Clause 14.—(RECOVERY OF POSSESSION OF OWNER-OCCUPIED HOUSES.)
Lords Amendment No 9: In page 10, line 10, leave out from “or” to end of line 13 and insert:
“his wife or widow or his child (or, if more than one, such of them as may in default of agreement be decided by the court);”
I think it would be for the convenience of the House if with [column 701]Lords Amendment No. 9 we also considered the Amendment in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) to the Lords Amendment No. 30.
Mr. Graham Page
I wonder if we could have your guidance on this procedural point, Mr. Speaker. The purpose of putting down an Amendment to the Lords Amendment was that if the House disagreed with the Lords Amendment there would be a restoration of all the words in the paragraph (b) as printed. We on this side would have wished to argue that part of those words should be restored, namely, the words “any member of his family” without the restrictions on them of the remaining words of the paragraph. As this is our second line of defence, I would have invited the Government to move to disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment and argue it from that point of view, so that we might come in with our second line of defence afterwards. We agree with the Lords Amendment, and only if that is defeated would our Amendment come in. Mr. Speaker, could you give us your guidance as to the order in which we should deal with this?
I can deal only with order. I cannot deal with the substance of the argument. The hon. Member is now suggesting that he is not in favour of the Motion in his name, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment. I can guide the House only on procedure. If someone moves, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment, and it is carried, then the Amendment will fall.
Mr. Graham Page
Mr. Speaker, I agree that this normally comes from the Government side, but would it be in order for me to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment?
I am a little lost at the subtlety of the hon. Member's argument, because his name is to a Motion to disagree with it.
Mr. Graham Page
With respect, Mr. Speaker, that is true, but very often we bring Prayers before the House to dis[column 702]agree with or to pray against an Order with which we agree. The only way in which I anticipate we could argue that part of these words should be restored rather than the whole of them was to put a Motion on the Notice Paper in this form, first to disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment, and then to substitute. I could scarcely substitute until I had disagreed. If the Lords Amendment were approved by this House there would be no need for the Amendment on the Notice Paper.
We are now coming to argument rather than to order. I have explained order for the moment.
We would not want to ride off on any point of procedure if we could find a way of debating this. Our position is clear. We want the Clause as it was when it left this House, and we are therefore proposing to ask the House to disagree with this Amendment.
The hon. Member can move that Motion.
I shall do so with pleasure. I think that it will stop the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) from moving his Amendment if I do so.
If the House negatives the Motion, That the House doth disagree with the said Amendment, the second Amendment on the Notice Paper cannot be taken.
Mr. Speaker, can you help me on that? Until you gave your last Ruling I understood the position to be that you had said that if the House agreed with the Lords in the said Amendment our Amendment would be excluded. I understood you to say a moment ago, however, that if the House disagreed with the Lords Amendment our Amendment would be excluded. Can you help as to how we can get it discussed?
The right hon. Member can talk about his Amendment during the debate on the Question that the House doth disagree. In the event of the Motion that the House doth disagree being negatived, obviously there would be no room for the Amendment. I hope that that is clear.[column 703]
I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Speaker.
I beg to move. That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment.
I think it might help the House in assessing the position to be reminded about some of the background to the Amendment. The Clause which is now Clause 14 in the Bill started life as an attempt to deal with the problem of a person who goes overseas to seek employment or is posted overseas in the public service and wants to be sure that he can come back to the house that he has let temporarily.
In the final form in which it emerged it goes wider than that, and there is nothing in it about going overseas. It deals with anybody who leaves a house and wishes to come back later to resume residence in it. If he conforms with certain procedures in the way of notices he has the right to obtain possession without having to prove greater hardship.
That is a very broad Clause, and a liberal one from the point of view of the person who leaves. It implies that he has only to show that it is required either for his own occupation as an owner-occupier, or by a member of his family, and the important words about which the dispute has taken place are:
&oqq… any member of his family who resided with the owner-occupier when he last occupied the dwelling-house as a residence.”
If the owner-occupier returns to the house he can bring back with him anyone whom he has collected during his absence. Such a person can come in under his umbrella and there is no problem about it at all. If his wife or child was with him when he originally occupied the house, and is clearly identifiable as having been with him, no problem arises. The problem arises over the member of the family who has never resided in the house, who comes back, not with the owner-occupier, but under his own steam, and wants to obtain possession without having to prove greater hardship.
