HC Deb 17 May 1962 vol 659 cc1667-86

10.13 p.m.

Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Housing (Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation) Regulations, 1962 (S.I., 1962, No. 668) dated 29th March, 1962, a copy of which was laid before this House on 5th April, be annulled. This is very much one of those cases in which the procedure of the House makes for a certain amount of embarrassment, I think to some extent on both sides. In order that we may discuss these Regulations at all I have to move that they be annulled.

The House has, therefore, to consider the arguments that I have to put forward and the comments I have to make without the advantage of, as it were, a Second Reading speech from the Parliamentary Secretary to explain the main outlines of the Regulations. This is to some extent embarrassing for the Parliamentary Secretary because he may feel that some of the points that I make are rather ill-founded if one looks at the Regulations as a whole. At the same time I feel a little uncomfortable in taking upon myself some of the job of the Ministry in explaining what it is all about. But I think that the House should have some idea of what it is we are talking about.

The Housing Act, 1961, provides, among other things, for the regulation and control of what are called houses in multiple occupation; that is, houses which are jet in lodgings or let to more than one family. In the Act there is provision that the Government will lay by Regulation a code of management for the administration of those houses in respect of which a management order has been made. It is only right to say that there is no doubt at all that this code has been very carefully considered.

The code has been considered by local authority associations, and there has been a certain amount of consultation behind the scenes between the Minister and his predecessor and also my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) and myself and others. We know that our suggestions have been considered, in some cases sympathetically. Being somewhat arrogant and egotistical, I spent some time going through the editions of the drafts to ascertain whether any of my suggestions had got into the final code. I found one small phrase, which at any rate gave me a certain feeling of creative satisfaction.

I have one or two comments to make about the details of the draft, but I should like to say at the beginning that I think that on the whole this is a thorough and workmanlike document, which, if it is enforced, and it if is enforced vigorously, could do a great deal to meet what everybody recognises as being a very serious social problem. If I may go through the details and make one or two small comments more or less in the order in which they come in the Regulations, that may make for ease of following, though not necessarily for logical coherence.

The first point I make arises on the interpretation section of the Regulations, and I wish to enter a slight caveat in regard to Regulation 2 (3). This sets out to define, among other things, what is meant by repair: Any requirement of these regulations (howsoever expressed) with respect to repair shall be construed as requiring a standard of repair which is reasonable in all the circumstances, and in determining the appropriate standard of repair … regard shall be had to the age, character and prospective life of the house. I feel a certain anxiety about that limitation with respect to the age, character and prospective life of the house. I have never been able to see the logic of saying that, because a house is thoroughly unsuitable to live in, one should not try to get the best possible standards which can be obtained for the unfortunate people forced to live in it. Thinking now not so much of the local authorities as of the courts, I fear that, if those words are interpreted strictly, they might, perhaps, lead to the attitude of mind which says, "This house is an awful dump. If you have to live in a dump like this, you really cannot expect very much more than amenities of this kind". That would be an unfortunate situation. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will say something about the effect of that limitation.

I welcome the part of the Regulations dealing with the duties of management. It contains as thorough and detailed a definition of management as one could possibly have. I do not think that we can do better than take the words which the Minister himself uses in paragraph 14 of Circular 16/62 with which he commends the Regulations to define what this is intended to do: The object of defining the manager in this way is to ensure that responsibility for management within the terms of the Regulations can be placed upon the person who is drawing the profits from the lettings. This is a very important point. In other words, the grand design here is to follow the profits from the letting, wheresoever they take us. It is provided in the paragraph that an agent is not exempted and if he is holding himself out as the manager he becomes liable, but, at the same time, it gives power to follow the profits in order to ensure that the person drawing the profits is made responsible for maintaining the amenities and observing the code. This is to be welcomed.

