Maunsell v Olins

JurisdictionUK Non-devolved
JudgeLord Reid,Viscount Dilhorne,Lord Wilberforce,Lord Diplock,Lord Simon of Glaisdale
Judgment Date27 November 1974
Judgment citation (vLex)[1974] UKHL J1127-1
Date27 November 1974
CourtHouse of Lords
Olins (A.P.) and Another (A.P.)

[1974] UKHL J1127-1

Lord Reid

Viscount Dilhorne

Lord Wilberforce

Lord Diplock

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

House of Lords

Lord Reid

My Lords,


I have had an opportunity of reading the speech of my noble and learned friend, Lord Wilberforce. I agree with it and I shall only add some further observations.


The construction of section 18 of the Rent Act, 1968, is unusually difficult. Differences of opinion shew that it is thought to be capable of having more than one meaning, and I regard it as ambiguous.


It occurs in a Consolidation Act. Draftsmen of such Acts rephrase the original statutory provisions which are to be consolidated but they are well aware that it is their duty not to make any substantial alteration of the existing law and there is a very strong presumption that they have not done so. So where the Consolidation Act is ambiguous it is, in my judgment, always permissible and often necessary to go back to the original Act, in this case section 41 of the Housing Repairs and Rents Act, 1954.


There can be no doubt that the primary purpose of that section was to reverse the decision in Cow v. Casey [1949] 1 K.B. 474. Often a Department in such circumstances takes advantage of the opportunity to make a more extensive alteration of the law than is necessary to reverse the decision. Often it does not. I do not think that in this case there is any presumption in favour of either of these courses.


Then rules of construction are relied on. They are not rules in the ordinary sense of having some binding force. They are our servants not our masters. They are aids to construction, presumptions or pointers. Not infrequently one "rule" points in one direction, another in a different direction. In each case we must look at all relevant circumstances and decide as a matter of judgment what weight to attach to any particular "rule".


I fully accept that a word should be given its ordinary meaning unless there is sufficient reason to give it in the particular case a secondary or limited meaning. Here the difficult word is "premises". The case for the Respondent is that it should here be given a limited meaning, and the question as I see it is whether there is sufficient reason for doing that. I shall not repeat the reasons adduced by my noble and learned friend. But it appears to me that section 41 of the 1954 Act itself contains a fairly clear pointer to the word "premises" being intended to be limited to premises of a residential character.


Section 41 directs us to suppose that in lieu of the superior letting there had been two lettings, one of the sub-let part and one of the rest of the subjects in the superior lease, and it further directs us to suppose (as I read the section) that the subjects of each of these two supposed lettings were let "for the like purposes as under the superior letting". If the purposes under the superior letting were residential purposes there is no difficulty—the purpose for the sub-let part was in the original lease residential, it remains residential and the Rent Acts apply.


But this part of the section causes some difficulty if the purpose of the superior letting was not residential but was, say, agricultural. Suppose that a farm to be let includes several cottages all occupied by farm workers. One would I think naturally say that the whole original lease or "superior letting" had only one purpose which was agricultural. It would at least be unusual to say that it had two purposes—residential as regards the farmer's house and the cottages and agricultural as regards the land and the other buildings. I would think that if one of the cottages is sub-let to a person who has no connection with the farm, there is a change of purpose. But the section will not work unless it can be said that there were two purposes in the original lease so that the purpose of letting the house and cottage was residential and not agricultural. I do not regard this as a conclusive argument but it is I think a fairly clear indication that the draftsman did not have in mind any "superior letting" other than a letting for residential purposes.


Finally I think this is a typical case for the application of the "rule" that a court, in doubt between two constructions of a statutory provision, should lean towards that construction which involves the least alteration of the common law.


I would dismiss this appeal.

Viscount Dilhorne

My Lords,


I have had the advantage of reading the speech of my noble and learned friend, Lord Wilberforce, and I agree with him that this appeal should be dismissed.


