HC Deb 27 May 1919 vol 116 cc1152-5

If any owner of a house in respect of which a closing order is in force lets or attempts to let or occupies or permits to be occupied that house or any part thereof as a dwelling-house, he shall on summary conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding twenty pounds.


I beg to move, after the word "force," to insert the words or any other person. This Amendment is necessary because it may be observed that in certain Metropolitan boroughs, particularly in the borough of Kensington, in respect to these closing orders, re-letting may be undertaken by some person other than the owner, and the house may be farmed out by such person. Those persons ought properly to be included in this penalty for re-letting a house which is under a closing order. Therefore, it is necessary that the words "or any other person" should be inserted.

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move, at the end of the Clause, to add the words for each day or part of a, day that the House or part thereof continues to be occupied by any person, after a closing order has been made. The object is to make more drastic the penalty for re-letting a house that has been ordered to be closed. The Clause as. it stands is not sufficiently drastic.

Captain BAYLEY

I beg to second the Amendment.


I find myself here, as I was in Committee, having to resist greater powers being thrust upon us. It should be observed that under the Clause which makes it a penal offence for anyone to re-let a house subject to a closing order, the fine is one of £20. Many of these people are quite unsubstantial and impecunious people, and that would be a very substantial penalty. I undertake to say that if we do not find that this penalty is enough, I shall not hesitate to come to this House and ask for a higher penalty. I think the penalty which the hon. Member proposes would be a bit too stiff.


I hope the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider that point. It does not say that it is to be a fine of £20 for each day. It says it is to be a fine not exceeding £20 for each day. Therefore it is within the discretion of the Court to say that it may be a penny per day, £1 per day, or anything up to £20 for each day. There are cases in which a fine of £20 is totally inadequate, and it ought to be within the power of the Court to inflict a much more serious fine. This Clause would give power to the Court to do so. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider this matter as, apparently, he misunderstood the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.


I beg to move, at the end of the Clause, to add the words Nothing in this Section shall prevent an owner letting or leasing for the purpose of putting such house in habitable condition or pulling down or rebuilding. I know that there are many cases where a, house that has been closed can be let or put into habitable condition, but in this Clause you prevent this being let for the purpose of pulling down. Many people enter into a contract for pulling down, and it seems to me that you are putting upon them a Clause which is undesirable. It may be a great advantage for the purpose of housing, and for the purpose of getting a house put into a better condition if there is some such proviso as I suggest. It would even prevent an owner letting his house for a term or any long period. A leasing is a letting. I mentioned this in Committee; I did not move anything, but just indicated that there should be some proviso, so that a house that was in bad condition and had been closed might be repaired. The Clause does not say that the owner may not sell, but the leasing of that house is a letting, even if it is to be pulled down, and there should be something to enable houses that are closed to be let for the purpose of being put into habitable condition. It may be said that it would give a loophole, but I do not think that is so, because the proviso is so definite. You may have a row of houses which were condemned, not because the sanitation was bad, but because the roof or floors are bad, and it may be quite possible to make those houses habitable, and at the present time you want all the facilities you can get, even when you have closed houses, to put them into habitable sanitary condition. I have got in my mind at present some cottages which had been closed because the roofs had become defective, and the rain pours into those places, because the owner has not been able to repair them during the War, and they have been closed. Those houses happen to belong to a poor person who cannot do anything to them, but if those houses were let, and they were put into habitable condition, they would give housing for four or five families.


I beg to second the Amendment.

I have in mind some houses which had been empty for fully thirty years. They were quite good houses, and only want something done to them to make them habitable in every way, and this Amendment would enable such cases to be dealt with, which sometimes happens through the owner not being known or being a bit old-fashioned.


I sympathise entirely with the object of my two hon. Friends, but by reference to Clause 22 they will see that a local authority has power to give financial assistance to anyone desiring to reconstruct houses, which goes a long way to meet the very cases that have been mentioned, and all the things that have been mentioned by both my hon. Friends are perfectly possible. If the houses are worth repairing, assistance can be received in two or three ways under this Bill Those operations are in no way prevented by this Clause, because both my hon. Friends have omitted the governing, important words, "Attempts to let … as a dwelling house." Those are the governing words. If you let the house to somebody to pull down or to make it habitable you are not letting it as a dwelling-house; you are letting it simply to be repaired, and you can sell it or do anything you like with it in that respect, so that the words suggested are quite unnecessary.


The point is that as the lease may be for the purposes of a dwelling-house, but as the right hon. Gentleman says that this Clause will not prohibit such a course as I have indicated I will withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.