In our view that is going much too far, but there is one respect in which the Lords Amendment is rather restrictive because the Members of the other place have confined it to the wife, widow or child, and they have cut out, for example, parents. [column 704]A father or mother who might have been living with the owner-occupier, and who might have gone away, and want to come back, cannot obtain possession.
One of the reasons for our differing from the Lords is that we think that this should be more general. We want to keep it as general as we can. We say that it should be the whole family. We are not anxious to particularise and say that it will apply only to the wife, widow, or child. We want to keep it general, but if we do it is only reasonable to limit it to the people who were residing with the owner when he last lived in the house.
We do not feel that the Amendment is a satisfactory solution to the problem. We take the view that the right of recovery should be restricted to those who looked to the owner to provide them with shelter when he last lived in the house, and we do not think it should be at large so that anyone who has a family connection with the owner-occupier can come back in his absence and obtain possession.
We have tried very fairly in this Clause to meet a particular problem which we debated at great length both on this Bill and on the Protection from Eviction Bill. We explored all the difficulties. We were all aware of this complication, and eventually, after somewhat prolonged gestation, we managed to produce this Clause which is a good and well-drafted one. It is liberal as regards the people who leave the house and want to return to it, but it is restricted and clearly confined to the people who resided under his protection before he left. To make it wider than that would be going too wide and would shake the whole principle of the Bill, which is that there should be security of tenure for the tenants of a house.
That is the principle which we have adopted in general. We are making an exception to it, but the exception proposed in the Amendment would be very wide because it would mean that a member of the owner-occupier's family, someone who had never been in this country before, and who had never lived here, could have rights simply by saying that he was part of the family acquired by the owner-occupier while he was out of the house, and put out the people who were then living in the house. It seems reasonable that people who have as complicated a relationship as that [column 705]should go to the court and the court ought to be able to deal with it under the greater hardship provisions. Therefore, I think that the right solution is to stick to the words in the Clause as drafted.
Before I call the first speaker, I hope that it is now clear that right hon. and hon. Gentleman can address themselves both to the question of disagreeing and to the Amendment. If the House decides to disagree, then an opportunity will be given to vote on the Amendment.
I am much obliged for your guidance, Mr. Speaker. Your concluding words were that the House would be given, in a certain contingency, an opportunity to vote on the Amendment. I take it that you mean that discussion on the Amendment should take place on the Lords Amendment.
I think that we can debate the whole question now.
Mr. Speaker, may I say how pleased I am to have this first opportunity of addressing you in the Chair? If I say much more I shall be out of order.
I want to ask the Government one or two questions. I gather from you that we can discuss the proposed Lords Amendment and our own proposition together. I believe that I am right in saying that if the tenant who has security of tenure so decides, when the Bill becomes an Act, that security can pass once on his death to his son or to his widow. I think that that is correct according to the ordinary law of tenancy under the various Housing Acts and under the present Bill. But it seems that we are getting to the stage when the rights of the person who is tenant are going, by law, to be more than those appertaining to the person who really owns the house and who was the original occupier.
It is quite extraordinary that, in cold blood, we should be passing a law saying that if a man happens to marry for the second time because his first wife has died six months after he has gone abroad on service, and he lives with that second wife for two or three years and then himself dies, she has no right to go into her late husband's house when she returns home. The same would apply to any [column 706]child who reached the age when he could become tenant of that same house and, as already pointed out by the Parliamentary Secretary earlier, it would also apply to a mother or father living abroad with the husband.
Although I see the Parliamentary Secretary's point of view in trying to leave the complicated position of sub-paragraph (b) of Clause 14(1), in fairness to everyone, including the tenant, I am bound to say that it would be putting the emphasis far too much on the wrong side to give more powers of security, family rights and the rest of it to the person living in the house as a tenant, possibly under an agreement which is not kept later, as against the equally inalienable rights of the person who owned the house and occupied it originally. I am not talking about distant relatives such as sister-in-law and cousins, but about an owner's second wife, or possibly his first wife if he was a bachelor when he left the house, and any children who have grown to maturity in the years that they have lived abroad. All those people are prohibited from enjoying what is their fathers' or their husbands' ownerships under security of tenure.
In our joint efforts on both sides to try to make certain of that security, we have gone too far and done something which we shall not be able to alter again afterwards.
