are asking the Committee to agree to this Amendment. That does not mean that we are not prepared to agree that the rent which is at present legal should continue. It means that we are unfavourable to Parliament being used for the purpose of introducing retrospective legislation and making that legal which up to the present time has been illegal. If you do not accept our Amendment, then you are laying down a precedent which we will be perfectly entitled to follow. The probabilities are that some other right hon. Gentleman than the Attorney-General may be representing the Government, and that we may be the Government. If so, we shall have a great deal to say in favour of retrospective legislation. Therefore, I hope the Attorney-General will make it perfectly clear to us that the intention of the Government is either to modify their proposals or to withdraw the Bill altogether.
Mr. ROBERTSON: In supporting this Amendment, I want to ask whether we automatically adjourn at six o'clock?
The CHAIRMAN: I think it would be convenient to adjourn as soon as possible. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman wishes to go on.
Mr. ROBERTSON: This is a vital Amendment.
The CHAIRMAN: The usual thing is to wait until the hon. Member in possession has finished his speech.
Mr. ROBERTSON: I shall not be finished in a minute.
The CHAIRMAN: Does the hon. Member wish to continue?
Mr. ROBERTSON: I beg to move, "That the Committee do now adjourn."
The CHAIRMAN: I think the Committee had better adjourn until To 125 morrow morning at Eleven o'clock. I would remind hon. Members that the Committee to-morrow will also sit in the afternoon.126
Committee signified assent.
Committee adjourned accordingly at Six o'Clock, till To-morrow (Thursday) at Eleven o'Clock.
THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:—
Nicholson, Mr. William (Chairman)
Bentinck, Lord H. Cavendish-
Blades, Sir Rowland
Davies, Mr. Rhys
Doyle, Mr. Grattan
Evans, Mr. Ernest
Graham, Mr. Duncan
Graham, Mr. William
Gray, Mr. Frank
Hamilton, Major Sir George
Holbrook, Colonel Sir Arthur
Hood, Sir Joseph
Hunter-Weston, Lieut.-General Sir Aylmer
Hutchison, Mt. William
Jones, Mr. John
Lowe, Sir Francis
Millar, Mr. Duncan
Mitchell, Sir William Lane
Newman, Sir Robert
Nield, Sir Herbert
Raeburn, Sir William
Roberts, Mr. Samuel
Robertson, Mr. John
Somerville, Mr. Annesley
Stewart, Mr. Gershom
Stewart, Mr. James
Sugden, Sir Wilfred
Sykes, Maj.-Gen. Sir Frederick
Thomson, Mr. Trevelyan
Ward, Colonel Lambert