[Mr. TURTON (in the unavoidable absence of Major BARNETT) in the Chair.]
Subject to the provisions of the Act of 1923 as amended by this Act, the Act of 1920 shall continue in force until the twenty-fourth day of June, nineteen hundred and twenty-eight, and the Act of 1923 shall have effect as though for the words "nineteen hundred and twenty-five," wherever they occur, there were substituted the words "nineteen hundred and twenty-eight."
Amendment moved [27th March, 1924], at the beginning to insert the words: "Where the sanitary authority is satisfied, in the case of any dwelling-house to which the Rent Restriction Acts apply, that the rent permitted by the Act of 1920, as amended by the Act of 1923 and this Act, is not sufficient to enable the landlord to keep the dwelling house in a reasonable state of repair, then."—[Lord Eustace Percy.]
Amendment to proposed amendment moved, to leave out the words "sanitary authority is satisfied," and to insert instead thereof the words "Minister of Health is satisfied on the representation of the Sanitary Authority."—[Mr. A. Hopkinson.]
Question, proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the proposed amendment."
Sir KINGSLEY WOOD: I beg to move, "That the Committee do now adjourn until to-morrow, at eleven o'clock." I think the members of the Committee will agree that we are met to-day in unexampled circumstances. There are, I think, no fewer than four Bills before the House dealing with the question of rents and evictions. There is one which is to be dealt with this afternoon on Second 220 Reading which has been introduced by the Government. I daresay members will have observed that that Bill, at any rate, endeavours to deal with a portion and perhaps a considerable portion, of the Bill of my hon. Friend (Mr. B. Gardner). It will be a very grave question indeed, and I think it is a matter in which we must await the statement of the responsible Minister in the House of Commons this afternoon as to how far the introduction of that Measure will affect the proceedings of this Bill. No one, I am sure, desires to have any unnecessary debate on this occasion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]
Mr. SULLIVAN: You are quite clear on that matter?
Sir K. WOOD: If the Minister this afternoon is going to indicate that in his judgment the suggestions in his Bill amply meet all requirements in connection with Rent Restriction, as he believes it to be, I venture to say there is no need for us to proceed further with the matter at the moment. I would point out to the hon. Member opposite that one can assume, at any rate, that if in the Bill presented to the House by the Minister of Health there are a good many of these subjects not dealt with, undoubtedly the Minister has come to the conclusion that they are not urgent, and perhaps not desirable. For instance, as to the duration of rent restriction, I notice that the Minister of Health has no proposals to make in that connection. It may be that this afternoon we may discover that in his judgment the matter does not demand immediate attention, or perhaps that it should await his housing proposals. On all these grounds, I think it would be a wise thing this morning for the Committee to adjourn until to-morrow at eleven o'clock. I am not suggesting that the proceedings of the Committee should close, but simply adjourn. We shall then be in possession of the Government's official programme and by that we must be in a very large measure guided in connection with our proceedings in this Committee.
The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Mr. A. Greenwood): I must enter an emphatic protest against this Motion for the adjournment. It is quite unnecessary. It is quite true that there are now four Bills 221 of different kinds dealing with different aspects of this question. But the Bill which comes before the House for Second Reading this afternoon is one which is quite limited in its scope and does not profess to deal with the whole question of the Amendment of the Rent Restrictions Acts I can see no reason, especially after the admission of my hon. Friend that he desires the Committee to meet to-morrow, and, therefore, continue in operation, for our not continuing this morning, because none of the Bills at present before the House or in Committee deal with the prolongation or duration of the Act of 1920, which is the Clause now under discussion. I can only suggest that the hon. Member, whilst desiring the Committee to meet to-morrow, is really pursuing a policy of postponing the discussion of many points that arise under this Bill. Had the Bill before the House this afternoon dealt with the question of prolonging the period of control, then the hon. Friend would have been quite justified in suggesting that the Committee should adjourn after to-day's debate. But as the Bill before the House this afternoon deals only with matters raised in Clause 2 of this Bill, and as, at the present rate of progress we are not likely to reach Clause 2 to-day, it does not seem to me that there is any urgency as regards that particular point. I suggest that we should continue our work here.
Lord EUSTACE PERCY: I rise because I am somewhat amazed by the statement that we have just heard from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. I had thought that at least in the shape of two Government Bills, one for Scotland, and the other for Great Britain apparently as a whole, which the Government are now introducing, we should have an expression of opinion in regard to the policy of the Government.
Mr. GREENWOOD: Might I ask the noble Lord for his evidence on that point. So far as I am aware, no statement has ever been made that these two Bills represent the whole policy of the Government.
Lord E. PERCY: I quite realise that I have no evidence on that point—none whatever. I had to assume it for the very simple reason that I had never heard of a Government before which was con- 222 tent to allow its policy, on a quite restricted question like the Rent Restrictions Act, to be served up in gobbets. Apparently, the Government take the advice in this matter of the Preacher who said, "Cast your bread upon the waters in very small pieces in the hope that you may find a good-sized bakery in return after many days".
Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE: What part of the Bible is that in?
Lord E. PERCY: I would really make one last appeal to the Government to manifest some kind of sense of responsibility. We do not know in these four Bills now before the House which part may represent the Government's policy, and which may not. Nothing, apparently, that the Government introduces is to be regarded as representing the whole policy of the Government. They are waiting in an attitude of expectation. They have not got a policy at all. Is that the explanation?
Mr. SULLIVAN: Has the Noble Lord been reading the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir Robert Horne)?
Lord E. PERCY: No; I do not devote so much attention to the speeches made by Scottish Members as apparently my hon. Friend opposite. I have heard the speech of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Greenwood), which has a far more intriguing quality than anything which even a Scottish Member can produce. I really think that that speech offers our strongest justification for adjournment now in order that we may press the Minister this afternoon to make a statement on his whole policy and not proceed by this method of spasmodic and fragmentary revelation. I hope the Motion will be supported by the Committee as a protest against the Government's hopeless irresponsibility in this matter.