I am afraid that I have to disagree with the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole), as I have frequently done on previous occasions. I say that it would be much simpler to leave the Bill as it is, whereas the hon. Gentleman says that it would be much simpler to accept one or other of the Amendments.
I put down the word “simpler” as he was speaking.
I am much more humble than the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock). I cannot see a solution, but the present situation leaves a lot unsaid.
I do not agree that that is so at all. With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, I am not going to engage in a test in humility with him. Anyone [column 707]who reads the Lords Amendment and that of the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), will agree that it would be simpler to leave the Bill as it is. It is much easier of interpretation as well, and I will come to that in a moment.
I am not sure which of the two alternative solutions before us the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South was advocating, because there is a great deal of difference between leaving the Lords Amendment as it stands and taking his “wife, widow or child” , and the solution of the right hon. Gentleman for Kingston-upon-Thames of taking “any members of his family” . If we take the wife, widow and child only, as the Parliamentary Secretary has pointed out, we are excluding other members of his immediate family, whatever one may mean by that phrase. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, used the phrase “immediate family” in another place and, if he had thought of it. Obviously he would have intended to include the father and mother, about whom the Parliamentary Secretary speaks.
I urge that we disagree with the Lords in their Amendment, because it would be quite unreasonable that, if a man has an elderly parent living abroad with him, he or she should be denied the benefits conferred by Clause 14, which I support wholeheartedly. It is a sign of the Minister's flexible attitude to the Amendments that are being made to the Bill that he has incorporated such a provision, and I heartily welcome it.
Taking the Amendment of the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, if we leave out from “family” to the end of line 13, we are saying that any member of the original owner-occupier's family, irrespective of whether or not he resided with him at the time he was in occupation, can return at the end of five years and regain possession. As the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South remarked, there will be a few cases where the owner-occupier has gone abroad, lost his wife and married again. His other example was that of a bachelor who married while abroad and then unfortunately died within the five-year period. In both examples, the widow would be unable to gain possession. Such a combination of circumstances will be fairly unusual. [column 708] He serves a notice on the tenant that he is going to require possession within five years——
Mr. Oscar Murton(Poole)
May I point out that the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) has slipped one Clause and is on to a new Clause. The five-year period does not arise.
The hon. Gentleman is saying that it can be done within any period. I am talking about the case of a man who goes abroad, loses his wife, remarries and then dies himself, or the case of a bachelor who marries abroad and subsequently dies, and the widow in each case wishes to regain possession. I am saying that such a combination of circumstances will be fairly unusual, whereas the other kind of circumstance which we have been discussing, where an aged relative lived with him in the house at the time that he was owner-occupier, is going to be fairly frequent. That is the important difference between the two Amendments.
If we talk about families as a whole, what do we mean? Reverting again to the speech made by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South, he said that he did not want to include distant relatives. As far as I can see, the word “family” could include a second cousin twice removed, a deceased wife's sister or any one of the noble Lord's, Lord Mitchison 's, 19 grandchildren, who, irrespective of whether they have been living with the owner-occupier at the time he lived in the residence, once he has died can come back and regain possession at the end of the period. This would seem quite unreasonable. If those members of the family had never lived in the house, why should they have the right to throw out the tenant? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider his attitude, and accept the Bill as it stands.
Sir B. Janner
When considering questions arising under the proposed Amendment we should realise that there is in the Act a provision enabling matters of greater hardship to be dealt with by a court. We cannot take this Clause, or any Amendment relating to it, out of that context. It therefore seems to me that the Government have gone as far as is necessary to cover the quite reasonable point made with regard to an occupier who left, or had to go away for a short period, and [column 709]who consequently ought to be able to come back to the tenancy or to the house he has vacated.
When we go further than that we are going beyond anything contained in the Rent Acts at all. The protection in those Acts relates always to the people who were in occupation when the protection was given. For example, the widow or a member of the family of a deceased person is entitled, if the landlord is not agreeable to allowing that person to remain in possession, to ask the court for possession—apart, again, from the question of hardship, which is taken into consideration if there is any dispute on that ground. The Acts at present refer to the person who has lived in the premises, and to no one else. It is obviously quite unreasonable that a person who has not been living in the premises should be able to claim to be entitled to displace someone who is living in the premises, and upon whom there would be greater hardship if he or she were moved out than would be the hardship on the person who wanted to come in.
