HC Deb 01 November 1909 vol 12 cc1485-9

(1) In any contract made after the passing of this Act for letting for habitation by persons of the working classes a house or part of a house there shall be implied a condition that the house is at the commencement of the holding in all respects reasonably fit for human habitation.

(2) In this Section the expression "letting for habitation by persons of the working classes" means the letting for habitation of a house or part of a house at a rent not exceeding:—

  1. (a) in the case of a house situate in the administrative county of London, forty pounds;
  2. (b) in the case of a house situate in a borough or urban district with a population according to the last census for the time being of fifty thousand or upwards, twenty-six pounds;
  3. (c) in the case of a house situate elsewhere, sixteen pounds.

Lords Amendment: Leave out from "habitation" ["In any contract made after the passing of this Act for letting for habitation"] to "of" in Sub-section (2) ["means the letting for habitation of."]


I move to agree with the Lords in the said Amendment, which is purely drafting and verbal.


The right hon. Gentleman says it is purely drafting, but that is not the view which the Government took in the other House. They took the view that it was an important Amendment, and an important extension of the Bill. They resisted it then, but I am glad they have thought better of their action in the matter.

House agreed with Lords Amendment.

Lords Amendment: After "pounds," at end of Clause, insert "there shall be implied a condition that the house is at the commencement of the holding in all respects reasonable fit for human habitation, but the condition aforesaid shall not be implied when a house or part of a house is let for a term of not less than three years upon the terms that it be put by the lessee into a condition reasonably fit for occupation."


I wish to move to add at the end of the Lords Amendment, "and the lease is not determinable at the option of either party before the expiration of that term."

The object of my Amendment is to secure what the hon. Member behind me desires, and to prevent the occupier or the owner evading his responsibilities in the direction that, I believe, he will suggest.


I think the effect of the Lords Amendment is more far-reaching and objectionable than the President of the Local Government Board really appreciates. The Bill, as drafted, provided that in every case of letting a house for the purpose of being occupied by the working classes there should be an implied condition, first of all, that it is in a reasonable state of repair, and, secondly, under Clause 15, that it is to be kept in a reasonable state, and the Amendment that has been proposed in the other place excludes from that category all cases in which there is a tenancy of three years, and in which the tenant undertakes to carry out the necessary repairs. I think this may afford a loop-hole through which a great number of owners of property that is now inhabited by the working classes will evade the provisions of this Bill, and I fear if we agree to the words which are being inserted in the other place we may be committed to the exclusion of this particular class of houses. In all working-class dwellings there are four persons concerned. There is the freeholder, there is the owner, and the owner is the person who is held by law to be the person who takes the rack-rent. Then there is the tenant, and there is the subtenant. The subtenant is a person who, in the ordinary working-class dwellings, occupies one floor and very often one room, and in these very cases, and there are thousands of them in London and in the large towns, the tenant is not a bit above the ordinary occupiers of those rooms. He is a small man of no means. He very often takes the house for a short term of years, and he lets out all the rest of the house, with the exception of one or two rooms that he occupies, to other persons in that dwelling. The person who is always held to be responsible for the conduct of these houses is the owner. That is the man who lets to the tenant for a short term of years, and if under this Clause, as it is amended, the owner can escape from the obligation of keeping the house in repair and place the obligation upon the man who has taken the house, a poor man with no real power of carrying out that obligation, he will render this portion of this Act almost nugatory.

I believe the importance of this provision lies in the fact that, after it is passed, the ordinary owner of these working-class dwellings will feel the obligation cast upon him of seeing that they are kept in proper repair, and if he can shift this responsibility and put it on to the person who has taken the house from him under these conditions, he will do so. All he has to do is to grant a lease, which is very often three years, and to include in the lease the condition now proposed to be inserted that the tenant shall be responsible for repairs, and then the local authority will have no one to fall back upon at all that is worth powder and shot. The only person they are able to fall back upon is the ordinary tenant who takes these houses and lets them out in rooms, or in flats, in different floors. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman that he should not close the door to-day by accepting this Amendment, but that he should allow the House to disagree with the Amendment, and then in the ordinary course arrive at some more satisfactory conclusion. I cannot believe that the other House really intended to bring about the condition of affairs which I certainly think will arise if the exact provisions of this Clause are maintained, and I do not think the words which the right hon. Gentleman wishes to insert at the end at all meet my point. All they do is to say that there must be no words in the tenancy which will enable the Clause to be evaded by merely granting a lease with some conditions under which it can be terminated at much shorter notice. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will at any rate keep the door open, because I am convinced that if this is done tens of thousands of houses in our big towns will not enjoy the protection which was intended by the Bill as originally drafted.


My hon. Friend appeals to me not to close any door, but to avail myself of any open door between now and the final stages of this Bill, in both this and the other House, to see that an abuse of this is not made possible. That he can rely upon me doing, but the House must bear in mind what has been done by the Government in this Bill with regard to houses occupied by the working classes. We have raised the value in some cases from £8 to £16 and in others from £20 to £40 a year, a rent at which practically, with the exception of London, nearly all the working classes of the Kingdom will be included, and we moved this Amendment to the Lords Amendment because we are satisfied that in the event of either the owner or the occupier or the lessee attempting to evade responsibility by means of a three years' lease, that evasion would not be allowed, and the words I have added would prevent it. I appeal to my hon. Friend not to press his Amendment, but to rely upon my making still clearer and, if possible, still further strengthening this Clause against any possible abuse by anyone from anywhere.

Amendment made in Lords Amendment.