Mr. TREVELYAN THOMSON: With the Noble Lord's statement as to the fragmentary policy of the Government many of us must agree. But I do not quite see how it arises on the particular Clause we are discussing, because this deals with matters that are not dealt with in either of the Bills before the House.
Sir K. WOOD: It may do!223
Mr. THOMSON: One has to be perfectly reasonable in moving the Adjournment. If we were dealing with matters in Clause 2 it might be different. But, as the Parliamentary Secretary has said, we are dealing with Clause 1, which is not touched by the other Bills. There does seem to me to be no reason why we should postpone dealing with Clause 1
|Division No. 7.]||AYES.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Eden, Captain||Sunlight, Mr.|
|Burnie, Major James||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Chapman, Sir Samuel||Hopkinson, Mr.||Wheler, Major|
|Davies, Sir Thomas||Percy, Lord Eustace||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel|
|Dixey, Mr.||Roberts, Mr. Samuel||Wood, Sir Kingsley|
|Ayles, Mr.||Harvey, Mr. Edmund||Spence, Mr.|
|Buckle, Mr.||Jackson, Mr. Robert||Stewart, Mr. James|
|Dickson, Mr. Thomas||Law, Mr.||Sullivan, Mr.|
|Emlyn-Jones, Mr.||Marley, Mr.||Thomson, Mr. Trevelyan|
|Foot, Mr.||Mitchell, Mr. Macgregor||Westwood, Mr.|
|Gardner, Mr. Benjamin||Simon, Mr. Ernest||Williams, Major Ronald|
|Greenwood, Mr. Arthur|
Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the proposed Amendment."
Mr. AUSTIN HOPKINSON: The Committee will remember that when we adjourned last Thursday I was putting forward arguments in favour of my Amendment to the original Amendment of the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy). It will be within the recollection of the Committee that certain arguments which I brought forward were objected to. I wish to call attention to the fact that the Official Report now shows that the strictures which I passed on the speech of the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) were quite justified. On page 203 of the OFFICIAL REPORT the hon. Member for West Walthamstow said: "the outlook of the majority of the sanitary authorities has been the outlook of the landlord and of the owning class generally. After all, is it not a fact, and can it not be ascertained now in England and Scotland and Wales, and probably elsewhere too, that there is a great desire, expressed by an expenditure of considerable amounts of money by property owners' associations, to get on to local authorities representatives of property interests, and it is not easily ascertainable and demonstrable that those local authorities are very largely constituted at the present time by the agents of landlords and those interested in property?—Can the tenants, therefore, reasonably hope to get from the landlords anything like a fair or just decision in any cases that might come224
because we are uncertain about Clause 2. I hope we shall not waste any further time.
Question put, "That the Committee do now adjourn until tomorrow, at eleven o'clock."
The Committee divided: Ayes, 15; Noes, 19.
under this Amendment, if it were inserted?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee A), 27th March, 1924, col. 203.]
Then I said later in the debate: "If the hon. Member thinks I have misrepresented him, I apologise." I think that apology might now be withdrawn, inasmuch as the OFFICIAL REPORT shows that my criticisms were justified by the aspersions cast by the hon. Member for West Walthamstow on the sanitary authorities of this country. With regard to my Amendment, it will be within the recollection of this Committee that we discussed quite fully the Amendment of the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. S. Roberts), who suggested the insertion of the words "County Court." The Committee showed itself very clearly against that proposal, and I think the opposition was justified, because so far as we could get any evidence out of the Attorney-General—whose presence we have not been favoured with this morning, and therefore a certain gloom is cast upon the Committee—he informed the Committee that the county courts were so congested that they could not possibly deal with this matter, and the Committee decided that that view was correct.
There can be no objection of that sort raised to making the Minister of Health the authority in this case. My proposal does not involve the sending down of 225 inspectors, as has been suggested, because in this matter the Minister of Health is to be merely a sort of referee to whom an aggrieved person may appeal in the last resort. If there be such cases as those which were adumbrated by the hon. Member for West Walthamstow where there was any prejudice on the part of the local authorities, then I agree it is highly desirable that the aggrieved person should have some appeal, and that sanitary authorities, excellent as they are, should have a sense of responsibility put upon them by the fact that they, in the long run, must justify their action to the Minister of Health.
I cannot see why this Amendment should be opposed by any Member of this Committee because everyone will agree that it is desirable, where very great powers are conferred upon the local body, that the aggrieved person should have some kind of appeal, and some possibility of making his grievance public. The Minister of Health at once opens out the possibility of utilising that great safeguard of our liberties provided by the House of Commons, because once the thing comes before the Minister of Health then, by question and answer in the House of Commons, the whole thing may be ventilated, and the grievance remedied. I do not suggest that many of those grievances are likely to arise. All Members who have had practical experience of local government will agree that the aspersions of the hon. Member for West Walthamstow are not, as a matter of fact, warranted by the facts. Therefore local authorities and sanitary authorities have nothing whatever to fear from my Amendment. For these reasons, I appeal to the Committee to pass this Amendment to the proposed Amendment without a Division. It is one which I have endeavoured to justify as an Amendment to preserve the liberty of individuals who might be aggrieved by some possibly biased decision upon a matter of very grave importance.
In my own district of South Lancashire I believe a very considerable proportion of the poorest class of working-class houses is owned by very small people. It has been the custom of cotton operatives, engineers and steel workers in South Lancashire to save their money, and provide for an independent future for themselves by purchasing some three or four properties worth from £80 to £100 each. 226 They have done this by utilising building societies or putting down a lump sum and getting a mortgage. These people stand to be very seriously injured by any biased action on the part of the local authority, and when we deal with, the main Amendment I think I can give a practical example which will convince the Committee that any order made by local sanitary authorities under this Bill may be the means of taking away the livelihood of a most deserving class of person. For all these reasons I hope the Committee will allow this Amendment to pass without putting us to the trouble and the waste of time caused by a Division.
Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE: On a point of Order. May I call your attention to the fact that at the last meeting you promised to allow a general discussion on one of the Amendments. Is it on this Amendment that we are to have a general discussion?
