HC Deb 26 July 1935 vol 304 cc2185-90

Lords Amendment: In page 9, line 37, leave out from "dwelling-house" to end of Clause and insert: as to which the following conditions are satisfied, that is to say—

  1. (a) the house must be a house in which the occupier and his family can live without causing it to be overcrowded;
  2. (b) the local authority must certify the house to be suitable to the needs of the occupier and his family as respects security of tenure and proximity to place of work and otherwise and to be suitable in relation to his means; and
  3. 2186
  4. (c) if the house belongs to the local authority, they must certify it to be suitable as to the needs of the occupier and his family as respects extent of accommodation having regard to the standard specified in paragraph (ii) of section thirty-seven of the Act of 1930."

11.28 a.m.


I propose to ask the House to agree with the Lords in this Amendment. It puts in a new form of the definition of "suitable alternative accommodation" in Clause 12. There are only two slight changes. The House will see that paragraph (a) repeats what is in the original definition. Paragraph (b) adds the words "and otherwise" in order to make it possible for the local authority to take into account other factors than security of tenure and proximity to place of work. Paragraph (c) carries out the promise of the Government that where a local authority is rehousing it will adopt the standard of accommodation laid down in Section 37 of the 1930 Act.

11.29 a.m.


I beg to move, as an Amendment to, the Lords Amendment, to leave out "and otherwise."

I would like to ask for some explanation why these words were put in. If they are needed, should they not appear after the word "means" and not after "place of work"? The certificate to be given by the local authority is to cover the question of security of tenure suitable to the means of the family and otherwise. I imagine that any court of law which is construing the words "and otherwise" would construe them ejusdem generis with the words preceding. Therefore, the matters mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary as being capable of being taken into consideration by the local authority very probably might not be taken into consideration, and they might not have power to take them into consideration having regard to the words "and otherwise" being ejusdem generis with security of tenure and proximity to place of work. If that be the object, it will not, I think, be above all doubt that such matters as the Parliamentary Secretary has envisaged could possibly be taken into consideration, Three matters only are dealt with—security of tenure, proximity to place of work, and suitability to the means of the tenant. These are three specific questions. If we are to put on the words "and otherwise" the construction that the Parliamentary Secretary put on them, they will cover anything that the local authority likes to take into consideration. Therefore, these particular details are unnecessary. If, on the other hand, they are to cover only the matters referred to they are unnecessary. In the circumstances, I think that the words "and otherwise" put in there will land somebody into litigation. That is the one thing which is certain about it.

11.32 a.m.


I beg to second the Amendment to the Lords Amendment.

The Government are in this dilemma. Either the provision is so worded that we need not have this definition at all, and can just say that we leave it to the local authority in their absolute discretion, without giving any reasons, to say whether or not it is suitable accommodation. If it does not mean that, it has little or no effect at all. It does not appear to deal with points which I presume were intended to be covered by the Parliamentary Secretary when he said that this will allow the local authority to take other factors into account. He did not tell us what was the character of the factors which the Government wished the local authority to have power to take into account. This Parliament has gone a long way, even in the last four years' towards setting up bodies which are autocratic and have power to make legislation outside the control of this House and of the ordinary law courts. I submit that if it is to be suggested that the words "and otherwise" are to give absolute discretion to another body and to set it up as an autocratic, bureaucratic body to make its own laws and to enforce them, it is time this House put its foot down and put an end to it. On the other hand, if they do not, as I believe, do anything of the kind, the words are useless and will only give rise to litigation, not merely in an odd case for the purpose of getting a test decision, but in every case there will be the possibility of litigation in which poor people will be concerned and which we ought to keep outside the scope of this Bill.

11.34 a.m.


The mover of the Amendment failed to look at the problem from the point of view of persons who are to be moved from their accommodation, where perhaps they have been for many years and have become extremely attached to it, and only too often are to be very much inconvenienced by being shifted. It has been generally accepted in all housing legislation of recent years, for instance in the Rent Restriction Acts, that the State should not move a family from their home until it was able to put them into at least as good accommodation as that which they had been occupying. I am glad to hear that I have the support of the mover and the seconder of the Amendment. If we are to make the application of that principle as broad and wide as possible there will always be considerations over and above those met by the words of definition—short of the two additional words to which my hon. and learned Friend so strongly objects—which will have to be taken into account.