I welcome also Regulation 9. Here we have a slight extension of what at one time I feared we might have in regard to windows. The duty to keep windows in repair follows whether or not they are in common use. This goes beyond merely applying the code to those parts of the dwelling and applies it to parts which are in individual use, with, of course, the reservation that it does not apply to any repair which is made necessary because the premises are not being used in a tenant-like manner by the person to whom they are let. I do not know what happens if the small boy of the household kicks a football through a window. Is that a failure by the person to whom the premises are let to use them in a tenant-like manner? I wonder quite what are the limits of that exemption. Perhaps we could be told about that.

I very much welcome also Regulation 11 (3) which deals with parts of premises which are subject to a closing order. This has been a gap in previous byelaws. It often happens in rows of old houses that the basements are closed and occupation is forbidden. The result is that the basements become a refuse dump, not only unsightly but very often dangerous. At one time, I feared that, if this code were confined only to those parts of the houses which were in use, or in common use, this might mean that such places as the basements became a horrible no-man's land for which nobody was responsible. I warmly welcome, therefore, the inclusion of paragraph (3): If any part of the house is subject to a closing order, or not in use, the management shall ensure that such part, including any passage and staircase directly giving access to it, is kept reasonably clean and free from refuse and litter. I have a question on Regulation 12 which deals with the disposal of refuse and litter. It is the duty of the Manager: to provide, and maintain the provision of, suitable refuse and litter bins … I think that the insertion of the words "maintain the provision of" is something which I suggested, and I claim a certain amount of credit for it. But what is the test of suitable and … adequate to the requirements of tenants"? The ironical situation here is that the local authority may prosecute a person for not having an adequate supply of refuse bins, but it may be the negligence or incompetence of the local authority which leads to refuse not being collected. Unhappily, this is not as infrequent as one would like to think. From time to time, even in quite well run local authorities, something hits the refuse collection service—illness, an industrial dispute, or something else—and suddenly it stops collecting refuse, perhaps for a substantial period. Sometimes this may be a matter of weeks and sometimes, where there is supposed to be a bi-weekly collection, the manager assumes that it exists and provides a supply of containers on the basis of a bi-weekly collection but finds that the collection does not take place and the containers are chock-full. Then the local authority whose fault it is can threaten him with a prosecution.

I do not know what is meant by the words: adequate to the requirements of tenants". Is it adequate if the management must assume that the refuse will not necessarily be collected? That seems to be a rather uncertain test to put on somebody.

The next point deals with the question of displaying documents for information and that is extremely important. It is important that this information should be put out. In the circular the Minister has provided for this in what no doubt he regards as an explanation almost in words of one syllable. Whether that will be easily understood I am not quite sure, but it is important to see that the information about the code is available to tenants and that they know what they have to do if the code is not being complied with.

Those are the main points about what is in the code upon which I wanted to comment in detail. There are three other points I wish to mention. The first is one which was raised in Standing Committee on the Bill. That is the question of door knockers. I do not know if the Parliamentary Secretary was concerned in the recent local elections or if his great and distinguished position exempted him from having to distribute election addresses. If he had to distribute them he would take a very emotional view on the subject of inadequate door knockers and inadequate letter boxes. There is nothing worse than trying to put election addresses into a house which has not an adequate letterbox or trying to canvass people when the door knocker does not work.

The hon. Gentleman's predecessor more or less gave an undertaking, although he did not accept it as such, that this would be included in the code and I was very sorry indeed to find that it was not included. That was a mistake and it is something which may turn up at some time in revision.

In Section 15 of the Act there is provision for space heating. It says: installations for space heating or for the use of space heating appliances. There does not seem to be provision to see that they are properly supervised. This has been the source of very great trouble, and indeed loss of life in many overcrowded houses where space heating appliances have been used negligently or have not been suitable for the purpose. They have led to damage, to children being burned and so on. I ask whether we are covered adequately in regard to space heating.