The CHAIRMAN: I meant a general discussion on the two Amendments to the proposed Amendment. Of course, we cannot have a general discussion on the Bill. We are discussing now the Amendment of the hon. Member for Mossley. I had hoped that by a general discussion on both Amendments we could have disposed of them by one o'clock at the last sitting.
Mr. E. SIMON: The meaning of this Amendment to the proposed Amendment is that the rent restrictions is only to continue in the hard cases where, first of all the sanitary authority is satisfied that the amount of repairs is not sufficient; and, secondly, that the sanitary authority can satisfy the Minister of Health of the same thing. Therefore, it means that the Minister of Health has to approve every single house.
Mr. HOPKINSON: It might be possible to construe my Amendment in that way, but it does not seem to me to be the natural construction and the effect of my proposal. The idea of making the Minister of Health the final authority is not that every single case is to be examined by him personally. It would really be a purely formal matter, and the Minister would not act against a local authority.
Mr. SIMON: Then if it be a purely formal matter, that is a very good reason for leaving it out altogether. With refer- 227 ence to the figures which I gave on the last occasion, they were biased on information supplied to me by a very reliable authority, and I should like now to give the actual official figures upon which I based my claim. I have here the figures contained in a return provided by the controller to the Manchester Overseers. It is headed "Specimen Cases of Decontrolled Rents." This is a very important matter because it shows what happens when houses become decontrolled. I have had these figures very carefully checked.
Mr. HOPKINSON: Are these cases in Manchester?
Mr. SIMON: Yes. They show what was the position in 1914 and what control of rent has done. In one case in 1914 the net rent was 3s. 2d., in another 5s. 5d. and in a third case 10s. 2d. The lowest increase when the restriction was removed was 84 per cent. from 40 per cent. and the highest was 195 per cent. The average increase in the whole of the cases given to the overseers was 136 per cent. as against the permitted increase of 40 per cent. I think those figures refute as regards Manchester any suggestion of the kind which has been made that rent restrictions are no longer required. Rent restriction has been removed, and the rents have increased.
Mr. HOPKINSON: On a point of Order. Are we not discussing my Amendment to the proposed Amendment?
The CHAIRMAN: There really is no point of Order. The hon. Member for Withington (Mr. Simon) desires to make what is really in the nature of a personal statement. He previously gave some figures to the Committee, and is now perfectly within his rights in stating to the Committee that he wishes to revise those figures.
Mr. HOPKINSON: I beg pardon.
Lord E. PERCY: Could the hon. Member for Withington say what are the present net rents?
Mr. SIMON: The present net rent in the lowest case, in which the pre-war rent was 3s. 2d., is 7s. 6d., and in the highest case, where the pre-war rent was 10s. 2d., it is 30s. In that case the permitted rent under the Rent Restric- 228 tions Acts is 14s. 2d., so that the 14s. 2d. has been increased to 30s. That is the worst case, and it happens to be the most expensive house.
Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE: Were all those cases the subject of decisions in the Courts, in which a protest has been made?
Mr. SIMON: I do not know in the least. They are all cases in which the houses have been decontrolled for various reasons, and the result has been an increase in rent.
Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE: How are they selected?
Mr. SIMON: I cannot tell you. They are cases selected by the Controller of the Manchester Overseers, and were handed to the Manchester Overseers as specimens showing how much the rents are going up, for the purpose of asking the Overseers what should be done about the rates, since the rates in Manchester are based on rents. The Controller has found the increase to be so common that the whole question has been raised as to what shall be done.
Lieut. - Colonel FREMANTLE: The word "specimen" may be used as indicating something typical of the particular point you want to make, or something representative of the whole. I take it that here the cases are typical of the special point the hon. Member wants to make, that is to say, exceptional cases. I do not think there is evidence that they are typical of the whole.
Mr. SIMON: I should think it is very unlikely that they are exceptional cases.
Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE: It is quite clear that the Controller might want to give cases which were simply interesting to him, without being concerned with the others. I do not want to argue one way or the other, but merely want to know what facts we are dealing with. I think we have had no basis for the facts which the hon. Member would wish to suggest.
The CHAIRMAN: Probably the hon. Member for Withington will be content with the figures which he has placed before the Committee. We might now get on with the Amendment to substitute the "Minister of Health" for the "sanitary authority".229
Mr. S. ROBERTS: I am in considerable difficulty as to what vote I should give with regard to this Amendment to the proposed Amendment. I suggested another course, but the Committee, in my view, very unwisely, did not accept my suggestion. Now one is left in the difficulty of having to decide whether it is better to leave the matter in the hands of the sanitary authority, as in the original Amendment of the noble Lord, or to provide for application to the Minister of Health. That would leave the matter entirely in the hands of administrative bodies, without bringing in any fair, judicial, impartial tribunal of any sort which could give a definite decision. I think that on the whole probably the best course might be to vote in favour of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson), as being an improvement on the original proposal; but I have taken the liberty of putting down a further Amendment, which will some time or other be reached—it is on page 128—suggesting a further appeal to the Court in case of dissatisfaction. I object very strongly to this administrative action without an appeal to the Court, and I am quite dissatisfied with the result of the very short statement made by the Attorney-General. He came in very late, spoke for half a minute, and stampeded the Committee. The whole idea that we are to be handicapped in Parliament from doing what we like because the County Courts may be congested is entirely erroneous. There are plenty of deserving barristers—I may say I am not a barrister myself—who would be quite able and willing to act as deputy County Court Judges, and so the work could go on, and we should not find ourselves here in a position of impotence, not being able to do what we like, because the Attorney-General tells us the Courts are too congested. The justice of this country must not be stopped because of lack of judges.
Mr. SULLIVAN: Why confine it to barristers?
Mr. ROBERTS: I think it is right that judicial positions should be so confined.
Major BURNIE: Did we not settle the County Court question at our last sitting?230
The CHAIRMAN: The hon. Member for Mossley gave cogent reasons why the Amendment of the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. S. Roberts) should not be accepted, and I think it is within the purview of the hon. Member for Hereford to show why it was that the Committee were induced not to accept his Amendment, and why the present Amendment should be accepted or rejected.
