I beg to move, in page 14, line 20, after "form," to insert:and shall serve a copy of the certificate on the landlord.
§ Mr. McInnes
On a point of order. There is an Amendment to Clause 16 on the Order Paper in the name of some of my right hon. and hon. Friends and 1338 myself. Is it not being called? During the Committee stage, the Secretary of State gave an undertaking that Members would be provided with a copy of the prescribed notice dealt with in Clause 16. This would be an invaluable document to Members, but it has not been made available. I think we are entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will keep faith with the undertaking which he then gave.
Although I think that the particular Amendment to which the hon. Gentleman has referred is in order, it is not selected.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) has no quarrel with the Chair, and I am sure would not attempt to pursue it if he had, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but he has pointed out that the Secretary of State undertook that this document should be made available to us, and that it has not been made available. Could we have your advice as to what remedy we have?
§ 6.15 p.m.
The effect of the Amendment is that a local authority, having granted a certificate of disrepair to a tenant, will serve a copy of the certificate direct upon the landlord, and that, of course, saves the tenant from having to do it himself. It meets a suggestion which was put forward by the hon. and learned Member for Paisley (Mr. D. Johnston) during the Committee stage.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. Willis
I beg to move, in page 14, line 21, at the end, to insert:A local authority shall not be precluded from issuing a certificate that the house is unfit for human habitation because they have been unable due to the housing shortage in their area to provide alternative accommodation.The purpose of the Amendment is to clarify the position concerning a very large number of houses all over Scotland. These houses are known by the local authorities to be unfit for human habitation, but the local authorities have not served any certificates to the effect that they are unfit because of the fact that they have been unable to rehouse the tenants. In Edinburgh, when a survey was made in 1946, it was found that 6,800 houses were unfit for human habitation, and, since then, no doubt, there has been quite a number more. On making inquiries about these houses, I found that the local authority has a list of the houses, but that neither the tenants nor the landlord is aware which these houses are.
Under the terms of the Bill, in spite of the new Clause and the new Schedule which the Government have introduced, making it necessary, in certain cases, for the landlord to go to the local authority for a certificate before he issues a notice of increased rent, it seems that a large number of these houses are still in the category in which the landlord can issue a demand to increase the rent.
Obviously, the intention of the Government, as expressed by their spokesman, is that there should be no liability to pay any increase in rent in these cases. How are we to get over this difficulty? The local authority is unable to act because it has never informed either the tenant or the landlord, owing to the fact that the authority was unable to rehouse the tenants of these houses.
1340 The Amendment seeks to protect the tenants, and to place the local authority in the position to inform the tenants so as to save tenants having to go through the procedure outlined in Part II to avoid paying the increase. If the Government want to protect thousands of tenants—this Amendment does not apply simply to Edinburgh, although I know the position in Edinburgh better than any other—from the possibility of rent increases to which they are not liable and save the tenants the bother of going through this procedure, they ought to accept this or some similar Amendment.
§ Mr. Thomas Oswald (Edinburgh, Central)
I beg to second the Amendment.
We find ourselves in a rather delicate situation. Local authorities are debarred, in many instances, from issuing a certificate on an unfit house because they are unable to give alternative accommodation to the people concerned. Throughout the Scottish region the number of unfit houses is becoming a real problem for local authorities. In 1946, nearly 6,800 houses in Edinburgh were regarded as completely unfit. I am repeating the words of the Secretary of State for Scotland, given in a reply to me. He said that a survey by the Edinburgh Corporation had shown in 1946 that 6,781 houses could be regarded as completely unfit. At a later stage we discovered that 39,108 houses in Edinburgh were looked upon as substandard but not necessarily unfit.
A number of years have passed since 1946, but the position becomes increasingly worse. We do not see why local authorities should not be entitled, having issued a certificate to both tenant and landlord, to declare that a particular property is completely unfit. I mentioned, during the Committee stage, that there are properties that, with all the will in the world, we would find it impossible to rescue, as suggested in the documents coming from the Government. We are very much concerned with the situation wherein there are houses which we know to be unfit, but have not been declared unfit and no certificate has been issued.
We are trying to safeguard our people in this respect. They ought to know that their houses are unfit and that they cannot be called upon to pay anything like the 40 per cent. increase for the carrying out of repairs that the tenants have paid 1341 for over and over again in the past, although no repairs have been carried out. We press the Government to consider the Amendment and give local authorities an opportunity of submitting certificates of that character.
There is a little misapprehension and misunderstanding here. Clause 17 (1) deals with local authorities having a duty to issue a certificate, on application. If a house is unfit there is no discretion left to the local authority. Upon the tenant applying for it and upon the local authority ascertaining that the house is unfit, the local authority has a duty, under the subsection, to issue a certificate of disrepair. The inability of the local authority to provide alternative accommodation does not arise under the subsection. In the circumstances, perhaps the hon. Gentleman would withdraw his Amendment.
