HC Deb 04 March 1959 vol 601 cc492-519
Mr. Mitchison

I beg to move, in page 5, line 12, at the beginning to insert: Subject to the provisions of section (Applications for standard grant at instance of tenants (England and Wales)) of this Act".

The Deputy-Chairman

I understand that it would be convenient to the Committee to discuss also the Amendment in the name of the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison), in Clause 20, page 13, line 29, at the beginning to insert: Subject to the provisions of section (Applications for standard grant at instance of tenants (Scotland)) of this Act".

Mr. Mitchison

These two Amendments are similar in terms and are intended to have a similar result in the two countries. I hope I may refer not only to the Scottish Amendment but to the two proposed new Clauses indicated in both Amendments.

The Bill as presented only allows application for a standard grant to be made by a person who is either the complete owner or has a long leasehold interest in the property. That appears in subsection (3) of the English part of the Bill. There have to be fifty years unexpired, and there is a similar provision in the Scottish part of the Bill. There will be many cases where landlords will not apply. Indeed, so far as I can judge, the real risk about the Bill is simply that. The landlord may not care to apply in respect of oldish and small-value houses, which are the houses intended to benefit by these provisions, regarding it, from the sheer investment point of view, as not worth while his having to pay half of the cost—because that is what it amounts to under the terms of the Bill.

I feel certain that the Committee would not wish that to happen, but we on this side are prepared to go one stage further than not wishing it to happen. We desire it to be possible for the occupant, being a tenant, to make his landlord apply for a standard grant. There will be cases where the landlord will not necessarily be the owner or the long-lease holder. We recognise that, and our intention is that the payment of the half not covered by grant will be made by the person who will really benefit, that is to say, the owner or the long-lease holder. That is, of course, the intention of the Bill, and that is the reason why the Bill contains that qualification.

I come to the machinery provisions of the Clause. If a tenant thinks that the house in which he lives is one for which a standard grant could properly be made, he can serve a tenant's notice on the landlord requiring an application to be made for a standard grant, whether for one or two of the standard amenities, whatever is lacking. Subsection (2) of the proposed new Clause provides for the landlord's passing the notice on—or, strictly, a copy of the notice—to his superior landlord, if he is not the owner or the long-lease holder. In that way we shall find the man who is qualified, in the terms of the Bill, by his freehold or long leasehold interest to make the application.

I see no practical difficulty whatever in that. In the great majority of cases the landlord probably will be that person. I do not expect that the cases in which there is any long line of freeholders and lessees of various kinds before we get to the actual tenant-occupier will be many. The machinery must, of course, be provided and I see no great complication in it. When the notice passed on in this way reaches the man who I shall now call the owner, omitting the reference to long leasehold, it is then his duty to make the proposed application. If it is approved by the local authority, it is he who will have to carry out the work and receive the standard grant. That seems to be right, for it is he who will benefit by it.

Then I come to some provisions which are really enforcement provisions but, first, I want to say a word or two about the position as regards rent. These improvements, like any others made in a controlled house, will entitle the landlord to make an increase in rent on an 8 per cent. basis of his actual expenditure in the terms described in the recent Rent Act. In other houses it will be a matter for negotiation between the landlord and the tenant. No doubt the tenant will have had that in mind in deciding whether to serve the tenant's notice and get the work done.

I want to say one thing quite generally, and this goes in support of the Bill itself as well as in support of the Amendment. I believe that in most cases—not in all—a tenant will gladly pay a reasonable additional rent for standard amenities of this kind. They are things which ought to be in any house and, apart altogether from the relations between landlord and tenant and the owner of a house, and so on, we ought to ensure that the reluctance of a landlord to spend money from an investment point of view ought not to prevent the simple improvements which the Bill is designed to effect.

Now I come to enforcement. Hon. Members will have noticed that, so far, there has been nothing about time in this proposal. For a time we suggest that we should depend on the enforcement provisions. The first relates to a period of three months after the tenant's notice has been served. The subsection provides that if nothing has been done during that time, that is to say, if the owner has not, in fact, made the application, three months is plenty of time to serve it down a line of lessees—if there is such a line—and the tenant may himself make the proposed application.

Then one has to deal with the question of whether he has the paper qualification required in subsection (3) of Clause 5. Therefore, he has to be deemed to make it on behalf of the owner. It is then a question for a local authority whether it approves the application. It will, of course, be bound to approve it in such cases, just as much or as little as it would be bound to do so if it were made by the owner on his own account.

The tenant may carry out the specified work itself, that is, the standard grant work. He may take and keep the grant in respect of it on his own account. He can then recover from the owner the cost of the work, less the grant which he the tenant has kept. In this subsection we give him the right, if he chooses—I dare say that if there were any doubts in the matter he would so choose—to collect the money from his own landlord instead of from the ultimate owner. That, in time, would involve an adjustment of accounts between the two, but we have not got that far in the Clause.

5.45 p.m.

That is the first sanction and it is a case only of no application having been made, although a notice to make it has been served. The second sanction is that, whether or not such an application has been made, if, at the end of six months, the works have not, in fact, been completed, the tenant may give to the local authority, what he has not been bound to give before and is not bound to give now unless he chooses, a copy of the original tenant's notice. I have in mind the landlord's undertaking to do repairs under the Rent Act, in which we put in six months and were told that was required. We think that it is more than enough for the purpose. That notice will have contained a specification of the works required to be done, the cost, and so on. That is already in the Bill.