It is not very difficult to realise that if the original owner-occupier died and by his will or the administration of the estate the widow became the landlord of the premises, she would stand in the same place as the landlord, and could claim possession if it were shown that she would suffer greater hardship than would the occupying tenant. There is a very big difference between the position of such a widow who is not actually living in the premises, or the member of the family who is not living in the premises, and that prevailing with regard to the protection given, under the Acts as they now stand, to the member of a family who was living with the tenant, and who, consequently, is entitled to take the place of the deceased tenant——
What the hon. Gentleman says sounds most plausible but, with great respect, things do not turn out quite as he says. Let us imagine that the original tenants were husband and wife and the first wife died so that the tenant remained on in sole, single, personal occupation of a sizeable house. The new wife, now the relict of the owner and the owner in succession, comes back with no fewer than four or five children. The hon. Gentleman says that despite this Bill [column 710]she could plead hardship in court, whereas she is actually prejudged under paragraph (b) because neither she nor the children have resided there before. Even allowing for the natural hardship as between one person and six, if the hon. Gentleman thinks that the court would decide for her, he is very optimistic.
Sir B. Janner
It depends, first of all, on the circumstances of the case. The question of hardship has to be weighed up by the judge who is hearing the application. It is perfectly true that there is the human element—with a judge sometimes deciding one way and another judge, on the same or very similar facts, deciding in another way—but that is inevitable in all legal proceedings. There is no real purpose in pressing that particular point of view, because no court would take precisely the same decision on hardship. The fact remains that the widow, if she succeeded her late husband as owner of the premises, would, as hon. Members know very well, be entitled to apply to the court for possession, if the hardship to her were greater than that to the person in the house.
There is a very big concession here. It is a reasonable concession, but a big one——
Mr. Graham Page
The hon. Gentleman says that it is a concession, but he has been talking about the law as it applies to rent-controlled property. In this Clause we are not dealing with rent-controlled property but are bringing certain regulated tenancies and rents above controlled rents within a new system of law. The hon. Gentleman can hardly say whether it is a concession in this case. We are applying new and very strict law to an area that has not been touched before.
Sir B. Janner
That depends on the point of view. My approach is that there should be greater protection for tenants, or that the protection should come within a greater range. The hon. Member and his party think differently. That is why they brought in the 1957 Act. They wanted to finish with control altogether. That Act was a vicious and terrible thing. We are now putting it right and, in doing so, we are seeing to it that the homes of people outside the range shall also [column 711]be protected, because the home is the important thing to every individual.
Therefore, this is a concession. I say that it is a reasonable concession, but it is a concession which did not prevail with regard to rent-controlled premises. That is why I call it a concession. It is different from what prevailed in the old Acts. We say “This is a reasonable figure and should be allowed, but you cannot go beyond the reasonable proposal.” What is proposed by the party opposite does go beyond it. If hon. Members will weigh up the position, they will realise that there is no question of unreasonableness in the Clause as it stands.
I remind the House that in all this discussion we have been forgetting one most important part in the Clause—the fact that the house has been let intentionally and deliberately by the owner of a regulated tenancy with a view to the fact that he is going away on Government duty, in the Armed Forces, or abroad in some other capacity.
The provision in this Clause was included on the plea of the Opposition, and a very good Clause it is. It has been done as an intentional act in a regulated tenancy. The tenant would know this. The tenant would also know when he was expected to surrender the house at the termination of his tenancy. Obviously, under those circumstances there would have been a lease. In all the circumstances I cannot see that when the time comes for the owner-occupier, or any of his relatives, to return there could be any question of hardship to the tenant in the house at that time.
Sir B. Janner
If that is the case, the court will immediately give possession to the owner whoever he may be. What is it that you are worrying about?
Order. The hon. Member must not ask what I am worrying about. My only worry is that the debate should be conducted in an orderly fashion.
My hon. Friend has mentioned the peculiar predicament in which an owner-occupier might find himself if, his wife having predeceased him, he marries again. If anything should happen to the husband why should that [column 712]widow be debarred from gaining possession of her late husband's house? It is quite conceivable that both the husband and the wife might die and leave a child. Why should that child not be allowed to return at the end of the tenancy to take up residence in that house, perhaps with its grandmother? As we see it, this could be done only by allowing this Clause to be amended. I am speaking particularly on the Amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter).
