§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. J. Stuart
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
The proposed Schedule—[Modifications of Part II of Act in Application to Certain Classes of Dwelling-house]— which arises from the proposed Clause is relevant to the debate and might be dealt with at the same time, if mat is agreeable.
§ Mr. Stuart
I move the proposed Clause having very closely in mind the undertaking which I gave personally during the proceedings in the Standing Committee to do the best I could to meet points which were raised by many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I will not repeat what I said in the Standing Committee, but it can be found in columns 778 and 779 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Standing Committee 1834 dated 1st April. I asked for time in which to consider the various matters raised because I fully realised that hon. Members had felt very strongly on the matter and had a genuine desire that the Bill should be amended.
Since then we have been considering how to provide the better safeguards for the tenant about which I was pressed at that time. I think it would be fair to remind the House that it was generally agreed in the Committee that we are here dealing with the minority of cases rather than the normal or great majority. We can hope that, in practice, as the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) said in column 776 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Standing Committee, about 90 per cent, of the cases can be settled amicably between the landlord and the tenant.
I, the Joint Under-Secretary and others have given very careful thought to the views expressed by hon. Members during the debates in Committee. The right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire pressed the matter strongly and perfectly fairly, and I make no complaint whatever about that. The hon. and learned Member for Paisley (Mr. D. Johnston) supported him, as did many other hon. Members opposite.
They had two main points. One was that tenants were averse to going to the Sheriff Court and would not, therefore, challenge the landlord's declaration about the expenditure test. The second complaint was raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes), who said that tenants had had "to do all the running about," the onus being always on the tenant to go to the local authority for a certificate, or to the court. The hon. and learned Member for Paisley said, quite fairly, that in his opinion the better-off tenants in the better class houses would have no difficulty. He went on to say that we had to look at the other end of the scale.
That is precisely what the Government have been doing, and what the new Clause aims to do. It provides that the repairs increase should not be claimed without a certificate from the local authority that the conditions have been fulfilled in the case of all houses which are "suspect." I will deal with that point later. In such cases the landlord would be required to prove that the house was 1835 now in a condition to justify increased rent.
This new procedure is laid down in the proposed new Schedule. The problem which confronted us was to define a "suspect" house. After considering possible variants and the complications arising therefrom, we came to the conclusion that the best plan was to define as "suspect" all the houses in respect of which the local authority had taken statutory action within a recent period, whether under the Rent Acts, the Housing Act or the Public Health Act, for structural defects. I want the House to be in no doubt as to precisely what we mean in the proposed Clause.
I should make clear the three forms of statutory action. The first is the issue of a certificate of disrepair under the Rent Acts, or an order of the court suspending the repairs increase permitted in 1920. The second is an operative notice issued under Section 7 of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1950, requiring the owner to carry out works, on the ground that the house is unfit by reason of disrepair or sanitary defects. The third is an intimation or notice under the Public Health (Scotland) Act, 1897, in respect of a nuisance arising from any want or defect of a structural character.
I referred just now to action taken by local authorities within a recent period. To go into rather more detail, we propose to take as the earlier date 13th November, 1953, the date of the introduction of the Bill, and for the latter date, the date when the Bill becomes an Act. I must say that I am fully aware that the action taken by the authority may have been taken prior to the earlier date. What counts is whether the certificate or notice issued is still in operation after 13th November. If that notice or certificate is still in operation after 13th November, then the house, to which it refers, will come into this special class.
A further point, which, I think, I should stress about this particular class of house, and which goes, I hope, a long way towards meeting the points raised by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, is this: in addition to satisfying the local authority about the condition of the house the landlord of such a house will have either to obtain the tenant's 1836 agreement as to the expenditure test, or, satisfy the sheriff that it has been fulfilled.
I stress this point because I am well aware of the objections which hon. Members opposite raised to the tenant going to the sheriff court. But, in this proposed procedure, it will be the landlord and not the tenant who has to go to the sheriff. I hope that point will go a long way towards meeting the objections and anxieties which hon. Members expressed during the Standing Committee stage.
This new Clause defines the class of dwelling-house to which the special procedure is to apply. It is that with which I have been dealing. The new Schedule makes such modifications to Part II of the Bill as are necessary to carry out this special procedure.
Paragraph 1 provides, in effect, that the landlord of the special class of house must apply to the local authority for a certificate of repair. In the next paragraph are various declarations which have to be made in the notice of increase to be served on the tenant. The landlord of the special class of house will have to declare, first, that there is in force a certificate of repair; secondly, that the expenditure test has been fulfilled; and, thirdly, that he has either agreed in writing with the tenant, or that the sheriff has determined that the necessary work for compliance with the expenditure test has been carried out.