Mr. ROBERTS: Thank you, Sir. I have no intention of making a long speech, or of going over the ground again. What I have said about the difficulty in the County Courts is entirely new, and not a repetition of anything I said on the previous occasion. I think the best thing to do will be to support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Mossley, which is an improvement on leaving the matter entirely in the hands of the sanitary authority. It will bring complications and difficulties, but I think it is an improvement on which we should start, and, when we come to my further Amendment, I shall be able to put forward more arguments to show why the Court should have some say in this matter. I shall, therefore, support the Amendment to the proposed Amendment.
Mr. MCENTEE: I only rise this morning for the purpose of giving to the Committee the information which the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) and the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) asked me to obtain last week, in reference to a letter which I read to the Committee. The statements made in that letter were questioned by a number of Members of the Committee. I have asked that inquiry should be made, and have now the report of my agent, who made the inquiry on my behalf. I am not, of course, giving the names and addresses. My agent writes that the landlord of the house in question—who, I may say, also owns the house next door— "lives in a house the front room of which he uses as a kind of general shop. He has a wife and three children. Some time ago he offered the people next door to the man referred to by you alternative accommodation in a house at 15s. per week"— obviously he owns other houses as well— "as he said he wished to sell the house they were living in. This was refused, and they are still in the house. He now says he requires the two rooms downstairs in the house next door, 'so that he can keep his eye on his stables at the back of the house'. I 231 am definitely informed that the stables cannot be seen from the windows of the rooms in question, so that apparently this reason is not a sound one, and its bona fides may well be questioned. It is difficult to understand why a man, wife and three children should be permitted to vacate a house and go into two ordinary rooms. In this house there is the tenant and his daughter living downstairs, and a married son with wife and two children living upstairs. The tenant of the house has been there for 32 years, and has never at any time been in arrears with his rent. The claim for possession has been before the Court, and possession has been given for 11th April. The tenant is getting on in years and is very deaf. At the Court he was somewhat flurried, and his deafness was a severe handicap to his hearing what was said, and, therefore, in answering the questions put to him. The married son desired to explain matters to the Court on behalf of his father, but the officials would not allow him to speak, as they said it was the tenant who was being summoned for possession, and he must speak for himself or engage a solicitor. It is the two rooms downstairs for which possession has been granted, and it is agreed that the son and his family shall remain upstairs. I may add that the old gentleman is being very seriously affected in health by this Order, and as he goes about the house he keeps repeating to himself, 'I have to give up possession of the two rooms on the ground floor on 11th April'". I think that statement—and I do not think anyone will doubt its accuracy—proves every word that I said at the last meeting of the Committee. In addition to that, in consequence of the publicity given to these cases, I have been sent from our Public Health Department in Walthamstow two cases which have occurred during the last few days. One is that of a husband in regular work, with a wife, and twins seven months old. They are sub-tenants of two rooms in a house in the Highams Park area. They received notice to quit, and the Court granted an Order against them and against the principal tenant as well. Both they and the principal tenant have searched everywhere for a house or rooms or any other accommodation. They have even been to the Guardians and asked if they could be accommodated there. But they are still unable to find any place, though they must clear out, presumably, on the date for which the Order has been issued. Another case that has been sent to me is that of a family who have lived in rooms over a shop in High Street, Walthamstow, for 13 years. They have now received notice to quit, and an Order 232 has been granted. They have searched everywhere for accommodation and have made application to the Guardians; and finally they got one small room in Walthamstow, for which they are being charged £1 a week. The whole family is living there, consisting of a father, mother and six children, three of the children being over 14 and three under 14. The tenant of the house is charging them £1 a week—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—I deplore these cases as much as anyone in the Committee, but I am putting them forward to prove the statement I made that Orders are being issued in cases where no rent is owing at all. All these three cases are of that character. No rent is owing at all, but Orders have been issued by the Court, and these people are to be turned out into the street. A further case was brought to my notice as I came up this morning. I have not been able to verify it, but I will do so if desired. I am told that from a shop in Wood Street, Walthamstow, a father, mother and seven children have been evicted, and have been obliged to apply to the Guardians, and they are now waiting to be taken into the workhouse. The man is in good work, is receiving good wages, and is reasonably well able to pay for accommodation, but he cannot find it, and yet an Order has been issued. My information is that the Order has been issued because the present owner purchased the shop and house, and desires to use the shop for the purpose of a tea room and to live in the other part himself. These seven children, with their father and mother, are turned out into the street to make room in a case like that. These cases do prove definitely that in the area of which I speak, and which I know most, Orders are being issued by the County Court judges concerned, turning people out into the street, in spite of the fact that no rent is owing at all, and possession is being obtained under the Act passed last year.
Lord E. PERCY: I think I ought to express my sense of obligation to the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) for having tried to meet the request that I made to him to give me particulars of these cases. I must first of all, however, point out what he is reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT to have said: "In my constituency I could produce hundreds of tenants who have to-day received 233 notice from their landlords to give up possession, and no doubt they will come into court and very many of them—quite a large average—are getting notices issued against them.—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee A), 27th March, 1924, Col. 203.] I will not put emphasis on pardonable exaggeration of an oratorical kind.
Mr. MCENTREE: I repeat there is no exaggeration. I say that in Walthamstow at present there are hundreds of people who have received notices from their landlords. Large numbers of them have come into Court and very many of them received notice to quit and the date is fixed that they shall quit.
Lord E. PERCY: The hon. Member says so, and, to prove it, he has produced three or four cases.
Mr. DICKSON: You do not want him to produce hundreds of letters?
Lord E. PERCY: I should like a little more evidence of the hundreds of cases. We always hear of so many cases where a tenant has received notice and a good many cases where the Court has made a judgment, but we never get the cases where an eviction has actually taken place, and all the statistics that I can get show that evictions are not taking place. I took the trouble to find out how many evictions there had been in the whole of Liverpool from 1st January to 20th March, and the total of County Court and Police Court cases was 31.
Mr. AYLES: Supposing you had been one of the 31, would you have liked it?
Lord E. PERCY: I am afraid the hon. Member is not following the debate. He is only following his own prejudices. We are not denying that there is hardship in these cases. We are discussing the number of cases of hardship.