If the hon. Member is speaking to that Amendment, would he say what the word “family” means?
Order. I cannot allow interventions to lead to new speeches. Debating is debating.
Mr. Cranley Onslow (Working)
I share the doubts which have been expressed about the Lords Amendment and the words as set out in the Bill originally. I was surprised that the Parliamentary Secretary, when he moved that we should disagree with the Lords Amendment, should speak in such unflattering terms of a young man who has acquired a house through the death of an elderly relative, lived in it for a short time and then decided to live abroad, hoping to return after a short time, and has meanwhile let the house on a regulated tenancy with the condition that it should be reoccupied by himself—and who then has married. Why the Parliamentary Secretary should say that he has “collected” or “acquired” a wife and family, I do not know.
The terms of the Clause apply not only to persons who have gone abroad, but to those who have moved to somewhere in the United Kingdom. I do not know why the Parliamentary Secretary should seek to make this pejorative reference to “someone who has never lived in this country at all” . This situation would arise far more often than the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) thinks. If a man in the Services is posted within this country and lets his house and then dies this situation could arise. One would be surprised to see how many people would fall within the fair provisions which the Opposition sought to induce the Government to accept. The Government have [column 713]gone some way to accept them, but I hope that they will go the rest of the way.
It may be that the Amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend is imperfect in the sense that it does not precisely define the word “family” . Perhaps there is room for improvement in that respect. But there is a whole multitude of contingencies which any of us can foresee without great inventiveness or imagination which would be badly affected by the Bill as it has been amended by the Lords Amendment, or as it would stand if the original wording were restored.
Mr. S. C. Silkin
Hon. Members appear to be under a misapprehension as to the purpose of this Clause. As I understand it, it has been inserted in the Bill for the purpose of providing protection for an owner-occupier of a dwelling-house who decides, owing to the exigencies of his occupation or for other reasons, that he must vacate it for a period which he assumes to be temporary—otherwise he would not give the notice referred to under subsection (2,a).
Assuming that he will be away from the tenancy for a period, however short or long, he says, “In the meantime I shall make profitable use of it by letting it, and, unless I am in a position that when I come back and want it again I can get it back, I shall be in a situation in which I shall have to weigh up whether it is worth while letting the property or leaving it empty” . In many cases, but for the insertion of this protection, the owner-occupier in those circumstances might decide that it is better to leave the dwellinghouse empty and, accordingly, the value of the dwelling-house to the community would be lost.
To prevent that situation arising and to make the fullest use of accommodation which otherwise would be left vacant, this provision has been inserted in the Bill so that an owner-occupier in those circumstances can safeguard his future position by giving the notice——
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and learned Member, but I hope that he will come to the Amendment.
I am coming to it, Mr. Speaker. I am endeavouring to suggest what the purpose of the Clause is in com[column 714]parison with the Amendment proposed by the Lords. The sole purpose is to protect the owner-occupier. This House felt that it was desirable to go a little further because it would be unfair to people living with the owner-occupier at the time when he vacated the premises—for example, his wife, his widow if he dies, his child, or it may be his mother or his sister, because in many cases a person is looked after by a relative—if at the time when the owner-occupier had wanted to return and he was unable to do so, it would be unfair to the other persons concerned.
The Lords Amendment seeks to go much wider and to extend the protection of the Clause, not simply to the owner-occupier and those who, as it were, were under the umbrella of the owner-occupier because they, although not owner-occupiers, were occupiers with him at the time he last occupied the premises, but by a blanket protection to give the right to any member of his family, and specified members of the family according to the Lords Amendment, whether they were living with him at the time he occupied it or not. The effect of the provisions of either the Lords Amendment or the much narrower Amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) would be that, instead of a Clause to protect owner-occupiers and those under their umbrellas, we would have a Clause protecting any member of the family, whether he had ever lived in the house or not.
As has been rightly pointed out, such persons, if they acquire the ownership of the dwelling-house, are already entitled to obtain possession if the tenant is unable to prove that his hardship would be greater than theirs. It is necessary to remember that the burden is upon the tenant and not upon the landlord to show that he would suffer greater hardship. Therefore, it is unnecessary to make the Clause into something which it is not and which it has never purported to be. In my view, it is right to retain the words which the House originally approved and leave it, as it was intended to be, as a Clause for the protection of owner-occupiers under their umbrella.