The local authority may then, if it chooses—it is not obliged to do it—give notice to the owner or the tenant's landlord, for the same sort of reason I indicated in relation to the tenant's notice, requiring that person to carry out the work. He is given the notice to specify a period. It must not be less than 21 days. Hon. Members will recognise that we are now getting into the field of notice to execute works for the purpose of making a house fit. That is where the 21 days comes from and the nature of this provision. It is optional on the local authority; it need not do it if it does not so choose.

If it takes that step and the notice is not complied with at the end of the specified time, it may, as it could do in connection with the execution of work under the Housing Acts, itself do the work and recover the cost from the person it had required to do it. That, again, follows in a simplified form the works provisions of the Housing Acts. Subsection (7) applies certain charging provisions of the Housing Acts to this type of case. I need not go into it in detail. It is a little simpler than similar provisions in the Housing Acts, because we have not raised any question of interest due to the local authority. On a small matter such as this, that would not amount to very much and it is only a discretionary power.

Lastly, we have to provide, and do provide, that the tenant's immediate landlord and the owner of the property are to settle accounts between them. It is suggested that they should do so in accordance with their respective interests. If, for instance, the immediate landlord is a larger leaseholder, he would have a comparatively small interest in the property as a whole and the owner would either be the actual owner, or the long leaseholder intended in the Bill. It ought not to be a difficult matter to agree that and the sums involved will not be very large. Failing agreement, they can go to the county court and get it settled that way.

Those are the provisions we put forward. I suppose that any Clause of this kind is bound to look a little complicated. Those who wish to make critical remarks about lawyers and Clauses can easily find an opportunity of doing so, but what we have to look at in a case of this kind is how it is going to work for the people concerned. For the tenant, at any rate, it is fairly simple. If his landlord shows no intention of carrying out these simple improvements he can serve a tenant's notice and, when he has done that, I expect that in the majority of cases the default provisions will be sufficient, if nothing else is sufficient, to ensure that the landlord does the job, even though without such a notice he might never have done it. In other cases, all that the tenant needs to do is to choose whether he would like to do it or to see whether the local authority will do it. He does that at different stages, but it is a simple choice with which I think no tenant would find much difficulty.

Many tenants carry out repairs to houses which they are under no obligation to carry out. They do it because they have to live in the houses and because they cannot otherwise get the work done. In the same way, I do not think that the majority of tenants would find it difficult to do these fairly simple things.

I agree that the position looks a little more complicated between the tenant's landlord and the ultimate owner, It may be a little more complicated in some cases, but I do not believe that the complications are formidable. If right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite do not like the machinery, there is enough in it to convince any reasonable person that the process is practicable. If they prefer to make alterations in the machinery, we on this side of the Committee certainly will not object, but what is proposed here is sufficient to show that there is no inherent difficulty in providing the natural machinery.

I want next to say a word or two about the local authorities. Any responsible local authority nowadays is, I think, interested in the provision of these standard amenities in any house in its district, whether that house belongs to the local authority or not. We are here dealing with houses not belonging to the local authority, but in practically all cases, although not quite all, the local authority is the sanitary authority and its concern with these houses, particularly with the old houses most affected by the Bill, lies in the maintenance of a reasonable standard of health and the cleanliness which goes with it. As a sanitary authority it has a public responsibility as an elected body, to put it more broadly, concerned with the health of the people in its area.

In addition, if it is a far-sighted local authority it will look at the housing problem in its area not just as a matter of individual houses or individual interests but as one of a stock of houses which will pass from the local authority as it is now constituted to another local authority in the future. I am not for the moment talking about municipalisation but simply regarding housing in the sense of a public service. There is a stock of houses for which some responsibility will be accepted by the aldermen and councillors, whoever they may be, who succeed the aldermen and councillors now sitting on the local authority.

In short, a municipal or a rural district stock of houses is the responsibility of the council constituted at the moment, just as the national stock of houses is the responsibility of the Minister of Housing and Local Government for the time being. I believe that that is the way in which far-sighted local authorities look at the houses with which they have to deal, whether as a housing authority or as a sanitary authority.

It is, therefore, right that they should have the opportunity of stepping in both when the provisions of the Bill relating to the landlord have failed and when the provisions of the Bill relating to the tenant have failed and there is no other way of getting the work done. That is the reason for giving the local authority discretionary default powers. It is right that they should be discretionary, because I believe that in many cases the Bill will raise difficult questions of what is practicable, as well as other considerations which we shall reach on later Amendments dealing with other responsibilities of the local authority in connection with the way in which the house, however built, is occupied.

I therefore hope that the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will not resent the proposal, because it imposes a certain liability on landlords. That is exactly what it does and what it is intended to do. It is intended to be a means by which the man who lives in the house, the tenant, can oblige the landlord to spend out of private money the counterpart of what the Bill provides out of public money. A man cannot be a landlord in this country nowadays and treat his investment purely as a matter of a monetary return. I hope that we all recognise that by becoming a landlord he assumes certain social responsibilities. Those responsibilities have not hitherto been recognised in relation to the standard amenities mentioned in the Bill.