§ Mr. Willis
Oh, no. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is dodging the issue by telling us that the Amendment does not fit in with the subsection. It is true that if the tenant makes application the local authority cannot refuse a certificate. Our point is that the local authority already has the information that the house is unfit for human habitation. It is possible that a large number of houses is affected, because in Edinburgh there are between 7,000 and 8,000. It is quite possible that quite a number of people will not know of the provisions of this Measure and will not make application, in spite of the fact that they are living in houses which are unfit for habitation. They will be subject to the provisions of Part II, which allows the landlord to increase the rent by 40 per cent.
Surely an opportunity should be provided to the local authority to inform tenants that their houses are unfit and so save tenants' having to use this procedure and ensure their obtaining the right which the Government think they ought to obtain, of being excluded from the operation of this Part of the Bill. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman did not face up to that position in his reply.
§ Amendment negatived.
I beg to move, in page 14, line 21, at the end, to insert:(2) Where the local authority have served a notice under section seven of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1950, requiring the execution 1342 of works on a dwelling-house in respect of which a notice of increase has been served under the last foregoing section, they shall, as soon as the first-mentioned notice becomes operative, certify accordingly in the prescribed form and shall serve a copy of the certificate on the landlord and on the tenant of the dwelling-house; and the certificate shall come into force as from the date of such service on the landlord.It might be for the convenience of the House if this Amendment could be considered together with others on the Order Paper relating to the same matter, in page 14, lines 23 and 33—the second one—and page 15, line 10.
The effect of these Amendments is to place on the local authority the duty to issue a certificate whenever they have served a notice under Section 7 of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1950. I hope the Amendments will meet to a considerable extent the point which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) made in his last speech. The certificate is to have the same effect as a certificate of disrepair under subsection (1) of the Clause enabling the repairs increase, together with the 1920 increase in the case of the old controlled houses, to be withheld.
I hope the House will feel that this is valuable for the tenant, who gets the certificate without having to apply for it. The Amendments meet to some extent points made in the Committee, when it was maintained by hon. Gentlemen opposite that all the duty was on the tenant. We are changing the balance a bit and I hope that will meet with the commendation of the House.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. D. Johnston (Paisley)
I think the House will agree that the idea behind the first Amendment is fundamentally sound. Indeed, I think it was made in response to a point raised in Committee by my right hon. and hon. Friends. But, of course, it does not go very far, because a certificate cannot be granted under Section 7 of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1950, unless the house isunfit for human habitation but"—and this is important—is capable at a reasonable expense of being rendered fit for human habitation …1343 The result of that will be that certificates will only be granted under the 1950 Act in the case of the better houses. The result will be that the worst housed of our population will themselves have to take the initiative in going to the local authority and getting the necessary certificate of disrepair. The better housed of our population, that is, those who live in houses which arecapable at a reasonable expense of being rendered fit for human habitationwill not require to go to the local authority, because, under this subsection, the local authority itself will be able to take the initiative.
That is unfortunate, and I think it is the more unfortunate when one looks at provisions of this type in the earlier Rent Acts. For example, under Section 22 of the 1920 Act—which I see is noted in the Schedule for repeal—it was possible for the local sanitary authority to initiate matters and to issue a certificate if they were satisfied thateither"—and I emphasise the word either—the house was not reasonably fit for human habitation or was not in a reasonable state of repair.That conferred a very much greater benefit upon the tenant than does this Clause.
Under the earlier Acts, it was also possible for a local authority to take the initiative under the Public Health (Scotland) Act, 1897, and, if a local authority took that initiative, the certificate under that Act had the effect of stopping the increase of rent.
I should like the Government to explain why they have narrowed the broad provisions of the earlier Rent Acts and why they have confined a certificate to be granted on the initiative of the local authority to those under Section 7 of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1950, which, as I explained earlier, are very narrow and only apply to those houses which arecapable at a reasonable expense of being rendered fit for human habitation.In my submission, the Clause, while acceptable in its general principle, is far too narrow.
The hon. and learned Gentleman has put certain questions to me which, with the permission of 1344 the House, I will try to answer. It must be realised that the whole situation is changed, by this Bill, from that which previously existed. Local authorities will now be able to come in to an extent which they were unable to do before, and to take over the houses and deal with them. That makes a complete change in the situation.
I feel that the houses—though it is impossible to be accurate in these matters—about which the hon. and learned Gentleman spoke, the worst houses, on which he laid stress, are just the houses which the local authorities will take over, and in that way they will be amply protected. I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that the field has changed, as he can see for himself, and, therefore, the provisions which were essential at other times are now no longer essential. I think that the Amendment meets the situation as far as we are able to meet it.