I am happy to follow the hon. and learned Member for [column 715]Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin), because he has reminded the House of the purpose of the Clause and, in so doing, has answered the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) in relation to greater hardship. I appreciate that the Clause was brought forward for the limited purpose, which I am sure was welcomed throughout the House, of enabling the person going away to be able to take a tenant into his house in the knowledge that at a particular time he could return, whether from abroad or from elsewhere in this country, and regain possession without going through the courts and proving greater hardship. If, as the Clause requires, the landlord must at the time notify the tenant that he intends to rely upon this Clause, the tenant goes into the tenancy with his eyes open. It is surely, reasonable that as wide a scope as possible should be given to the landlord and to those who should be able to take what is, after all, the landlord's house back at a later stage?
However, I acknowledge that this is not an easy matter. I do not think that any of the three sets of words are perfect. The Amendment to the Lord's Amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), if anything, veers too wide in its use of the word “family” , which could cover a third or even a fourth cousin. On the other hand, the words at present in the Bill are too narrow. Although I appreciate the Government's argument that the words of the Lords Amendment restrict it to the landlord's wife, his widow or his child, I still think that they are the best of the various sets of words which have been used and that they in fact widen the definition approved by this House, in that they do not require those close relatives of the owner-occupier to have lived with him when he last occupied the house, but nevertheless they do not widen it to the extent of bringing in various other relatives who could go to the courts to attempt to prove hardship.
If the Lords Amendment is to be disagreed to, the Clause will say specifically that those who can recover are either
“the owner-occupier or any member of his family who resided with the owner-occupier when he last occupied the dwelling-house” .[column 716]
The words “last occupied the dwelling-house” are open to various interpretations. Do the words of the Bill as approved by the House means that, unless the member of the family was living with the owner-occupier at the time he gave up possession, that member of the family will not be able to obtain possession? I give as an example an adult son who, having lived all his life in the house, goes away for a period of some months or a year to another part of the country. Is he to be regarded as having occupied the house along with his father when his father last resided there, or is he not covered by the Clause?
To give another example, are university students to be deemed to be residing with their father when they are away at university? They have at some stage resided with him or occupied the house, but the Clause requires that they should have resided there
“when he last occupied the dwelling-house” .
If that means anything, it presumably means they must be residing there at the time he gives up occupation. Therefore, it seems that the Clause as originally approved by this House unnecessarily restricts those members of a family who would be able to return to a house should something happen to the owner occupier.
In Committee a great deal of sympathy was expressed by hon. Members on both sides for the deserted spouse. She comes into the Clause, although perhaps in a slightly different way. Presumably a wife who has been separated from her husband for a time and who later becomes reconciled with him would have no right to obtain possession of the house if her husband then died, because she would not have been living there when he last occupied it under the Clause.
My final example is that of a man who goes away from the house for a short time and who marries during that period: Is it to be seriously said that on marrying him his wife is not entitled to feel that she has a right to go to what is their house, although temporarily her husband has moved away from it? Let us assume that the man goes abroad for a short time and there marries. Should he die, why should not his widow be entitled to the same right to obtain possession as she would have had had she married him two days before he moved out of the house? [column 717]
I do not suggest that it is an easy matter. I appreciate the arguments against all three sets of words. However, having accepted the principle that people should be encouraged to let their premises, the best method of keeping it as wide as is reasonable would be to approve of the words in the Lords Amendment rather than the words originally approved by the House.
Mrs. Margaret Thatcher Finchley)
We have had a fairly long debate, but this is a very important group of Amendments. The debate has shown how strongly hon. Members on both sides of the House feel about those who were left out of the Clause in its original form and whom we wish to include in the benefit of the Clause by way of the Amendments.
I wish to emphasise the points stressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle). The Clause cannot be brought into operation unless two fairly restrictive conditions are satisfied. The first condition is that the person through whom title is claimed was the owner of the house and occupied the house. That restricts the number who can claim, if they are claiming through him. The second condition is that the owner-occupier created a tenancy on condition that the tenant would get out when the owner-occupier wanted to return—that he gave notice to the tenant to this effect so that all the time the tenant knew that his occupation was likely to be temporary and took over the premises on those precise conditions and circumstances. Those are the only two conditions on which the Clause and the Amendment can begin to come into operation.