Unless the Amendment, or something like it is accepted, at the end of the day it will be the owner of the house or the long lessee who decides whether No. 3, Paradise Row—anything called Paradise Row usually consists of the worst houses —should at long last have a hot water supply and a bath. In fact, this is a public matter, and it ought not to be left to landlords to take the final decision. We may provide them with the facilities, but nothing in the Bill at present obliges them to make any use of those facilities. If a decision is not to be made in relation to private property by the local authority —and that is not a matter which I am arguing today—then it is clear that the tenant, the man who has to live in the house, is the person who ought to be entitled to make such a decision in relation to these simple and comparatively inexpensive but absolutely necessary concomitants of modern life.

Mr. F. Harris

I will detain the Committee for only a few minutes, but I have listened to the entire discussion this afternoon with the intention of intervening at this stage. I listened very carefully to what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). I meet this problem in my constituency, and I am very much in sympathy with the view which has been expressed in Committee this afternoon. Whether what appears to be a lawyers' paradise in the solution put before us is the right solution is a matter on which I presume that the Minister will shortly advise us.

I meet the problem in many ways. When a tenant has applied to his local authority for a certificate of disrepair I have often wondered whether, within reason, the local authority, if it thought wise and reasonable, should not be allowed to make a stipulation laying down the provision of amenities of this kind, which we should all like to see in every house in the country. The hon. and learned Member rightly said that this should be a discretionary power for the local authority.

6.0 p.m.

I realise only too well that possibly many houses could not be adapted in every one of these aspects. That is a very obvious difficulty which might face a local authority. Speaking for myself, for tenants and, I think, in the long run, for landlords in my constituency, I should like to see this become a real possibility. I feel that there is something in it. I realise, too, that we may come across owners who might have a problem in facing up to the financial obligation that this may put upon them, particularly if it became a very extensive obligation. Possibly the expense in one house would be different from the expense in another, because of the difficulty of carrying out the actual work. Nevertheless, I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Kettering that one cannot casually be a landlord in these days. It may be that some people run into difficulties in inheriting, property and try to keep the houses going, but, after all, it is the responsibility of all of us to endeavour to secure that the houses in which tenants are living are as habitable as we should like them to be and certainly as habitable as possible.

Speaking on behalf of my own Croydon authority, which I know has come very much under scrutiny of late —I will not involve myself in that argument—it too would like in many respects to see this type of stipulation brought into being in some way. I am not suggesting that this is the right way to tackle it. I am no lawyer and I find it too complicated to follow in that respect. I have come across this quite frequently in my constituency. I do not know what the Minister will say in reply, but I wish that we could somehow arrive at the ability to have these things put into effect, because undoubtedly there are many tenants in the country who should be entitled to expect this as a minimum standard of their tenancy and their occupation.

I realise the complications and difficulties. Therefore, without committing myself too far, may I say that I sympathise very much with what the hon. and learned Member has put forward to the Committee this afternoon.

Mr. Ross

Before the hon. Member sits down, do I understand that he agrees that a landlord, who may have over £20 a week, should get the subsidy to improve his property?

Mr. Harris

I do not quite know what the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) has intervened about. The problem to which he is referring is in regard to council houses.

Mr. Ross

No. I am pointing out that these are private houses. We are giving a subsidy to a landlord without a means test. I thought that the hon. Member would have been objecting to that.

Mr. Harris

If this is an indirect point in regard to some activities of our local Croydon authority of late, perhaps I may be permitted to say that I feel that our local authority is very alive to all these problems.

Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)

I should like to commend to the Committee the new Clause and the Amendment in the name of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). The world is a place of compromise, and the House of Commons is particularly a place of compromise.

I will not say that every word of the new Clause fills me with enthusiasm. For example, the words "county court" appear in it. I generally feel a little chilly if I see any proposals for applications to the county court.

Mr. Mitchison

It is only the landlord.

Mr. MacColl

My hon. and learned Friend says that it is only the landlord. I suspect that when people go to the county court it is, on the whole, the poor man who is liable to come out at the end of it having lost. Therefore, I am not very happy about that, but I have to live with my hon. and learned Friend. We have many happy hours together. Therefore, I would gladly accept it as a compromise, because the principle behind it is an excellent one.

There cannot be any case for a situation in which the person who is occupying the house, who knows the inconveniences of the house and suffers from them, should be the person who is the least consulted. That is what will happen unless something like the new Clause is inserted in the Bill. In the Bill as it stands at the moment the landlord holds all the cards. He can compel the council to make a grant or he can shrug his shoulders and say that he is not interested in improving his property and will not bother to do it, and that is the end of the matter. The power of the tenant at the moment, even with the Amendment which we have only just passed, is limited. It is not a power of imposing pressure in order to have improvement carried out. The tenant ought to be in a position to have these improvements made.

If, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the object of the Bill is to have house property improved, the person who has the most incentive to have improvements made is the tenant, because he knows what it is like to have inadequate lavatory facilities, inadequate heating, inadequate washing accommodation, and so on. The landlord is remote from the house. He does not live in it. He looks at it purely in terms of financial return, what he will get by way of rent and whether the saleable value of the house will be increased.

From the tenant's point of view these are human problems. They are problems for the family. They are problems for living. There is a great incentive for him. Therefore, to put something of this character in the Bill would very much increase the pressure for having more improvements made, which is what the right hon. Gentleman wants to do.

Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)

The Committee will welcome the enlightenment that has come from Croydon this afternoon, and I am sure that we are glad to know that the Croydon housing authority is alive to the need to provide adequate amenities and will continue in its progressive outlook in relation to houses. It is very welcome to the Committee to hear the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. F. Harris) support my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) in this proposal.

The Committee should acknowledge the very clear way in which my hon. and learned Friend outlined the provisions of the new Clause. It is a long and elaborate Clause. Necessarily it must be so. I am not a lawyer and I am rather suspicious of the confused jargon of lawyers. Nevertheless, on this occasion it seems to be clear enough for even the least lawyer-like person to understand. We are indebted to my hon. and learned Friend for the work he has put into the careful and simple phrasing of the new Clause.

I am sure that the Minister will agree that the purpose of the provisions relating to standard amenities is that the older houses should be provided with the basic standard amenities. We all want to do that. I submit to the Minister that we shall fail in that purpose, unless we manage to impose some pressure on the landlord. Owner occupiers may, in numbers, take advantage of the provisions, take the grants and provide the amenities. Some of the better landlords may do likewise, but the bulk of this old property without the standard amenities is in the hands of owners who, in the past, have not shown very much care for the amenities of the tenants. The central problem is to make the reluctant landlord take advantage of the grant and provide the standard amenities. That is the heart of the problem. We know from experience that if we leave that category of landlord without some inducement, he will fail to do what we all want him to do.

From the failure of the Housing Repairs and Rents Act, we know that this category of landlord is reluctant to improve his property. That much has been established. The aim of that Act was good, but the inducement to the landlord was insufficient and we found that owners of this class of property, which we wish to be improved, failed to carry out the provisions of the Act. We need, therefore, to exert pressure on these landlords if we are to achieve the minimum purpose of this part of the Bill.

Without examining every part of the new Clause, I must say that its proposals are an honest and straightforward attempt to achieve the object which we desire and to apply the necessary pressure upon this category of reluctant landlords, so that we know that there is a chance of these standard amenities being put into the very houses that need them.

I hope that for the sake of the effective working of this part of his own Bill, the Minister will give the matter favourable consideration. He may not be able to accept everything in the new Clause, but if he would consider some element of pressure upon the reluctant landlord to install these standard amenities and include provision to this end in the Bill, possibly when it reaches another place, he would deserve the thanks of the tenants and he would make this part of his Bill more effective.

Mr. Bevins

When one reflects on the mass of legislation for which my right hon. Friend has been responsible in recent times, it is not altogether surprising that the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) has spent some happy hours in the company of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), as, I am sure, his hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) also has done. At least, it is gratifying on this occasion to know that once more the hon. and learned Member enjoys the support, at least in principle, of his hon. Friend the Member for Widnes.

It was rather unnecessary for the hon. and learned Gentleman to apologise for the drafting of the new Clause. I always find it difficult to understand drafting provisions of Bills and the like, but as a piece of drafting the Clause is excellent. I say that in no patronising sense to the hon. and learned Gentleman. In fact, so easy is the Clause to understand that I can summarise it in a few short sentences.

What the hon. and learned Gentleman is trying to do is to give tenants the right to compel landlords to apply for standard grants and he is doing it in this way. If the landlord fails to apply for a grant, one of two things may follow. Either the tenant can himself apply for a grant as though he were the landlord and in due course recover the balance of the cost of the improvement from the landlord, or, alternatively, the local authority, at the request of the tenant, might require the landlord to carry out the work. If the landlord fails to do so, the local authority could carry out the work itself. The local authority then, as in the case of the tenant, would have power to recover from the landlord the money which it had spent. In simple English, I understand that to be the meaning of the hon. and learned Gentleman's proposal.

6.15 p.m.

This is an interesting proposal and one which deserves serious examination by the Committee. Indeed, any proposal aimed at providing houses with standard amenities is well worth considering. I hope that in the course of what I say, hon. Members opposite will not jump to the conclusion that my right hon. Friend is of necessity hostile to the principle underlying the new Clause.

I ask the Committee, however, to consider the matter in a severely practical fashion. A landlord can carry out an improvement only if he can raise the money to finance his share of the cost of the work, which normally would be one-half of the cost. As hon. Members, on both sides, know, many of the houses which we have in mind are small houses owned by what might be described as small people and the small landlord might not possess the capital to carry out the cost of the works. We have also to bear in mind that even if these landlords possess some capital, their means may be limited and they may not be able to carry out works of improvement to a block of, say, three, four or five houses in a row at the time that the tenants make their request to the landlord.

I agree that having said that, the Clause provides for the tenant or the local authority to carry out the work in default of the landlord. The fact is, however, that whoever carries out the work, at the end of the day it is the landlord who has to find the money for what, in effect, is his share of the cost of the standard improvement, because the tenant or the local authority, as the case may be, can recover their share of the cost from him.

I therefore ask myself whether it is likely that a tenant who, perhaps, knows that his landlord is impecunious would go ahead with the improvements in the knowledge that he would have difficulty in recovering the cost. Equally, is it likely that a local authority would go ahead with the improvement if it knew that the owner did not have the cash with which to make his contribution?

When I first studied the terms of the new Clause, I noticed that the hon. and learned Member used the word "may" in the case of recoveries by local authorities. It crossed my mind whether the hon. Member was seeking to give the local authorities the option of recovering or not according to the circumstances of the landlord. The hon. and learned Member did not make that point in the course of his speech, but in any event I am advised that local authorities do not possess power to waive such payments. That is one broad consideration affecting the matter.