The third point is, I admit, a private bee of mine with which I would not seek in any way to implicate anyone else. One of the great causes of friction and trouble in houses of this type is noise. We are becoming increasingly alive to the fact that noise is as much of a nuisance as inadequate ventilation or dangerous stairs, and so on. Noise can cause more mental anguish and injury and more social friction than any of these other factors.

Parliament passed the Noise Abatement Act, which is connected very much with the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir), and a provision relating to nuisance caused by noise was placed in the Public Health Act. That having been done by Parliament, I am sorry that it is not possible for the ingenuity of the hon. Gentleman's Department to have found some way of including it in these Regulations. It is rather ironical that at a time when we have gone out of our way to recognise the importance of preventing noise and regarding it as a nuisance—

Mr. Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I am not expressing any sympathy or otherwise with the "bee in his bonnet", but would not that involve an amendment of the Statute, which we cannot discuss on this Prayer?

Mr. MacColl

I am not sure whether it would or not, though if you say it would, Mr. Speaker, I accept that it would. Therefore, I will leave it at that, having made my point.

My final point relates to the enforcement of this code. It is a waste of time spending day after day in Standing Committee going through all these matters and producing a scheme of this sort, carefully examining it and reaching a great deal of agreement as to what is to go into it, and then at the end of it all the thing becomes a dead letter and nothing happens.

Although I am certainly very glad that the Minister has sent out his circular with this code, commending it to the local authorities, I must say that I thought that in places he was being a little feeble. For example, to take just one illustration, in paragraph 23 of the circular the Minister deals with the requirement that work shall be done to make good neglect of management, which is an integral part of the code. One is required to put the house into reasonable condition before the code can be enforced. Paragraph 23 deals with the question of allowing time for the work to be done, and says: … where it is clear that the manager finds it impossible for practical reasons to carry out the works within the time allowed the local authority should not hesitate to grant an extension. It is obvious common sense that if a genuine landlord, acting in good faith, has good reasons for not carrying out the work, the local authority is most unlikely to take him to court.

My fear is precisely the opposite, that those words will be regarded as a directive to local authorities, and particularly local authority officials, to be rather weak in clinching these matters and not sufficiently vigorous in enforcing them. I think there is a temptation to let matters drag on. One knows what happens. Notices are not served for a certain time. Then more time elapses while efforts are made to get in touch with the man on whom it is required to serve the notices. Eventually they are served. But the work is not done. Then, after failing to keep a few appointments, the man who is required to do the work eventually appears.

This is followed after a time by some agreement about the work being done. After a long time the case goes to court, where it is quite likely that the summons is withdrawn. By then the work has been done. That kind of atmosphere brings enforcement into discredit. I do not believe that local authorities should approach this work in that sort of spirit. They should regard it as a major operation, which is absolutely essential for the well-being and happiness of many unfortunate people living in deplorable conditions.

We all agree about that. We said it in the Second Reading debate on the Act, and again and again in Committee. Starting from that point, the message going out from this House to local authorities should not be, "Play this quietly", but "This is a great opportunity for you to show what you can do in the way of vigorous administration in public health and housing legislation. Go to it; get on with the job." I very much hope that that view will be taken by local authorities and that they will get on with the job.

That leads me to my next point on enforcement, namely, the question whether it will be possible to carry out this operation in the light of the difficulties of getting the necessary staff. The code will require a great deal of work and inspection. First, there will be the selection of houses for which an order is to be made and then, when the order has been made, there will have to be all the negotiations to make sure it is enforced. There will have to be advice, and visits will have to be paid to houses at all hours of the day and night—because this is not the job that can be done after ten o'clock in the morning, by appointment. The enforcement officers will have to go along to a house in the middle of the night in order to find out how many people are sleeping there, and how they are sleeping. It will be a 24-hour job, and will impose a tremendous strain on the officials doing the work.

As anyone connected with local government knows, the great difficulty arises out of the extreme shortage of public health inspectors, especially in areas where these problems are acute. It is extremely difficult to get inspectors in these areas and, having got them, to keep them. By the natural process of promotion, they tend to go into areas where they have rather more pleasant jobs and probably better working conditions.