Mr. AYLES: The question is what are you prepared to do to help in those cases.
Lord E. PERCY: If the hon. Member, instead of talking vaguely, sitting in his chair, would read through the Amendments he would see Amendments in the names of myself and my hon. Friends to remove some of those hardships, and I recommend him to a study of the business he comes to this Committee to perform. The hon. Member for Walthamstow has not got me the information for which I asked. Take the first case. He says—I 234 do not doubt it—that the County Court has issued an order in favour of the landlord, who wants two ground floor rooms in order that he may overlook his stables.
Mr. MCENTEE: No. I say that is what the landlord said to the tenant, but presumably he got it—the letter proves it—for the purpose of possession. My agent, in the letter I have read, makes a comment which I think is reasonable. I think most hon. Members will agree that it does not seem reasonable that a man with three children and a wife, living in a house, should want to go into two rooms on the bottom floor of a very small house and leave the house in which he is living, especially a man who possesses other property, as he does.
Lord E. PERCY: The hon. Member says presumably he wants it for possession, but does he? That is the fact I wanted to know. The only ground stated in that letter is that he wants it in order to overlook his stables. That is what he told the tenant. There is no indication in the letter that he told the County Court anything different. That is not a ground for possession. There must clearly be some other circumstance, and the hon. Member has not produced it. The quality of the evidence of this kind which is constantly brought before the Committee is extraordinarily poor. What we want is definite evidence, and I hope the Ministry of Health will find a way of putting some definite evidence on this subject at the disposal of the Committee.
Mr. E. BROWN: I am putting a question on that point to the Minister, and I hope the Noble Lord will back me up in getting such evidence.
Lord E. PERCY: I certainly will. I know the hon. Member has been assiduous in trying to get that information, hitherto with an extraordinary lack of result. I want to deal now, specifically, with this question of whether the Minister of Health should be the person on whose decision the continuance of the Act in regard to any particular house should depend and, if so, whether the County Court should come in at any point. May I first refer to the County Court position. I am very sorry the Attorney-General is not here, not merely because we miss his sunny presence, but that I wanted to put a question to him as directly as possible arising out of his half-minute speech last time. As he is not here, I must put it to 235 the Parliamentary Secretary. The Attorney-General says you cannot possibly put any responsibility in this matter on the County Court because the County Court is so intolerably congested with cases under the Rent Restrictions Acts that it cannot take on any more work. If that be so, what is the Attorney-General doing—for it is he who has to answer for the Lord Chancellor's responsibilities in the House of Commons—under the 1923 Act to improve that position? Under Section 11, Sub-section 2 of the 1923 Act— "The Lord Chancellor may, by rules and directions made and given under section Seventeen of the principal Act, provide for any questions arising under or in connection with the principal Act or this Part of this Act being referred by consent of the parties interested for final determination by the Judge or Registrar of a County Court sitting as an arbitrator or by an arbitrator appointed by such judge." We all agree that a number of these cases could be and are settled now by summary procedure of that kind. Moreover, not only has he the power—
Mr. SULLIVAN: Has he the power, unless with the consent of both parties?
Lord E. PERCY: Not under Sub-section 2, but under Sub-section 1— "The County Court shall have power … to determine summarily any questions as the amount of the rent, standard rent or net rent … or as to the increase of rent permitted under that Act or this Part of this Act." The county court is under the administration of the Lord Chancellor.
Mr. SULLIVAN On a point of Order. The Noble Lord's argument is beside that. He was arguing—
The CHAIRMAN: If the hon. Member will wait until the Noble Lord has finished, I will give him an opportunity of replying. It is not a point of Order.
Lord E. PERCY: There are two powers under the Act of 1923. There is a power in the county court to provide for summarily dealing with cases, and I want to ask whether the Lord Chancellor is taking steps to see that county courts take full advantage of the provision in that Sub-section. The second point is that the Lord Chancellor has power to issue rules and regulations for setting up, in supplement to the county court, or with assistance to the county 236 court, a system of arbitration where both parties agree to go to arbitration. We know perfectly well that wherever there are facilities for summary arbitration dealing with these matters both parties take advantage of them, and if the county courts are so overburdened and so congested, how is the Attorney-General carrying out his responsibilities to look after this matter? It may be asked why did not the late Government do it. My answer is that all the enquiries I was able to make while I was at the Ministry of Health did not bear out the statement that the county court was intolerably congested with these cases, and I did not at that moment see a case for pressing the Law Officers of the Crown to take special action under Section 11, but now that the Attorney-General has said the position has become absolutely unworkable, I want to ask him what steps he is taking under Section 11 to make the working of the Act more expeditious, and indeed to allow the Act to be worked at all, because on his own showing it is impossible to work it at present.
Mr. MARLEY: May I suggest that he should be released from the Committee in order that he may go into the matter?