Mr. Mitchison

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. Has he, however, considered that this proposal is intended to go with the building societies part of the Bill? Surely, this is exactly the case where a person could, and should, get an advance from the building societies, promoted by the earlier part of the Bill.

Mr. Bevins

I do not think that the building societies would make advances for these old houses—the two-up and the two-down—in the class of case that we are discussing, that is to say, the small tenanted house let mainly at a controlled rent.

There is a second broad consideration. If landlords are to be compelled to improve their houses—and that is the meaning and significance of this new Clause—they should, in fairness, have the right to do so even where the tenant objects. If the landlord has no such right, certain tenants are in a position to prevent the improvement of the property. As hon. Members opposite will recall, it was at their specific request that this Bill was amended so that a standard grant cannot be given unless the tenant has given his consent—and I see that the hon. and learned Member for Kettering agrees.

He recently argued in Committee that the tenant should, in certain circumstances, be able to frustrate improvements as they might inconvenience himself or his family. Conversely, of course, improvements asked for by the tenant of the landlord might be no less inconvenient to the landlord from the point of view, perhaps, of timing, availability of cash, and so forth. Therefore, in equity, we should have to provide machinery to enable the landlord to appeal if a tenant withheld consent unreasonably. That machinery would also have to make provision for an appeal by the landlord if he could reasonably object to an improvement asked far by the tenant.

It is the considered view of my right hon. Friend that if some proposal such as this were at any time to be seriously contemplated, we should certainly have to consider improvising some appeals machinery for examining the position, and the possible objections of both landlord and tenant, if the thing were to be made at all workable. There is, of course, no such provision in the Clause as at present drafted.

I say quite plainly to the Committee that the intention of this proposal is laudable, but I must add that there are serious practical difficulties in trying to cover all cases by legislation of this kind. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. F. Harris) referred, as did the hon Member for Widnes to the peculiar and intimate interests that all tenants have in their homes.

It is perfectly right that references of that kind should be made. Tenants, everywhere, take an interest in the condition of their homes. Equally, landlords, as owners, have an interest in property which, after all, is legally theirs, and one can no more turn a blind eye to the landlord's interest than one can to the tenant's. Our present view is that, wherever possible, it is preferable to base arrangements of this sort between landlords and tenants on agreement.

The Bill makes it possible, for the first time, for the owners of properties to get grant for standard improvements as a matter of certainty, and it is the earnest hope—and I say this very sincerely—of my right hon. Friend and of hon. Members on this side of the Committee—and, I think, on the other side, too—that this new system of improvement grants will be used extensively by property owners throughout the country. For the present, we think it best to rely on the inducement of the grant.

There is no finality about this—or about anything in the world of politics. My right hon. Friend's intention is to see, from the common-sense point of view, how the new system develops, in what circumstances it is used, and so on. If, later, it should turn out that my right hon. Friend, or Her Majesty's Government, is dissatisfied with the progress being made, we should not hesitate to reexamine the matter afresh.

In short, we think that much of the motive behind the Amendment is good—and we are sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman's intentions are good—but we do not think that the Clause is workable as at present framed. However, my right hon. Friend will very closely watch the position as it develops in order to do what he considers to be right in the circumstances from time to time.

Mr. Willis

We cannot let the Parliamentary Secretary's reply pass without comment. This Clause applies also to Scotland. When I saw the Solicitor-General for Scotland sitting behind the Bar of the House I thought that it was he who was to explain it to us. Apparently, he 'has left the legal interpretation to the Joint Under-Secretary. However, at the moment, I am concerned with the arguments used by the Parliamentary Secretary.

In Scotland, we have a considerable amount of property of the kind I visualise as being covered by such a Clause as this. As the Joint Under-Secretary knows quite well—and so does the Secretary of State—when the 1954 Housing (Repairs and Rents) (Scotland) Act was passed, owners of property of this kind showed no great readiness to do much about it. They owned the houses, drew the rents, and did not bother to do much else.

That was the position, so much so that the Government had to offer a second bribe to get the job done. We still do not know with what success the Government's efforts have met, and whether or not the owners have responded more readily to two bribes than to one. It is quite conceivable that a number of landlords—house owners—will not want to do anything, but the hon. Gentleman has said that we must not do anything that seeks to compel them.

The hon. Gentleman said, "It is rather difficult. After all, we should think seriously about these poor landlords and about the inconvenience that we will cause them." We have spent the last four or five years thinking about the poor landlords, and trying to make them less poor and more able to provide people with decent accommodation. Now is not the time for thinking about the poor landlord who may be inconvenienced by being asked to do this.

I understand that a grant will be given only if the house has a life of fifteen years. The landlord having got the grant and put in the amenity, the rent can be increased. That is a type of business risk for which, perhaps, a bank overdraft would be available. If I were a landlord I would say to the bank, "I have not the money at present, but I should like to make these improvements because, when I have made them, I can increase my rents and in that way clear off the overdraft." I think that the average bank agent would be prepared to consider a reasonable business proposition like that. That covers the person who has not the money immediately to hand. As one argument has been that this grant improves the value of the property, I cannot see where the difficulty lies.