Unless something can be done to get sufficient people to do this job I am afraid that it will be a waste of time. What will happen is that a local authority will read the circular and say, "If only we had a few public health inspectors we might be able to do something about it". They will not get on with the job, for that very reason. We do not want to make Parliament look ridiculous, or to betray the confidence of the people, who think that we mean business when we pass legislation. Therefore, it is important that the Ministry should find some way of making a drive to secure that adequate staff is available to do this job.

I have spoken far longer than I had intended, because I thought it necessary to expand some points for the benefit of hon. Members who have not lived with these matters for as many months as have my hon. Friends and myself. We would know this in our sleep. Generally speaking, we welcome the code. It is because we attach so much importance to it that we felt we should pray against it. We wanted to give it the fullest publicity, and to see that the House made it perfectly clear that it takes the matter seriously and, having examined the code very carefully, commends it to local authorities for enforcement.

10.40 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

The hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) called attention to the fact that there will be difficulty in enforcing these Regulations unless there is sufficient staff. While congratulating the Minister on producing a difficult set of Regulations, I think that in one respect he has created more difficulties for himself, and particularly for the staff which has to enforce these Regulations.

The Regulation to which I wish particularly to refer is Regulation 8. Generally speaking, the Regulations direct that something should be done in connection with the common parts of a building, not in connection with parts occupied by individual tenants—except when one comes to Regulation 8. These Regulations are made under Sections 12 and 13, which are in Part II of the Act. The powers under Section 13 are wide, and I have no doubt that the Minister was within his powers in introducing Regulation 8, but what Regulation 8 does is to transport Section 32 of the Act from Part III of the Act into Part II.

In Part III a civil liability is imposed on landlords to keep premises in repair—a civil liability which arises only in the case of certain leases. As far as I can remember, there was no indication at any stage of the passage of the Bill in which my right hon. Friend the Minister warned us that he would endeavour to turn a civil liability of the landlord into a criminal liability under Part II of the Act. I think that by doing so he is creating great difficulties in the enforcement of these Regulations, for it means that the premises have to be inspected not only as regards the common parts of them but even as regards the rooms occupied by a tenant, and whoever is to enforce the Regulations has to obtain entry into the tenant's rooms or flat to see that the landlord is carrying out the duty imposed on him—if an order is made under section 12—under Regulation 8.

This is a case in which we might well have been warned during the passage of the Bill into an Act that this was intended. We certainly were not warned. It is a departure from the Act in that it turns a civil liability of the landlord, which we discussed fully in the passage of the Bill and which was amended and restricted to certain types of leases, into a possible criminal offence by introducing it into these Regulations. I feel that the Minister has gone too far in that respect.

Apart from that, I congratulate him on producing these Regulations, which must have been extremely difficult to draft from a practical point of view, and which, if one is not seeking to try to find out whether the owner of the property is keeping the tenant's part of it in order, would be practical of enforcement.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to produce a good reason for this rather unorthodox procedure of transporting a Section from one part of the Act into another and converting it from a civil liability into a criminal liability.

10.44 p.m.

Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)

It is natural that those of us who sat in the Committee stage of the Bill should, in reading through the Regulations, find weaknesses which stem from what we thought were weaknesses in the Bill and on which we unsuccessfully pressed the Minister at the time, but the test of the value of these Regulations is whether they help the local authorities to implement the Bill, and no doubt in due course they will be informing the Minister whether these Regulations are of very much help. There is, of course, a wide range of efficiency among local authorities in the handling of these matters. Some do a great deal more than others and the success of the Act depends on the energy of the local authorities and their determination to recruit the public health inspectors who will carry out the principles of it.