Lord E. PERCY: If I could believe the Attorney-General was really going to set up proper methods of summary procedure, I should be glad to release him from this or any other Committee. I do not know that any release is necessary. He seems to have released himself. But what I protest against is the Attorney-General coming here and airily saying, in the middle of a half-minute speech, that he has utterly failed to carry out his responsibility and that the administrative system for which he is responsible is becoming congested and unworkable because he has not used the powers which he has in his hands. It is one of the most irresponsible statements I ever heard from a responsible Minister. Now let me deal specifically with the proper machinery. I agree with the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) that the Minister of Health, and Parliament as the authority controlling the Minister of Health, should come in to confirm any application by order made or proposed to be made by the sanitary authorities. I also agree with the hon 237 Member for Hereford (Mr. Roberts) that there should be an appeal from any such order to the County Court. In other words, the system would be exactly analogous to the system that now obtains in the case of orders issued under the Rent Restrictions Acts, by the sanitary authorities. By virtue of Section 18 of the Act of 1923 those orders are now prima facie evidence on behalf of the tenant against the landlord that the tenant need not pay the permitted increase of rent. But while they are prima facie evidence they are reviewable by the County Court, and that, with the addition of the Ministry of Health's sanction, is a reasonable way of dealing with this matter. The hon. Member for Withington (Mr. Simon) appears to think that this system would be unworkable, because the Minister would have to look into the case of every house. It seems to me, on the contrary, to be eminently workable. The sanitary authority has only got within the next year to send to the Minister the schedule of cases in which orders have been issued by the sanitary authority either under the Rent Restrictions Acts or under Section 21 of the Act of 1918, and which have been carried out or not carried out to the satisfaction of the sanitary authority. That schedule, of course, will be confirmed by the Minister, but the fact that it is sent up to the Minister will give an opportunity for any aggrieved person to write to the Minister and say he does not think the sanitary authority is impartial and the Minister had better conduct, through his local inspectors, an enquiry into the way in which that schedule has been drawn up. The Minister cannot go, of course, into the case of every particular house. It will be at a later stage, when the appeal on the part of the landlord lies to the County Court, that the merits of any particular house will be gone into by the County Court. I believe the County Court will be fully able to do this. I do not believe that there will be a large number of appeals, and therefore I should be perfectly prepared to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Mossley, on the understanding that when we come to the later Amendment at the end of Clause 1 in the names of the hon. Baronet the Member for Grantham (Sir V. Warrender) and the hon. Member for 238 Hereford (Mr. Roberts)—at the end of the Clause to add the words Provided that the owner of any dwelling-house affected by an order issued by the Minister of Health under this section, may apply to the county court, and it shall appear to the court that the dwelling-house does not in fact fall within the provisions of this section, the court shall make an order accordingly, and the Rent Restriction Acts shall thereupon cease to apply to that dwelling-house I shall ask the Committee to accept that Amendment as well.
Mr. WESTWOOD: There seems to be very grave doubt in the minds of some hon. Members opposite as to the bad effect that the 1923 Amendment of the 1920 Act had upon many tenants. The Noble Lord has been challenging the statement of the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee). I think I can submit sufficient evidence to the Committee to prove the truth of the statements made on this side, that hundreds of tenants are faced with the possibility of eviction because of the Amendment carried, in 1923, to the Act of 1920.
Mr. HOPKINSON: Are you referring to West Walthamstow?
Mr. WESTWOOD: I am not talking about West Walthamstow. I am talking of hardships applied to tenants, because of the Act passed in 1923. I have sufficient evidence available here. I have the evidence of 26 tenants who are being evicted in one very small part of the constituency I represent. Those 26 tenants represent 104 individuals living in 26 houses. Let me take as typical of what is happening, the case of the people whose letter I am reading, who are pleading "for God's sake to be saved from being thrown into the streets," and pleading for the right to live even in these houses. The letter reads: "In regard to the notice to vacate the houses at present occupied by my wife and two girls, I am not sending the notice to my wife. The house is single end and measures 16 ft. by 14 ft. There is one bed recess, and a coal-house 3 ft. by 4, one wall-press; no water in the house, and the rent of the same is 12s. 11d. per month—"
Lord E. PERCY: Per month?
Mr. WESTWOOD: Yes, do you want it per day?
Major COLFOX: It is usual to give the rent per week.
Mr. AYLES: Under private enterprise!239
Mr. WESTWOOD: Hon. Members do not want me to read what is not here? [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Well, I am not reading it. The rent is 12s. 11d. per month, and the press-bed and coalhouse all go into the 16 ft. by 14 ft. That is typical of many of the other letters I have in my hand. I have a single apartment described here where there are eight individuals living. I am submitting for the consideration of the Committee that here is sufficient evidence that under the 1923 Amendment the tenants are being faced with eviction.
The CHAIRMAN: I do not want to intervene, but we are getting rather wide of the Amendment. Hon. Members, I take it, will have opportunity on the floor of the House during the day, and they must not enter upon a preliminary canter upstairs this morning. Let us try to keep to the Amendment.
Mr. WESTWOOD: I am endeavouring strictly to keep to the Amendment which seeks to revert back to the State dealing with the question instead of the local authority. You ask that the State here—
Major WHELER: Only on appeal.
Mr. WESTWOOD: I am merely pointing out how it appeals to me. I do suggest that the evidence which I have given to the Committee would have appealed to some sanitary authorities who have allowed these disreputable houses to exist so long. These very public authorities in the county of Midlothian which I represent, according to the answer I received in the House, have only built 72 houses to deal with the great housing shortage. I can never support any reactionary sanitary authority, and I make the charge against the sanitary authority in the county I represent that they are reactionary. I cannot possibly support any Amendment which would give power to that authority to deal with the housing problem and questions of eviction. I sincerely trust that we are going to reject this Amendment. I have given some evidence of over one hundred individuals living in 26 houses, none of them more than two apartments. The sanitary authorities are responsible for that disgraceful condition of things in that particular locality; consequently, I hope, in the interests of sanitation—if only that—and in the interests of the 240 health of the people, the hon. Member may see his way to withdraw his Amendment.
Major COLFOX: I cannot help feeling—if I may say so with very great respect—that it is a great pity that this discussion should have been allowed to ramble at large over so very wide a field, because, after all, the Amendment which we are discussing, or professedly discussing, is a very narrow one. Since so many members of the Committee appear to be oblivious as to really what is the subject of the discussion, perhaps I may be allowed to recall their attention to the wording of the Amendment. It is to leave out the words "sanitary authority is satisfied," and to insert instead thereof the words "Minister of Health is satisfied on the representation of the sanitary authority." To my mind that is a very narrow point, which might well have been decided and disposed of a long while ago had it not been for the very discursive speeches of hon. Members opposite. I quite agree it is most desirable that a point of this sort should be decided by the people on the spot, the local sanitary authorities who clearly are in the best position to judge what are the local circumstances of each case. I cannot, however, for the life of me see why hon. Members opposite should wish to object to the Minister of Health having the final say in this matter. They will notice that the local people, whose knowledge, of course, is greatest in these cases, are not ruled out, because the Minister of Health can only finally decide on the representation of the sanitary authority. To my mind, it is quite incomprehensible that hon. Members opposite should so strongly object to the Minister of Health being brought into the matter in this connection. I could quite understand their objection if the Amendment had been to the effect that the Minister of Health should have the power to take the initiative in this matter and to be an absolute autocrat, which he is already in a great many other respects. On this occasion that is not the point at issue. If this Amendment were passed, the Minister of Health could only act on the representation of the sanitary authority. Hon. Members, I suppose, would agree that the sanitary authority—the local people, those 241 conversant with local conditions—are the people best able to form a judgment on these matters. Therefore I think it is quite right that the initiative should be with the local authority, and that their decision should be reviewable by the Minister of Health, who could confirm or reject, as seems best to him, in the light of his knowledge of the situation in the country as a whole, though not having an intimate knowledge of the particular district. Whether or not this Amendment should be further modified by an Amendment later on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Roberts) is not the point at the present time. Though I am one with my Noble Friend in deploring the absence of the Attorney-General with his well known sunny smile, I feel that on this particular Amendment the lay Members of this Committee might well come to a decision without his expert legal advice. When the further Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford comes to be discussed, it will be absolutely essential that the Committee shall have the guidance and advice of a highly-trained and very efficient legal mind. Therefore I would appeal to the Committee to deal with this Amendment now, and either to pass it or reject it, as seems best, but not further to discuss a point which, after all, is a very narrow one, and has been very fully debated.