The purpose, according to the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin), is to enable certain people to get round the greater hardship provisions of the 1933 Act for undisputed title, without having to go through the courts and have the greater hardship proved on their part. The question is, who are those people? This is where we differ. It has come out in debate that there are certain widows and children of the owner-occupier who are not covered by the Clause but who would be covered by the Lords Amendment and by our Amendment.
When a man purchases a house he does not purchase it merely for himself but for his wife and, even more important, for his [column 718]immediate family. It becomes the family home. No one outside this House would suggest that a child who has been born while the owner-occupier is temporarily away from the family home has any less title to possession than a child who happened to be born while the owner-occupier was in occupation of the home.
If the family moved from, say, London to Glasgow, the man in discussing his home with his children would not say to the two who were born before he moved, “It is your home” and to the other, born after he moved, “It is not your home” . It would be the family home, and we are anxious to see that all widows and all children of owner-occupiers should be able to claim recovery through the Clause and should not have to go through the greater hardship provisions. That is not satisfied by the Clause as it stands, although it would be satisfied by the Lords Amendment.
It is said that, in any event, those people not covered by the Clause could go through the hardship provisions of the 1933 Act, but those provisions apply only to the landlord who is applying for occupation of the house as a residence either for himself or son or daughter who is over 18 years of age, or his father or mother. They do not apply, therefore, to an application for a son or daughter who is under 18 years of age.
There may be the case of a family tragedy, where the husband and wife have been killed and where they have left two children born after they left their home. The home is required for those two children—so that they may be brought up in it and so on—by another member of the family, but they cannot get possession of it under the greater hardship provisions and those children would, therefore, not be covered either by the Clause or the greater hardship provisions.
Is the hon. Lady referring to children under 18?
Yes. Those over 18 I mentioned earlier. This means that a child who is orphaned by a tragedy is made to suffer again by the provisions of this Measure. At present those children would have the right to recover possession. This Bill would deprive them [column 719]of that right. Thus, their position is being worsened by the Bill as drafted.
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock)—who I regret is no longer in his place—wondered what the expression “family” included. I do not see why I should have to do other hon. Member's homework. Indeed, they should not rise to speak before having done their homework. I have tried to find the widest definition of the expression in the landlord and tenant Acts. It can be found in Halsbury's Statutes, Vol. 13, page 1,003. In a footnote, it refers to it having been held that “family” includes brothers and sisters, husband, niece or nephew by blood, adopted child, even though not legally adopted——
Grandchildren have not been mentioned. They would be included in the Clause if they had resided in the house, but not if they had not resided there.
The other interpretation is of a child of the family in relation to one or both of the parties, including an illegitimate or adopted child. The whole tendency of legislation in recent years has been to extend the responsibility of the father towards the members of his family by extending the definition of “family” . Although the Clause has a wider definition of “family” , it deliberately restricts the people who can benefit from it.
We believe that the most important thing of all is that any widow of the owner-occupier and any child should have the right to claim possession of the house, which is their home, and therefore——
If they reside there.
The Minister could not have listened to what I was saying. I was pointing out that it would be their home; that they would always treat it as their home. If their father has been temporarily absent or if there has been a tragedy of the sort I described, they will still regard it as the family home. Indeed, that might be so by the will of the father. The Lords Amendment would cure the existing defect in the Clause, a defect which we consider to be a considerable one. The Amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for [column 720]Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) would also cure it and add a number of other people who are members of the family.
My remarks apply more forcibly where it is furnished accommodation. Our Amendment would bring the position for furnished accommodation into line with what we are suggesting for unfurnished accommodation.
Earlier in the debate the right hon. Gentleman the Minister made great play with certain phrases. He said that the Bill would provide a pillow of security. But the children about whom I am speaking cannot even get possession of the house, let alone of the pillow, let alone lay their heads on it. That is because the Clause prevents them from doing so. The right hon. Gentleman used other phrases and I can only turn them back on him. Why is he determined to prevent certain widows and children from claiming the house provided for them by the father? I leave him with that question.
Compared with the last important Amendment we discussed, this Amendment cannot be claimed to involve a principle which is causing difficulty between us. We are, rather, in the great problem us. We are, rather, in the great problem that often arises when one makes a concession. Whenever a concession is made one's advisers always say, “They will press you to push the concession further” , and the fear is that what one was trying to do will be destroyed.