We have to remember, too, that all the time we are busily engaged in decontrolling houses. Every time a tenancy changes, the house becomes decontrolled, and, as far as I know, for rent increases the sky is the limit. In Edinburgh, where there is a shortage of houses, the rents can be increased enormously. No one says that they must not charge more, but the Under-Secretary says, "Let us be careful and tender and not touch these people." We have made it possible, in the event of decontrol, for them to increase the rents as much as they like, but we must not ask them to accept what, in the terms of the Bill, ought to be a good business risk. That is not a very good argument to advance in respect of this Clause.

6.30 p.m.

I hope that my hon. Friends will press this matter much further, because the hon. Gentleman's answer was very unsatisfactory. We cannot accept it. Of course, it may be difficult to do some of these things. The hon. Gentleman says, "We will see how it works." Have the Government any idea of what they will do in the event of it not working? Should they not be able to tell us now, "We will incorporate this Amendment in the Bill. This is an endeavour to get down what the Government want done." Hon. Members on this side of the Committee are trying to prod the Government to do something worth while and to place a little power in the hands of the tenant to improve his own conditions in the event of the landlord being recalcitrant.

Instead of the Government doing that, we are now being fobbed off with the hon. Gentleman's very feeble answer. I am quite sure that a great deal of this property, looked at as a pure business risk apart from the fact that it may be affected by decontrol, could be put in repair, because these are not very large jobs. It is not very expensive to put in a sink or something of that kind. Much of this work could be done at a fairly reasonable cost and I am sure that, in view of the fact that the property must be expected to last for fifteen years and that the owner can increase the rent, the banks or other people would be prepared to help. If they were not, what is wrong with the Government saying, "This is a good idea and we will try to arrange for assistance to be made available in other directions." Why should they not help the local authorities to assist?

This Clause makes provision for the local authorities to do these jobs. Why cannot the Government say to the local authorities that they can undertake this work? The Government are always telling us that they want to help the landlords, many of whom are queueing up for National Assistance each week because of the poverty in which they are now living. The Government wring our hearts over and over again by their descriptions of the conditions of the landlord. Why do not they say to the local authority which acts in accordance with this Clause that they will assist it to do this?

I am sure that if the Government had the will they could do this. This is placing a little hit of power in the hands of the tenant to get something done. If we had moved an Amendment with the object of putting a little more power in the hands of the landlord, we know what a different reply we would have received from the Government Front Bench. But this places a little power in the hands of the tenant to improve his own conditions. What a "shocking" thing it is for the Opposition to ask for this to be done.

I hope that my hon. Friends will reject the argument of the Parliamentary Secretary and that we shall have a word about this from the Secretary of State for Scotland. I see that he is in the Chamber. I am quite sure that he is briefed and ready to make a speech on this important matter. If he is not prepared to do so, perhaps the Joint Under-Secretary will tell us something about this Clause as it applies to Scotland. What are the conditions in Scotland?

We know that the landlords did not respond to the Government's appeal in the Housing (Repairs and Rents) (Scotland) Act, 1954. Did they respond any better to the provisions of the Rent Act, which gave them even a bigger increase? Cannot we have some information about that, so that we can judge whether the landlords are putting this property in a good state of repair? We ought to be told. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows something about this. He has had to consider it and he ought to have made up his mind independently of the English Minister. I have no doubt that he will tell us that he has made up his mind on the basis of knowledge supplied by the Scottish Office. Will he give us that information so that we shall be able to judge this matter for ourselves?

I hope that even at this late stage—although I fear that it is almost impossible—the Government will change their mind. At least, let us fight for what we are trying to get in this Clause and, if we cannot persuade the Government to have second thoughts about it, divide the Committee upon it.

Mr. Page

Like the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis), I am disturbed by my hon. Friend's words on this Amendment, but in an entirely opposite sense. My hon. Friend said that my right hon. Friend accepted the principle of this Clause. But this Amendment alters a very major principle of the Bill. Under the Public Health Act and other similar statutes there can be compulsion placed on a landlord to remedy insanitary or dangerous conditions. This Amendment would place the same compulsion on the landlord in the case of what in this Bill are called amenities—the provision of a wash basin, bathroom, larder, and so on. The absence of those things are not insanitary conditions. If we are to accept them as such, let us debate the subject on other legislation, but they are certainly not designated as such in this Bill.

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans) is not in his place. He talked again and again of this imaginary figure the reluctant landlord. Why does he think that some of these landlords are reluctant? Is it not possible that they have not the money to do these repairs? All landlords are not the Prudential. Many landlords are people of small means. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh, East sarcastically talked of the way in which hon. Members on this side of the Committee spoke again and again of the small means landlord. Indeed, there are many of such landlords.

By this Amendment, the tenant can force such a landlord to carry out the installation of the standard amenities. The hon. Gentleman says that the landlord can go to the building society. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh, East said that the landlord can go to the bank and borrow the money. Supposing that these houses are already mortgaged up to the hilt, as many of them are. Is the landlord to borrow more money and put himself further in debt? The absence of amenities does not amount to insanitary conditions. It is true that many of these houses have not the amenities, but they are not for that reason dangerous or insanitary. Until the Committee decides that there is some danger about not having a bath or a wash basin, then the landlord should not be compelled in this way to spend money to put them in. money which, in many cases, he has not got.