Duchess of ATHOLL: I did not intend to intervene in this Debate, and I do not wish unnecessarily to prolong it, but after the remarks of the hon. Member of Midlothian and Peebles (Mr. Westwood) I feel some sort of reply should be made by a Scottish Member. I myself have no experience of the work of the county councils, but I do hear a great deal about that work from my friends. I feel sure that Members of the county councils in Scotland will very much resent the strictures that have been passed upon their work by the hon. Member, and will feel that not sufficient proof has been given to warrant the assertions made. I myself do not feel that what the hon. Gentleman said was particularly in order on the particular Amendment we are discussing. But I do just wish, in reply to what he said, to point out to the Committee that building costs in Scotland are very high, particularly in the rural districts. I 242 know that that fact has made it very difficult for many landlords to execute repairs that they would have liked to execute. A two-roomed house that is being built now in a rural area in Scotland, with bathroom and scullery, is costing over £800. We want houses of stronger construction than are necessary in the South, but it is very difficult to get labour and materials, and the costs, therefore, are very high. The cost of repairs, as pointed out to me only on Monday by a person of considerable experience in the matter in Scotland, are higher than the building costs, because repairs are jobbing work.
Mr. WESTWOOD: None of the houses which I mentioned have had any repairs done to them, although the tenants have been living in them for 25 years.
Mr. DICKSON: Are these explanations relevant to the Amendment?
The CHAIRMAN: As the hon. Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Mr. West-wood) referred to these cases, the noble Lady is quite in order in discussing them.
Duchess of ATHOLL: I was suggesting that the reason for this state of things was the cost of executing those repairs because they cannot be carried out upon an economic basis. I cannot speak from experience of Midlothian and Peebles, but in the part of Scotland I know well the position is that the rents are low and many landlords have not increased them as permitted by the Rent Restrictions Acts. I think the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Hastings would operate harshly in the rural areas where landlords feel it very difficult to do all they would like to do in the direction of improving their houses.
Major COLFOX: rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put".
Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
Question put accordingly, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the proposed Amendment."
The Committee divided: Ayes, 17; Noes, 26.243
|Division No. 8.]||AYES.|
|Brown, Mr. Ernest||Johnstone, Mr. Harcourt||Spence, Mr.|
|Burnie, Major James||Law, Mr.||Stewart, Mr. James|
|Gardner, Mr. Benjamin||Marley, Mr.||Thomson, Mr. Trevelyan|
|Greenwood, Mr. Arthur||Mitchell, Mr. Macgregor||Westwood, Mr.|
|Harvey, Mr. Edmund||Morrison, Mr. Herbert||Williams, Major Ronald|
|Hobhouse, Mr.||Simon, Mr. Ernest|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Emlyn-Jones, Mr.||Roberts, Mr. Samuel|
|Ayles, Mr.||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel||Sassoon, Sir Philip|
|Buckle, Mr.||Hopkinson, Mr.||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley|
|Chapman, Sir Samuel||Jackson, Mr. Robert||Sunlight, Mr.|
|Colfox, Major||Lamb, Mr.||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Davies, Sir Thomas||Lowe, Sir Francis||Wheler, Major|
|Dickson, Mr. Thomas||McEntee, Mr.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel|
|Dixey, Mr.||Meller, Mr.||Yerburgh, Major|
|Eden, Captain||Percy, Lord Eustace|
Question, That the words "Minister of Health is satisfied on the representation of the sanitary authority" be there inserted in the proposed Amendment, put, and agreed to.
Mr. ROBERTS: I beg to move, in the proposed Amendment, to leave out the words "rent permitted by the Act of 1920, as amended by the Act of 1923 and this Act, is not sufficient to enable the landlord to keep," and to insert instead thereof the words "landlord has not kept." The Amendment on the Paper does not express the intention I had in mind when I put it down. This is due either to some temporary mental aberration on my part or perhaps to the fact that my handwriting was so bad that it could not be made out. As I propose to amend it, the proposed Amendment would read: "Where the Minister of Health is satisfied on the representation of the sanitary authority, in the case of any dwelling-house to which the Rent Restrictions Acts apply, that the landlord has not kept the dwelling-house in good tenantable repair, then" I think the intention of the Amendment is absolutely clear. It is not in any way a narrow Amendment. It does not merely deal with a matter of machinery, but it is a proposal of vital importance. The Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) desires that control shall be continued where the rent permitted does not allow the repairs to be done, but that does not take any account whatever whether the repairs have been done or as to whether the landlord is able to do them. You may get cases where the rent does not permit it and yet the repairs are 244 done or can be done. In those cases, according to the original Amendment a house in perfectly good repair, if the rent does not allow it to be kept in repair, would be out of control, and at the same time a house which the landlord was perfectly well able to put in repair, if it was highly rented, would be taken out of control It seems to me that that is going the wrong way about it. The suggestion here is that these houses which are in an insanitary condition, and not in a reasonable state of repair, should be kept subject to the Rent Control Acts, and if the tenant makes an application to the local authorities and obtains the certificate he would be entitled to remain on the standard rent of 1914 without any conditions, but the other houses which are in a good state of repair would be free from the restrictions of these Acts. I do not think you would thereby get an immediate assault on the rights of the tenants, because if you got the vast majority of the houses out of control at once you would find an effective demand which would increase house accommodation generally. I should imagine that the result of this Amendment, if carried, would be that every landlord who was able to do so would immediately make an examination of his property, because he would see that before July, 1925, he had got this opportunity of getting those houses out of control, and the condition would be that he was to see that they were to be put into a good tenantable state of repair. Under these circumstances, one can imagine landlords examining their property, and this proposal would give them a great temptation, because they would see that in this way they could get their property under their own control.245
Mr. DIXEY: Should I be in Order in moving the adjournment of the Committee on account of the absence of one of the three parties?