I hope that the House will agree that this new Clause, coupled with the new Schedule, goes some way towards satisfying the opinion expressed in Standing Committee. We were impressed with the views expressed during that stage. We have been into the whole position with great care and given a lot of thought to the matter and done our best to meet these points.
§ Mr. D. Johnston
My right hon. and hon. Friends and I would be failing in courtesy if we did not express to the Secretary of State our appreciation of the obvious attention that he has paid to the points that we made with such persistence in Committee, and for the very courteous explanation which he has given of this new Clause. If I may say so, in parenthesis, I sometimes think it is regrettable that the right hon. Gentleman does not take upon himself to a greater 1837 extent the task of explaining some of the other new Clauses and Amendments
While this new Clause is a vast improvement on the Bill as it was, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman realises that it does not meet what I ventured to express in the Committee stage was the real fundamental objection to the Bill, and that is that the Government's intention, which, I understand, is that the houses should be in repair, will not be fulfilled. The reason is that with the exception of those specially provided for in the new Clause and in the Schedule, the landlord will get the carrot without doing any work.
§ Mr. Johnston
I cannot regard a 40 per cent, increase in the rent for the landlord as mouldy.
I should like to ask she Secretary of State What percentage of the houses is to be dealt with under the new Clause. My own impression is that it will not be more than approximately 25 per cent, of the three-quarters of a million, which, I gather, are covered by the Rent Restrictions Act. None of the houses with higher rents will be covered, and my impression is that only the lower rented houses will come under it, and that that number will be very much reduced, in effect, by the fact that many of them will be covered by the Part I of the Bill and will never come under Part II at all.
That will be because the local authority has issued one of the three or four orders provided for by the new Clause, but the houses will be in such a state that instead of being dealt with under Part II of the Bill they will come under Part I and fall to be dealt with by the local authority. I hope we can have an estimate—I realise it can only be a rough estimate—of the number likely to be affected by the new Clause.
The other point which makes me doubt the efficacy of this new Clause and Schedule is the fact that the Secretary of State, during the course of the Committee stage, told us that in the last few years—I cannot remember the exact period, but I think it was three years—only about 250 certificates, which would fall under subsection (2) of the new Clause, had been issued. Perhaps the right hon. 1838 Gentleman could tell us the number of certificates issued which would fall under any of the headings in subsection (2).
I do not think the Secretary of State was quite right when he said that the dates to which the new Clause applied were limited by the action which the local authority took between 13th November, 1953, and the commencement of the operation of the Bill. I think that the Clause is better for the Government than that. [Interruption.] I have a note of the right hon. Gentleman's words, "action by the local authority within that period." The action may have been taken long before by the local authority. All that matters is that the certificate should still be in force.
As I understood it, the Secretary of State did not make the best of that part of his case. It may be the certificate is 20 years old, and that no action has been taken by the local authority; it is extant, and, accordingly, operates under the new Clause and the related Schedule. While the new Clause does not go nearly as far as we should like, we are grateful to the Secretary of State for doing what he has done, and only regret he has not found it possible to do a very great deal more.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I thought the right hon. Gentleman would have said a further word. I would supplement what my hon. and learned Friend has said. I refer to paragraph (2, c,) which speaks of:any dwelling-house … forming part of premises on which there arose or continued, or which were affected by, a nuisance within the meaning of the Public Health (Scotland) Act, 1897 (being a nuisance arising from any want or defect of a structural character). …I take it that a tenant of a house that is not wind or water tight or has any structural defect, even though a sanitary inspector's certificate has not been issued, is entitled to call upon the sanitary inspector to examine the house and insist that it be put right. If the house is not put right, the tenant will be protected, I take it. I wonder whether the Secretary of State could clear up that question.
I regret that he did not adopt the suggestion, in regard to the 90 per cent, of the houses, that he should, first of all, leave it to agreement between the landlord and the tenant and then provide for 1839 cases where they do not agree. As my hon. and learned Friend has said, we are grateful for this considerable concession that the right hon. Gentleman has made for the poorer tenants, the people in the worst conditions, but I am sure he would not want to withhold protection from a large number of comparatively well-to-do people who do not live in dilapidated houses but who would be pleased, if the repairs of their homes were not done, to have the protection of the Bill, without having to be involved in legal proceedings. I do not suppose anything can be done about them now, unless it is done in another place, but I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to clear up the point whether the new Clause affects only cases in which certificates have been issued, or not.