Perhaps hon. Members might consider the expense that is incurred in providing these things. To put a bathroom or wash basin into a house which is not joined up to the main water supply or to the main sewerage may cost many hundreds of pounds. The landlord gets one-half of that from the local authority by way of a grant up to £400. The remainder may be an extremely substantial sum to force an owner of property, who may be receiving only a controlled rent, to pay.

The whole scheme in the Amendment is unreal and fantastic. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not accept even the principle of it without the House of Commons discussing it on some other and entirely different legislation.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I have often admired the calm and dignified manner in which the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) approaches most problems, and it is really delightful to find this evening that there is one thing which can rouse him to passionate expression and great moral indignation. I sympathise with the Parliamentary Secretary. After all, he did not do very much to cause the last few indignant sentences which fell from the mouth of the hon. Member for Crosby. All he said was that he hoped that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) would realise that the Minister was not, in principle, hostile to the Amendment. That was all he said, but, at the end of his speech, the Amendment and the new Clause were as dead as if his right hon. Friend had the most murderous intentions towards it.

The speech of the hon. Member for Crosby illustrates the way in which, on this issue of the diverse interests of landlord and tenant, the basic difference between the two parties in the House is demonstrated.

Mr. Lindgren

The landlord's pals opposite.

Mr. Ede

We were asked by the Parliamentary Secretary to reflect upon much legislation passed in recent years and promoted by the Minister of Housing and Local Government which has had a great deal to do with making tenants uncomfortable. I am bound to say, as a tenant, that I have been made very uncomfortable by the right hon. Gentleman's legislation. I have never found much sympathy on the other side of the House, although I never sought it—I do not believe in looking for something which I know is not there—when the affairs of tenants were being discussed. When I think of the multiple which has been applied to my rent under the right hon. Gentleman's legislation, I feel that I ought to have a little sympathy from people other than myself.

Here is something to provide for what the hon. Member for Crosby apparently regards as an inessential amenity.

Mr. Page

No, I did not say that. I called it an amenity in accordance with the Bill. I never used the word "inessential".

Mr. Ede

The hon. Gentleman said that it does not matter about these things.

Mr. Page

No, I did not say that.

Mr. Lindgren

The hon. Gentleman implied it.

Mr. Ede

I am not concerned with what the hon. Gentleman implied. It was what he was explicit about which concerns me.

Mr. Page

The right hon. Gentleman should be accurate in these things. I said that the absence of the amenities was not dangerous and the absence of the amenities was not insanitary. I did not use the word "inessential" and I did not say that they did not matter.

Mr. Ede

The hon. Member for Crosby, of course, thinks that there must be some minimum standard so that one can just keep oneself alive and healthy in the accommodation provided by the landlord, and, if those requirements are satisfied, anything beyond that is an amenity, the word probably being in inverted commas. It reminds me of the farmer who was asked at a country election, "Do you believe in minimum wages?", to which he replied, "I always pay them."

6.45 p.m.

What an amazing thing it is to have the word "standard" in front of the word "amenities". Most of the amenities which I enjoy in life are things which are not standardised at all; they are the things which appeal to one as making life comfortable and better than it otherwise would be. To suggest that it is outrageous that a person who is deprived of these standard amenities should have an opportunity, through my hon. and learned Friend's Amendment, to take steps to secure them is, to my mind, quite indefensible in this day of the twentieth century.

I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will divide the Committee on this Amendment. I hope that it will be understood that—because we do not believe that people should be unable to obtain the standard amenities which are included within the terms of the Bill—we regard the Amendment and the new Clause as essential. In conclusion, I should like to say that I hope that before we finish with the Bill the right hon. Gentleman will be able to feel that it is necessary not merely not to be hostile, but that, on a matter like this, he should at last show some enthusiasm for a good cause.

Mr. Michael Cliffe (Shoreditch and Finsbury)

I was rather surprised by the latter part of what the Parliamentary Secretary said concerning this Amendment, which was dealt with so ably by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). The hon. Gentleman applauded my hon. and learned Friend for the excellent job he had done and then gave a thousand reasons why he could not, of course, agree to it. It is most deplorable that Ministers should try to give reasons for rejecting what is plainly a reasonable Amendment to provide something for the very people for whom, as the Minister himself has said, the Bill is designed, namely, the tenants. The Government are pleading poverty on the part of the landlords.

It is a mistake today to take into account the suggestion that owners of property could not perform their proper obligations and provide for what we regard as essential needs. I say that quite objectively because property today is not merely a capital asset as we generally understand it. Many of us know that properties which only a few years ago, could attract £300 or £400, the type of property to which attention is particularly directed under the Bill, are fetching three, four or five times that amount because of the present extreme scarcity. If there are such landlords, they ought to dispose of what is a capital asset, when they can obtain a good profit at the present time, in order to enable us to carry out what we consider, and what I hope hon. Members opposite consider, are essential improvements for the tenants.

It is generally agreed that the things which are referred to as bribes—the improvement grants under the Housing Repairs and Rents Act and the Rent Act, 1957—have not done what was envisaged would be done as a result of those bribes. The landlords implemented only that part of the legislation which gave them the right to increase rents. They did not carry out the necessary repairs because they felt that they were doing very well in any case, and did not carry out their commitments because they were not legally compelled to do so. If we are concerned about this type of property we should pass the Amendment because it concerns something which should supersede anything concerned in the previous three Amendments.