A great number of my constituents are, unfortunately, living in slums, in areas which ought to be improved off the face of the earth, living in dwellings which are a survival of the times of the old silk weavers in the East End of London 50 years ago. Those old weavers' rooms are large rooms and very convenient, in a way, for a family, but they are in houses which are worn out and ripe for clearance. It does not seem reasonable that the alternative accommodation offered to a family who have been living in those large rooms should take into account merely the number of rooms they have been occupying. If a family living in three of those large rooms were overcrowded, would it be fair to offer them three other rooms which would not provide sufficient accommodation for them? If this Measure is not to create hardship there must be great elasticity and very wide definition, because circumstances vary so much in different parts of the country. Conditions in London are very different from those in the country and regulations which would suit the North of England or the Midlands would cause extreme hardship in London or the southern counties. Therefore, I think the Government ought to hold to these words, and not give way to the fear of giving work to the very hard-pressed legal profession, if it be right to do what is suggested. Let the lawyers have a little work in these times of black-coated unemployment. I do not think the fears of my hon. and learned Friend should frighten the Solicitor-General and the Minister of Health, and I hope they will not give way.

11.37 a.m.


I was hoping the hon. Baronet would have given us a better example. As far as I could make out he has only proved that Free Trade has in the last 50 years ruined his constituents. If he will read the Lords Amendment he will see that the house must be one which will not be overcrowded as the result of the change, that it must be suitable to the needs of the occupier and his family, that there must be security of tenure, that it must be in proximity to his place of work and, finally, must be suitable in relation to his means. I was hoping the hon. Baronet would give us an example of something not covered by those words which would be met by the words "and otherwise". What kind of case do they cover? What I am afraid of is that such words will lead to the kind of litigation which has arisen over the Rent Restrictions Acts and has caused considerable trouble to landlords and tenants alike. I do not want a continuance of that litigation, but an Amendment which is so clear that there is not likely to be litigation over it.

11.38 a.m.

The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir Donald Somervell)

The Mover of this Amendment first of all raised the point that in his view the words are in the wrong place in the Lords Amendment, but I think he is wrong about that. He will see that the words in their present position qualify the words "to the needs of the occupier," and it is those words which it is intended they should qualify. There is a break in the construction there, because after the words "and otherwise" come the words "and to be suitable in relation to his needs"; but the widening of the Clause which it is intended to produce by the insertion of these words "and otherwise" is a widening in relation to the needs of the occupier. I think that the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) misread the Clause, because he seemed to think that, as drafted, it enabled the local authority first to take into account the needs of the occupier and his family, then security of tenure, and then proximity to his place of work. If that were the construction of the Clause I can quite see his reason for suggesting that the words "and otherwise" ought not to be inserted, but without the words "and otherwise" the only needs of the occupier which can be taken into account are security of tenure and proximity to his place of work.

My hon. and learned Friend was afraid that the ejusdem generis rule would limit the construction of these words, but I find it difficult to see how that can be so, because to apply the ejustem generis rule you have to find a genus in the preceding words, and the preceding words deal with security of tenure and proximity to place of work, two different factors. Therefore, I do not think it would be possible to cut down these words "and otherwise," by this rule so as to make them meaning less. What they do is to oblige the local authority to satisfy itself, generally, that the alternative accommodation is suitable having regard to the needs of the family. If the words are left out they are tied to the two factors alone and are unable to take into account other factors which it might be proper to take into account in individual cases. If there are no other factors the only factors which do arise are met in the Clause, but there may be other factors, and it is with the idea of seeing that people do get suitable accommodation that we recommend the House to keep the words in.

Amendment to Lords Amendment negatived.

Subsequent Lords Amendments to page 13, line 32, agreed to.