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Willis
There are, of course, in the large towns of Scotland a very large number of houses recognised as unfit for human habitation for which a certificate has not been issued because the local authorities have been unable to rehouse the people in them. In Edinburgh, the number in 1946 was 6,800 and the total has now reached 10,000. As the hon. and learned Member for Paisley (Mr. Johnston) said, most of them will probably be dealt with under Part I of the Bill, but before they can be effectively dealt with a considerable time is likely to edapse—a year, two years or even more.
Do the provisions of this Clause cover most of these houses? In Edinburgh, the position is that neither the landlords nor the tenants know, but the local authority does, and it seems to me that the people living in them should receive some protection. It is supposed to be the Government's intention that they should be protected—and I have no reason to doubt them—'but the point is whether all these tenants are likely to be protected by the new Clause and the new Schedule during the period before they come under the provisions of Part I of the Bill.
The hon. and learned Member for Paisley (Mr. Johnston) asked me the percentage of houses covered by this Clause. It is not possible to make any accurate assessment. He asked whether it would be 25 per 1840 cent. I think that might be a little bit high. Fifteen per cent, might be nearer. Few certificates of disrepair have been issued during the past two years, but what matters at the moment is the number in force, irrespective of the date of issue. He also asked me how many houses were affected. Again, it is quite impossible to give an accurate figure, but it might be about 60,000 under the Public Health Act, 20,000 under the Housing Act, and some 20,000 subject to certificates of disrepair.
The right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) asked me specifically whether houses coming under the Public Health Act would be protected. Of course, they will not be protected unless action has been taken under the Act. If action has not been taken by the local authorities between the dates indicated then the protection given in the Act will not be available to the tenant.
§ Mr. Woodburn
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) has an Amendment down, which we may reach, dealing with a large number of houses in regard to which a certain type of action has been taken. He will probably explain later that Edinburgh, Glasgow, and other towns, have a number of houses which have not been classified as unfit because they were not in a position to order their demolition and, at the same time, to rehouse the tenants.
About 6,000 or 7,000 houses have been listed in that category. They would have been demolished but for the war. No action was taken because it would have been embarrassing to the local authority and the landlord to issue a closing or demolition order, and the point is that notices may still not have been issued between these dates. Yet they are in the category of unfit. It would seem desirable that the like of that house should come under the provisions of paragraph (2, c). Is it the case, for instance, that that property—
§ Mr. Woodburn
With due respect, Sir, and by leave of the House, I should like to ask a question. As far as I can see, paragraph (a) includes the period between 1841 13th November and the operation of the Bill. Is paragraph (c) governed by paragraph (a)? It does not seem to me to be likely.
The situation is perfectly clear. The Clause affects houses which are subject to action before the Bill comes into operation. If action has not been taken under one of the three different heads before the Bill comes into operation the protection of the Clause is not available. I hope that that is clear. The dates are the dates stated by the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn).
The right hon. Gentleman also spoke about the desirability of protection being available for the well-to-do. We want everyone to have the utmost possible protection, but it is not possible for anyone to protect people fully in the way in which the Opposition desire. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out to the hon. and learned Member for Paisley (Mr. D. Johnston) in the Standing Committee, we agree that higher rented houses are owned by better landlords and are occupied by people who know their rights rather better. The poorer classes of tenants, in the worst class of houses with possibly the worst landlords, are the people to whom one wants to give all the protection it is possible to give.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) spoke about 6,000 houses in Edinburgh. There again the provision applies that unless action has been taken before the Bill comes into operation the protection of the Clause is not available.
§ Mr. Willis
Surely the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will look at this matter again. Surely the intention of the Government is that these tenants should not be liable to bear an increase. Would the Government not consult the local authorities again and see that something is done to afford them protection?
§ Mr. Steele
We on this side of the House are as anxious as the Government to carry out Government intentions in this matter. I know that in the town of Dumbarton the sanitary inspector has a list of these houses and that the medical officer of Dunbartonshire has a list of houses in respect of which closure certificates have been issued. They are prohibited from closing the houses because 1842 of lack of alternative accommodation. I am sure that the wishes of all hon. Members would be met if there was a possibility of securing from the local authorities lists of such houses and they were regarded as coming within these provisions.
§ Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think that the next new Clause goes with the Amendment which appears on the Order Paper to leave out Clause 26.