I hope that hon. Members opposite will support the Amendment. If they are not prepared to do that, I agree with my hon. Friends that we should divide on it.

Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)

I did not intend to speak until I heard the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary in rejecting the Amendment, and that of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) who lost control of himself and let the cat out of the bag. The argument appears to be that we should not put teeth into the Bill because it may be that the owner of a property is very hard up. That is the kind of argument which was always used against any improvement in the social conditions for the last 100 years. It used to be the poor widow and her mite. Now it is the hard-up landlord who cannot afford to do it.

If it is true that there is a large number of landlords who cannot afford to do the repairs which the Bill regards as minimum improvements, the only conclusion to which one can come is that the Bill will be as much of a mouldy stick or carrot as the Prime Minister's Bill of a year or two ago, which did practically nothing to improve the internal conditions of these houses.

I can take the Parliamentary Secretary to rows of the kind of house with which the Bill is presumably intended to deal which are owned not by small people without any income but by large London property companies. Not one of these houses has had any improvement done to it under the Prime Minister's mouldy carrot Bill.

Mr. Lindgren

Mouldy turnip.

Mr. Gibson

Whether turnip or carrot, if it is mouldy it is nasty.

If that is so, how can hon. Members expect that landlords are likely to take advantage of the very much smaller grant which the Bill gives to make these improvements when they know that they are doing all right as it is in getting their 6, 7, 8, 9 or 10 per cent.? The Committee should not pass the Bill without incorporating the proposed Clause, or something very like it, which will help a tenant who has not satisfactory facilities for storing food. I do not know whether hon. Members have ever been in any of these houses, but some of them in the back streets of my constituency simply have not any facilities for storing food. Very often, food is found in an old box with a perforated door in the back yard. They certainly have not hot water, and to put in a bathroom is almost impossible because one of the other rooms would have to be used for the purpose. Yet all of these houses are occupied, all are suffering from bad decay, and we cannot get any real improvements in the conditions under which tenants live.

If it is to be left to the good will of the owners, even this carrot or turnip is not big enough to attract them. It is therefore essential that, if we mean what we say about the Bill, a Clause such as is proposed should be put in the Bill to put some teeth into it and in order to give the tenant some opportunity of compelling the owner to provide satisfactory facilities for storing food, and a water closet contiguous with, close to or inside the house. The very fact that we are even discussing this matter seems to me to be a slight on our modern civilisation.

There are hundreds of thousands of these houses in the country, and there are tens of thousands of them in the London area. I am amazed that the Parliamentary Secretary should say that, while he has a great deal of sympathy with the principle of the proposed new Clause, because there may be some small owners who would have difficulty in finding the necessary capital to make these improvements we should turn down the proposal.

I am coming to the conclusion that the real object of the Government is to help the big owners if possible and that they are not concerned with the welfare, interest and happiness of the tenants and families who live in them. I hope that the Committee will insert the proposed new Clause in the Bill so that it will have a few teeth which will make it work effectively.

Mr. Ross

It is a great pity that the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) spoiled what was up to that time a very objective and serious discussion on a matter of considerable importance by parading, I thought quite unnecessarily, his political prejudices. We are, after all, discussing what was admitted by the Parliamentary Secretary to be a serious effort to remedy what is undoubtedly a weakness in the Bill.

In considering the houses which we should like to see improved in Scotland, I do not think that anyone can come to any other conclusion but that we must have some such provision as is suggested in the proposed new Clause if anything at all is to be done. It is absolutely historic in relation to these houses in Scotland. The Government tried to exhort the landlords. They sought to induce and sweeten them with powers to enable them to increase rents. They were offered improvement grants if they would improve the houses. What is the story? The landlords have not sought to use any of that legislation open to them to improve the houses of Scotland. The Joint Under-Secretary knows quite well that in general the only people who have taken advantage of the 1949 Act where it was available to them are owner-occupiers. The great lack concerns the houses which we deal with in the Amendment.

We are merely asking the Government to do what they say is their aim—to get the maximum number of houses improved through the provision of standard amenities. All we suggest is that the tenant should be given the right to send a notice to his landlord to the effect that he wants an improvement carried out, and, failing that, himself to make application to the local authority and then to carry on and do the job.

If that goes through, the house will be improved. Surely, that is what everyone wants. If this is the only way to get the great majority of the houses that can be so dealt with in Scotland improved, why do the Government hesitate? Why does the hon. Member for Crosby fly into a passion and declare and proclaim his political servitude as the lackey of the landlord and the puppet of property?

I sincerely hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will prove the Scotsman wrong and that this will be one issue in which lie will not be a yes-man and in which he will say to the Prime Minister, I disagree with you, Mr. Prime Minister. If we are to have housing improvements in tenant occupancy in Scotland we must have this Amendment." if the Prime Minister continues to be stubborn, I hope that the Secretary of State will offer his resignation. I hope that the Secretary of State appreciates how the people of Scotland are feeling about the Scottish team of Ministers. If he read the Scotsman of a fortnight ago he will appreciate that here is his way to answer the challenge. He can answer it by accepting the Amendment, to the great benefit of the people of Scotland.

Whereupon Motion made, and Question proposed, That The CHAIRMAN do report Progress and ask leave to sit again—[Mr. H. Brooke],—put and agreed to.

Committee Report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.