There is no need for me now to complain about the absence of a list of houses in multiple occupation, because any local authority which is carrying out Section 15 is more or less bound to compile a register of all houses of that type in its area. A local authority could not do the job without such a list. We still have this faintly ridiculous situation that the Regulations implementing Sections 13 and 14 refer to managers of houses and concentrate on these managers. Yet a manager does not exist in law until he has been certified as such. As soon as he becomes an efficient manager he disappears from the list.

It is a rather absurd situation and concerns not so much the manager as the mismanager. It is rather like saying that a licensee of a public house should receive his licence only if he has an excessive number of drunks on his premises or allows them to stay there all night. This system of having people put on and taken off lists seems of very little value. It merely serves to confuse the issue. These Regulations would be harmless and helpful if we were dealing with a situation in which there were no people obliged to live in this type of house. The situation would be different if there were a number of people who, from choice—because they were staying in the area for only a short while, had a temporary job or were doing some training—were looking for temporary accommodation. To a certain extent the operation of the market would ensure that a manager would fulfil most of these conditions and the Regulations would ensure that the bad manager would not "cut the standard of the goods," if I might use that expression.

But we are not dealing with that sort of situation. The situation at hand concerns houses in our overcrowded cities which, ipso facto, means misuse because they were built for one purpose and are being used for another. There was nothing wrong with these houses in the minds of the original designers and architects. Since then, of course, they have been split into tenements but without the corresponding alterations having been done—sanitary conveniences, kitchens, bathrooms and so on—sufficient for the needs of the families now living in them.

I hope, therefore, that the local authorities will be writing to the Minister informing him of the inadequacies of the Regulations, for they can do very little to put right the weakness of the lack of a provision against eviction. Eviction remains the first resource of the manager against whom an order is made and that will place a serious burden on the local authorities. That is regrettable, but I hope that even at this stage the Minister will be able to find a way to underline such incentives as already exist and, perhaps, to think of some way to make it more profitable for the landlord to improve the property rather than to evict the overcrowded tenants. This could be done by providing more facilities to get loans from local authorities, for the local authorities to do the work—incentives such as charging the landlord more for his water rates if he does not supply the proper facilities and more severe local authority inspections. Those are important points.

Another matter which I hope can be worked into the Regulations sooner or later is some way of passing these facts which appear on the notice board in the house to the tenants and making them permanently available to prospective tenants. There is something wrong in a situation where the manager is instructed to abate overcrowding and does so and later the tenants, with or without his consent, overcrowd again. There ought to be some provision by which the danger of fresh overcrowding escaping the notice of the local authority, or the necessity to make repeated inspections, could be avoided if the prospective tenants knew the conditions which had been laid down for the occupation of the house. It is a pity that a copy of that notice could not be put in the rent book of the tenants so that they knew not only their rights but—an important point where there are still a number of statutory tenancies—their obligations.

We have Regulations which vaguely say that the manager shall ensure that certain things shall be done. In a contented and stable community where houses are shared by families, the tenants soon establish the conventions by which each family cleans one part of the staircase and landings and amenities in common use. If this is an obligation on the tenant, it should be in the rent book.

I do not want to detain the House by making many trivial points but I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will not make a joke of my hon. Friend's experience in delivering election addresses. Serious as it may be to my hon. Friend, it is nowhere near as serious as the difficulty which the milkman has when he has to collect his money once a week and the embarrassment often caused to the postman who has to deliver a parcel and has to decide whether to break the regulations by leaving it with a neighbour. This question of easy access from the front door can be immensely important.

Emphatic protest should be made about the failure to get into the Act and into subsequent Regulations anything to do with the prevention of the spread of fire. This failure almost amounts to criminal negligence on the part of those who drew up the Act and the Regulations. I hope that on second or third thoughts the Minister will be able to find a way to work into the provision about staircases and landings in common use a requirement not only that obstruction should be forbidden and cleared out of the way and that handrails and defective staircases should be attended to, but that Regulations dealing with the spread of fire should apply as if it were a new building being constructed.