§ Mr. Johnston
While the situation has changed, and while it may well be that the worst houses will be taken over under Part I of the Bill, is it not probable that certain of those houses will not be taken over for some years, indeed if ever, and, accordingly, should not provision be made in this part of the Bill for a certificate granted under the earlier Acts to operate?
The certificate under the 1923 Act is still operative in relation to those houses, as is stated in the Amendment.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
I beg to move, in page 14, line 21, at the end, to insert:(2) Where a landlord has been refused a certificate from the local authority that both the conditions justifying an increase of rent are fulfilled in accordance with the provisions of Schedule (Modifications of Part II of Act in Application to Certain Classes of Dwelling-house) the local authority shall issue a certificate to the tenant and the landlord in like manner as in the foregoing subsection.I think that this is a necessary Amendment. Subsection (1) of Clause 17 provides for the tenant going to the local authority for a certificate stating that the two conditions justifying an increase in rent have not been fulfilled. As was explained to us during the Committee stage, if such a certificate is issued, not only does the tenant not have to pay the 40 per cent. increase, but the current rent 1345 is reduced by the amount of the rent increases imposed under the 1920 Act.
This Amendment calls attention to the new Clause and to the new Schedule which have been added to the Bill, under which, in respect of certain classes of property, the landlord is required to go to the local authority to get a certificate stating that the conditions are fulfilled before he can get the increase in rent. The Amendment proposes that if the landlord is unable to get a certificate showing that the conditions have been fulfilled in order to justify an increase in rent, then, automatically, a certificate will be issued in like manner as on application it is issued under subsection (1) to the tenant and to the landlord, so that, as it were, in going to the local authority in respect of certain classes of houses, the landlord will be taking a gamble. He will either get a certificate and, therefore, receive his 40 per cent. increase in rent, or he will not get a certificate and will receive the present rent less the increases imposed under the 1920 Act.
It seems to all of us on this side of the House that if this Amendment is not accepted there will be three classes of houses, those that will have the old rent, the pre-1920 rent, because a certificate has, been issued under subsection (1); those which will have the 40 per cent. increase because the certificate will be issued under the provisions of the new Schedule, and those which are obviously not in good repair because the local authority were unable to issue a certificate under the new Schedule, and yet the tenants of which would be called upon to pay the current rent. We think that the tenants should be protected, and that this is a reasonable Amendment.
§ The Lord Advocate
I quite appreciate the reasons which have induced the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends to put down this Amendment. There are some drafting objections to it, but I do not want to delay the House by going into them. We are quite prepared to consider whether an Amendment to give effect to what quite obviously the hon. Gentleman wants to do could be moved in another place on the lines indicated in his speech. If, in these circumstances, the hon. Gentleman can see his way to withdraw 1346 the Amendment, we will certainly do that.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
I am most anxious to meet the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment made: In page 14, line 23, leave out from beginning, to "served," and insert:
either of the foregoing subsections and have."—[Commander Galbraith.]
§ The Lord Advocate
I beg to move, in page 14, line 26, to leave out from "dwelling house," to the end of line 32.
Linked with this Amendment is that in page 14, line 38, and that on page 15, line 3. This group of Amendments arises out of an observation made in Committee by Members on the other side, and, in particular, by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) and the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser). They pointed out that if the landlord was successful in showing that the local authority had wrongly issued a certificate, the tenant, as defender in the proceedings, would be liable for costs as a result of the local authority's wrong decision. As will be seen in column 850 of the Committee proceedings, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave an undertaking to consider amending the procedure.
These three Amendments do three things. For the existing method of challenging a local authority's certificate they substitute a direct appeal by the landlord against the local authority's decision to issue the certificate. That procedure does not involve the tenant, and it is done in that way to save him the consequent expense. The Amendments enable the landlord to appeal against a certificate of disrepair whether granted on the ground of repair or of fitness, and give him a right of appeal also against the refusal of the local authority to revoke a certificate. They really give effect to the undertaking given by the Secretary of State. In this way we have tried to meet the criticisms made about the undue burden which might be put on a tenant.
The Committee will be indebted to the Lord Advocate for the concession contained in the Amendment. As he quite fairly says, it is now quite 1347 plain that the tenant who is the innocent bystander will not bear the expense of the action between the local authority and the landlord. We should have been even more indebted to the Lord Advocate had he spent a little more time in explaining the consequences of the other Amendments. He said, quite accurately but rather cursorily, that as the Bill previously stood the landlord would have had no right of appeal against a certificate in relation to unfitness, but that the landlord would now have an appeal on either ground.
It is very difficult to understand this. What was wrong with the previous procedure? Was it an unjustifiable protection for the tenant? One may sometimes have a dwelling which is certainly in a good state of repair, but which does not conform to the normal standards of fitness for habitation. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. D. Johnston) said when I was discussing this with him, it would be quite reasonable to point to a pigsty which was in a quite adequate state of repair, but that would not be a reason for concluding that it should be a habitation.