I would not pretend that what is being sought would destroy the Clause, but it is, nevertheless, true that a concession made for a certain purpose is made for that purpose, while the Amendment would transform it from its original aim. The concession was originally for owner occupiers. We felt that there was a special case and that we should ensure that if the owner-occupier let his house to a tenant he should be able to get back into his home. We started from that basic presupposition, trying to create conditions for it. I was anxious to extend it as far as I could. I did not want it only for fixed-term leases, the House will remember, and we dealt with all. We widened it as far as we possibly could for the owner-occupier.
Then, not unreasonably, it was put to me from both sides that we could not do this just for the owner-occupier but [column 721]there must be member of the family who ought to be allowed to gain repossession. So we had the extra references. But how far can one take it beyond the single person, the owner-occupier, and others of his family? It is at this point, of course, that every kind of difficulty comes in.
I have listened with attention to the legal arguments. If I understand the matter aright, the Lords Amendment, though it widens the Clause in one way, narrows it in another, because, although it will give the right to the wife and child, the mother who lives there, whom we had already covered, is excluded by the Amendment. Thus, the situation is made worse for some relatives and better for others. I cannot believe that this would be a great improvement to put into the Bill.
Now, the second argument. Why can not we just say, “all members of the family” ? I must make clear that, once we say “all members of the family” , even if we take the definition of “family” as being as narrow as the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) said it is—I think it is a good deal wider than that before one finishes with it—we begin to transform the character of the Clause altogether because one then has to take the house not just as a home. I ask the House to come back to the concept of the man in his home and the right to regain possession of the home after he has been away. Now, it is said that we ought to say that not just the man in the home but anybody who is related ought to be allowed to have the property back.
I can accept neither the narrow meaning of the Lords Amendment nor the excessive widening. I am beginning to feel that we were not too bad where we were, It is true, of course, that the Bill in its present form will exclude some people. There will be hard cases. There is no way of doing it which will not create that kind of difficulty. Although the hon. Lady was very stirring, as she always is, and very convincing about it, I must tell the House that there is no way of writing the Clause which will get over the difficulty. Not one of these propositions would avoid difficulties of this kind.
I come back to the final point. The hon. Lady spoke of the pillow of security and she said that I had used [column 722]that expression. Yes, I did, but not for landlords—for tenants. Throughout the whole of this discussion about the position of the owner-occupier, his wife and children, his grandmother, his aunt and his cousin, and how we ought to protect all their rights, there has been no mention of the rights of the tenant.
Wait a minute. In this Clause we have, I think, legitimately narrowed his rights.
The Minister is wrong.
I must be allowed to finish. Will the hon. Gentleman listen to the argument before saying that it is nonsense? Quite deliberately, we have in this Clause narrowed the rights of the tenant. We have denied him the test of greater hardship; he cannot go to the court now and claim greater hardship. All I am saying is that, in view of the fact of owner-occupation and the clear obligation under the letter of the Clause which we have written, it was reasonable to deny the tenant for the sake of the owner-occupier. But, once we widen it again, I begin to wonder where we are, and I think again of greater hardship. It comes back if we bring in not only the owner-occupier but any member of his family.
In reply to what the hon. Lady said, I can well imagine the case of a tenant who was a divorcee or to whom a tragedy had occurred. We should have to measure one against the other. I agree that we are not measuring one against the other here, but, having excluded the right of the tenant, as we have in this way, we must try to make it fool-proof, narrowing it to absolutely cast-iron limits. This, therefore, raises the question——
I am giving plenty of time. Let the hon. Gentleman listen to the argument.
That is not the argument. What the Minister has said is inaccurate. I am quite prepared to admit that he was not listening to my speech, but he ought to have heard me refer specifically to the point he is now raising. I referred to respect for the rights of the tenant in the house and the fact that, by this Bill, we [column 723]were diminishing the rights of the owner as against the inalienable rights of the tenant to succession in possession.
I am glad to know that the hon. Gentleman and I see eye to eye at least on this Clause. I believe that we are probably the only two people in the House who, throughout the discussion, have realised that tenants must be allowed rights at all. We are reducing the rights of tenants quite dangerously. I think [column 724]that we are right to do it, but I am not prepared to do it to the extent of allowing an unlimited number of people to claim proprietary rights in the house.
I advise the House to reject the Amendment.
Question put, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment:—
The House divided: Ayes 199, Noes 163.