This is an immensely important point. A number of tragedies result from the spread of fire in places of multiple occupation where proper provision could have been quickly and cheaply installed. I believe that a requirement to this effect could be introduced under the heading of landings and staircases in common use. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will look at this again. I am sure that he will know how it is that nobody in his Department is automatically obliged to obtain advice on the subject. It is because of the ludicrous anomaly that the committee which advises the appropriate member of the Government on fire regulations advises the Home Secretary because he is in charge of fire brigades. Therefore, it is not automatic that that advice should be forthcoming to the Minister of Housing and Local Government, but I am certain that he can have it for the asking, and I hope that in the first revised draft of the Regulations he may find a way of introducing this manifestly important point.

11.0 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Geoffrey Rippon)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) for the way in which he introduced this matter. I am sure that we all understand the procedural difficulties which made it necessary to propose the annulment of Regulations which he really supports.

We are all agreed about the necessity for action to be taken to deal with the really squalid conditions which exist today in many houses in multi occupation. It is an important social issue, and I am glad that we have had the opportunity to debate these Regulations and to give them some publicity. I assure the hon. Gentleman, and the House, that we intend business on this matter.

There are difficulties about staff. That is the main reason why the code of management is being applied only to houses in which there has been a failure of management. It is one of the reasons why we stated in the course of the discussions that took place on the Bill that it would be unwise to proceed at once with proposals for registration of all houses in multi occupation.

What we have said is that it is essential that local authorities should get on and deal with the conditions in the worst houses, and I am sure that most of the local authorities who have a real problem in this matter are well aware of the houses that need to be deal with. They should deal with these houses rather than devote any of their limited resources to secondary matters such as registration, which can be considered in the years ahead.

The purpose of these Regulations made under Section 13 of the 1961 Act is to enable a measure of decency in such matters as repair, maintenance and cleanliness to be restored in these houses where, as we know, little or no regard has been paid in many cases to the observance of minimum standards of management. They cover the matters directly specified in Section 13 of the Act—broadly, the keeping in good order of the water supply, drainage, refuse disposal arrangements, and those parts of the house in common use. But, as was made clear in the course of the discussions on the Bill, the fact that we specified in Section 13 the matters to which the Regulations might specifically apply did not limit or restrict in any way the generality of the Regulation-making power.

I should like to deal in more detail later with what my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) said about Regulation 8 and why we require it, but it is not fair to suggest that the House was not warned that the Regulations would go as wide as was felt necessary after discussion with all the appropriate bodies.

What we cannot do is to go beyond the powers of the Act. That is the position in regard to making Regulations dealing with noise. Apart from the question whether there is a power, it would in any event be difficult to impose on the occupiers of one particular class of dwelling laws that do not apply to other people.

The same consideration applies to some of the things said by the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) about rent books. It may be that the hon. Gentleman should direct his attention to the admirable Bill which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nottingham, Central (Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux) is sponsoring, which will greatly strengthen and simplify the law in regard to rent books.

As regards fire, Regulation 10 deals with means of escape in case of fire. It says: The manager shall ensure that all means of escape from fire in the house (including any escape apparatus) are in and are maintained in proper repair and good order and kept free from obstruction, and that there are displayed in the house with respect to such means of escape as aforesaid … such notices as the local authority may, if they think fit, reasonably require. Here again, we are doing as much as we can within the limits imposed on us by the Acts and by the nature of the Regulations. As the hon. Member for Widnes pointed out, these regulations—as we promised when the Bill was considered—have been the subject of a good deal of discussion and consultation. We fulfilled our undertaking to consult the local authority associations. We have also consulted a large number of other interested bodies. Indeed, the drafts of the Regulations were circulated twice. The hon. Member for Widnes obviously directed his attention to those drafts, and he can take some pride from the fact that he has left his mark on the final edition.