I am not quite clear whether the Lord Advocate meant to open this door. I am always anxious to credit him with the worst intentions in these things. The "Chief Whip" of the Lord Advocate does not live in this House. He is a gentleman called Mr. Murray McGregor, and when that "chief whip" cracks all sorts of curious things happen. On this occasion however, I am not anxious to credit the Lord Advocate with such a mean intention. Perhaps, with the permission of the House, he might explain further why he has thought it necessary or desirable to alter the situation in this respect.
§ Mr. McInnes
I agree that the Lord Advocate has gone a long way towards meeting the desires expressed in Committee. Nevertheless, I invite him to look at paragraph (b) of the proposed subsection (5)—that is, the Amendment in page 15, line 3. That reads:in the case of a certificate which the local authority have refused to revoke under subsection (3) thereof, to have been revoked on the date on which the local authority refused to revoke it.As the Bill originally stood if, on appeal, the sheriff decided in favour of 1348 an aggrieved landlord the certificate was revoked as from the date of the sheriff's decision. That has now been amended and following the sheriff's decision, the revocation of the certificate will take effect as from the date of the local authority's refusal to revoke.
That is back dating it maybe two or three years, or months—dependent largely on when the sheriff gives his decision. It is a departure from the wording of the original Bill. I do not !mow whether it is an unintentional departure, or whether the draftsmen have put it in to give the landlords the benefit of the additional time. I should like to know why it has been found necessary to add the words:… on the date on which the local authority refused to revoke it.
§ The Lord Advocate
As regards the point raised by the right hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) about the challenge of the certificate on the ground of fitness, it is true that a provision of this nature was not in the original Bill. The position is that the Government had put down Amendments in Committee to make this change, but, in view of the undertaking given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to reconsider the whole of this procedure, they were not proceeded with further at that stage. We are now incorporating them because it was then recognised that there would obviously have to be modifications in view of the new procedure.
In Section 16 of the Housing Act, 1950, as the right hon. Gentleman no doubt recollects, it is already provided that the owner of a house may challenge the issue of a notice under Section 7 of that Act and thereby dispute the necessity of doing the work that is described in that notice to make the house fit. In other words, under the Housing Act an owner may challenge in court the local authority's decision as respects the fitness of a house for human habitation. This Amendment gives a corresponding right under this Measure, because it would be anomalous if it were given under one and not under the other.
I will look into the point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) as to the dating back to the date of the refusal to revoke, and I will give him an answer to it.
§ Amendment agreed to.1349
§ Further Amendments made: In page 14, line 33, leave out "giving," and insert "granting."
§ In line 33, at end, insert "or subsection (2)."—[The Lord Advocate.]
I beg to move, in page 14, line 34, to leave out "the landlord has executed," and to insert:there has been executed by or at the expense of the landlord.This Amendment is concerned with subsection (3) in the matter of the revocation of certificates of disrepair. The subsection says that when the landlord has executed the work necessary, then the local authority, on the application of the landlord, shall revoke the certificate. But at times, of course, while the landlord pays for the work, he does not execute it for himself; it may be executed on behalf of the local authority. Therefore, it would be unfair if he could not get his certificate of disrepair revoked because he had paid for the work but had not actually done it himself. In those circumstances, we propose to insert these words so that the revocation shall take place if the work has been executed by or at the expense of the landlord.
We take note of the Government's usual tenderness of heart towards these people who do not discharge their moral obligations, and of whose interests the Government are taking care.
§ Amendment agreed to.
Further Amendments made: In page 14, line 38, at end, insert:
The local authority shall serve on the landlord notice of their decision on any application made by him under this subsection.
In page 15, line 3, at end, insert:
(5) If the landlord of a dwelling-house is aggrieved by the granting of a certificate under subsection (1) of this section, or by the refusal of the local authority to revoke under subsection (3) thereof a certificate granted under subsection (1) or subsection (2) of this section, he may appeal to the sheriff by giving notice of appeal within twenty-one days after the date of the service on him of the copy of the certificate or of the notice of the decision of the local authority to refuse to revoke the certificate, as the case may be; and if on the hearing of the appeal the sheriff is satisfied that, at the time when the certificate was granted or, as the case may be, the local authority refused to revoke the certificate, the conditions justifying an increase of rent were
fulfilled, he shall revoke the certificate and thereupon it shall be deemed—
(a) in the case of a certificate granted under subsection (1) of this section, never to have been in force;
(b) in the case of a certificate which the local authority have refused to revoke under subsection (3) thereof, to have been revoked on the date on which the local authority refused to revoke it.—[The Lord Advocate.]
§ In line 10, leave out subsection (6).—[Commander Galbraith.]