The event which led to the enactment of section 41 of the Housing Repairs and Rents Act, 1954, now replaced by section 18(5) of the Rent Act, 1968, clearly was the decision in Cow v Casey [1949] 1 K.B.474. That was the "mischief" which section 41 was designed to cure, and while Parliament may, of course, have intended to do more than just cure the mischief, that should not be readily assumed and I see nothing in section 41 that leads me to that conclusion. The Agricultural Holdings Act, 1948, contains a separate code for dealing with agricultural holdings. It gives power to the Minister to make regulations dealing with the situation where a tenant of such a holding has sublet a dwelling house on a protected tenancy, and the superior tenancy has been lawfully determined. No such regulations have been made and it would, indeed, be surprising to me if Parliament, in an Act dealing with housing and rents, had intended section 41 to apply to agricultural holdings, that no reference should be made to such a holding. Unless the word "premises" in section 41 of the 1954 Act and in section 18 (5) of the 1968 Act is to be interpreted as applying to the subject-matter of the superior letting, whatever that subject-matter may be, the argument that those sections apply where the superior letting is an agricultural holding must fail.


"Premises" is an ordinary word of the English language which takes colour and content from the context in which it is used. A reference to Stroud's Judicial Dictionary shows this to be the case. It has, in my opinion, no recognised and established primary meaning. Frequently it is used in relation to structures of one kind or another. No one would, I think, in the ordinary use of the English language refer to farm land as premises though farm buildings may often be referred to as farm premises. I do not think that it is right, when Parliament uses that word in a statute to conclude that it is intended to have the meaning that conveyancers attach to it unless a contrary intention appears. It is for these reasons that, in my opinion, whatever may be the scope of section 41 and section 18(5), it does not extend to include a superior letting of an agricultural holding. Such a holding is not "premises" in the sense in which that word is used in the sections.


My noble and learned friend, Lord Wilberforce, goes on to consider what the word "premises" in these sections should be taken to mean. In my opinion, it means "dwelling houses". They are what the 1954 Act and the 1968 Act were concerned with and, in my view, the dwelling houses which are covered by the word "premises" are those which for the purposes of these Acts are treated as such. But if that is not right, then I think that the word should be given the slightly wider meaning of "buildings". It is often used in that sense. Whether it covers, as I think, dwelling houses in the sense in which those words are used in those Acts or means buildings, it is another thing to say that it covers acres of arable and pasture land and to say that just by the use of that one word, it is to be concluded that Parliament meant the section to encroach on the sphere of the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1948.


Our task is to interpret the sections "according to the intent of them that made it" ( Coke 4 Inst: 330). It is not for us to decide whether a sub-tenant with a protected tenancy on a farm, the subject of the superior letting, should be placed in the same position as a sub-tenant of a dwelling house on a protected tenancy when that sub-tenancy has been carved out of the tenancy of a dwelling house or other building which is not protected. That involves questions of policy and all we have to do is to decide whether the sections apply in this case.


The use of the word "premises" is not, in my opinion, sufficient to justify the conclusion that Parliament intended to restrict the common law rights of the owner of the freehold of a farm.


Whey, then, it may be asked, was the word "premises" used in section 41? One can only speculate as to that and, as I have said, the wording closely follows that of the headnote in Cow v. Casey. The intention of Parliament could by the use of different and possibly more words have been put beyond doubt. Perhaps this is an instance where the desire for brevity in an enactment has led to litigation which might have been avoided. However this may be, in the process of consolidation, it would not, in my view, have been right to change the word from "premises" to something else and I accordingly attach no significance to the fact that that word is repeated in section 18(5) of the 1968 Act.


The fact that a different word or words might have been used does not lead me to the conclusion that premises in the sections covers an agricultural holding and, for the reasons I have stated, I think it does not.

Lord Wilberforce

My Lords,


The Appellants claim the protection of the Rent Act, 1968, in respect of their occupation of a cottage situated on a 106 acre farm in Devonshire. They are not employed on the farm. The question raised is of general importance both to owners of farms and to cottage occupiers. As will be seen it is not easy to decide.


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