The CHAIRMAN: Yes, that would be in Order.
|Division No. 9.]||AYES.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Hopkinson, Mr.||Sassoon, Sir Philip|
|Chapman, Sir Samuel||Lamb, Mr.||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Colfox, Major||Lowe, Sir Francis||Wheler, Major|
|Davies, Sir Thomas||Percy, Lord Eustace||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel|
|Dixey, Mr.||Roberts, Mr. Samuel||Yerburgh, Major|
|Ayles, Mr.||Jackson, Mr. Robert||Mitchell, Mr. Macgregor|
|Buchanan, Mr.||Johnstone, Mr. Harcourt||Morrison, Mr. Herbert|
|Buckle, Mr.||Law, Mr.||Spence, Mr.|
|Dickson, Mr. Thomas||McEntee, Mr.||Stewart, Mr. James|
|Gardner, Mr. Benjamin||Marley, Mr.||Westwood, Mr.|
|Greenwood, Mr. Arthur|
The CHAIRMAN: As the numbers are equal, the decision of the Chairman is that the Committee shall continue its exertions until One o'clock.
Mr. ROBERTS: As I was saying when my speech was so violently interrupted by the hon. Member for Penrith and Cockermouth (Mr. Dixley), the offer that would be put before the property owners of this country is one that it would be in their own interests to accept; and it would be in the interests of the tenants also, because it would mean that a tremendous lot of insanitary property would be put into repair between now and the end of June, 1925. During the Debate on the last Amendment the hon. Member for Peebles (Mr. Westwood) produced a large bundle of cases relating to property which he said was not fit for human habitation. Under this Amendment, that property would remain under the full rigours of control until it was put into such a fit state as was possible, or, if it were impossible to put it into a fit state of repair, as probably is the case with such property as that to which the hon. Member alluded, until such time as, owing to the rapid progress of new housing which will go on when the Minister of Health at last produces his housing scheme, to which we are all looking forward with such deep interest, other accommodation was available. Then, under my proposal in this Amendment, those houses would be closed, and the people would not be asked to live under the conditions in which they246
Mr. DIXEY: I beg to move, "That the Committee do now adjourn."
Question put, "That the Committee do now adjourn."
The Committee divided: Ayes, 16;. Noes, 16.
are now living, and which everyone on this side of the Committee, as well as on the other, deplores.
If the Committee will really try to consider this Amendment reasonably, not looking upon it too critically, but with the idea of seeing what can be done to get rid of this unhealthy insanitary property, the existence of which we all deplore, I feel sure they will consider that there is more in it than, possibly, would appear on the face of it, and that it does put forward, as I have said, a very great incentive to the landlord to put his property in repair, while at the same time doing a great deal for the mass of the tenants in this country who happen to be living in insanitary property at the present time.
Mr. HOPKINSON: I hope the Committee will not be misled by the specious arguments of the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Roberts). I am afraid that the course of the Debate has shown that the hon. Member is given to specious arguments, very telling indeed, the result, no doubt, of his experience in local government and the management of affairs in Sheffield; but this Amendment is an example of what is termed in these days class legislation and of nothing else. It is giving the rich landlord an enormous advantage at the expense of the poor landlord, and I think that that is a most abominable thing for a democratic Committee like this to be engaged upon doing. Another point arises with regard to the words "reasonable state of repair," or 247 the alternative suggested in the hon. Member's sub-Amendment to my Amendment to the Amendment of the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy), namely, "good tenantable." I venture to say that those words in previous Acts—
Mr. WESTWOOD: I desire to move, "That the Committee do now adjourn." I do so in view of the fact that another party has almost disappeared from the Committee.
The CHAIRMAN: The hon. Member is out of order. There is not a quorum at the present moment, and the Committee stands adjourned until to-morrow morning.248
Mr. MCENTEE: May I draw attention to the fact that Members are deliberately withdrawing from the performance of their duties in the Committee?
The CHAIRMAN: That is no business of the Chairman. This is a free country, and Members can come and go when they like.
Mr. MCENTEE: Members are leaving simply for the purpose of evading their duties.
The CHAIRMAN: There is no quorum, and the Committee stands adjourned.
Committee adjourned at Twenty-five minutes before One o'Clock until To-morrow (Thursday) at Eleven o'Clock.
THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE.
Mr. Turton [in the unavoidable absence of Major Barnett], Chairman.
Atholl, Duchess of
Brown, Mr. Ernest
Burnie, Major James
Chapman, Sir Samuel
Davies, Sir Thomas
Dickson, Mr. Thomas
Gardner, Mr. Benjamin
Greenwood, Mr. Arthur
Guest, Dr. Haden
Harvey, Mr. Edmund
Jackson, Mr. Robert
Johnstone, Mr. Harcourt
Lowe, Sir Francis
Mitchell, Mr. Macgregor
Morrison, Mr. Herbert
Percy, Lord Eustace
Roberts, Mr. Samuel
Sassoon, Sir Philip
Sheffield, Sir Berkeley
Simon, Mr. Ernest
Stewart, Mr. James
Thomson, Mr. Trevelyan
Warrender, Sir Victor
Williams, Major Ronald
Wood, Sir Kingsley