Certainly we dealt, in replying to the observations which he and his hon. Friends made, with the question of Regulation 9. The hon. Gentleman referred to it and pointed out that it should cover the repair of window sash cords. I think that the position is that if the window were broken by the tenant or a member of his household the manager would not be responsible, if it were broken by some casual passerby no doubt there might be discussion on the liability.

Regulation 12 concerns refuse bins. We indicated that we thought that Regulation 12 should be adequate to deal with the provision of suitable dustbins. That point is covered. If the bins are not suitable, the local authority will be able to require matters to be put right. The hon. Gentleman suggested that it might be that the local authority, for some reason or other, would be unable to collect the refuse, and he asked what would then be the liability of the manager. I think that the position then is that the manager would not be liable because he would be able to plead reasonable excuse within the meaning of Section 13 (4) of the Act.

The hon. Gentleman dealt also with Regulation 7, which makes provision for the repair and good order of entrances, including the doors which are in common use. That should ensure that the front door itself is in decent condition, but I do not think it will quite guarantee the success of a prosecution for having a faulty letter box or knocker. I appreciate that some observations were made in the course of the discussions as to how wide this Regulation would go.

If I may make a general observation, it would be a pity if we had tried to muffle the impact of these Regulations by over-elaboration. Much more benefit is likely to come by our concentrating on the really effective provisions of the Act and not worrying too much about what happens when a small boy breaks a window or when the local authority for some reason is behind time with the collection of refuse.

We can safely say that most of the points which were raised in the circulation of the drafts have been met in one way or another so far as that is possible. But, obviously, we have not been able to satisfy everybody on every point. However, we have—and I think the hon. Gentleman would acknowledge this—reached a pretty good measure of agreement. I know that he suggested that some of the code was a bit feeble. I appreciate that hon. Members generally must be concerned to see that these Regulations are stiff enough. At this stage this is largely a matter of judgment. We have tried to strike the right balance between the various interests concerned, but the real test will be the extent to which these Regulations succeed in their object.

Along with the other powers under Part II of the 1961 Act, I would say that Circular 16/62, which was issued on 5th April to local authorities, made it clear that the Minister proposes to call for a report on these provisions in about two years' time, not only on the use that the local authorities have made of them but on the experience that they have gained in applying them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby drew particular attention to Regulation 8. This is one of the more important Regulations. It caused a measure of controversy. I believe he is right in saying that it is within the powers of Section 13—I certainly am advised that that is so—but the real point is whether it is a reasonable Regulation for us to have made. It defines the responsibilities of the manager in the rooms let off to tenants and lodgers as living accommodation as distinct from the parts of the house in common use. It requires that, at the commencement of a letting, it is the duty of the manager to ensure that the rooms let are in a reasonable state of structural repair and in a clean condition and that all the services in the rooms for water, gas, electricity, sanitation and heating are in proper working order. It provides also that where, at the date of the making of the relevant management order, the rooms are already let, then the manager must put them internally into a fit and proper condition. Also, it provides for a continuing obligation to keep the installations in a proper state of repair, except where the tenant or lodger is at fault, and except where those installations are obviously ones which are subject to a great deal of wear and tear by the tenant.

That is a common-sense approach. It would have been absurd if we had restricted the Regulations to the common parts such as halls and staircases and done nothing to ensure a reasonable improvement and decent standards in the living accommodation itself.

Some people thought that this Regulation went a bit too far and some have thought it did not go far enough. We have taken the view that there are limits to the responsibilities which can be put upon managers by Regulations, especially where there are heavy penalties for infringement. We have tried to strike a fair balance, though I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby that this is one of the Regulations which we shall have to look at closely and watch how it worked out in practice.

The hon. Member for Widnes referred briefly to the question of penalties and enforcement and the right of appeal. No one would dispute that there must be proper rights of appeal in these matters. The penalties are fairly severe. We have done this deliberately because we think that they must act as a deterrent to those landlords who exploit houses regardless of the observance of decent standards of management. Since the penalties are so severe, my right hon. Friend has been quite right, I think, in saying in the circular that he relies on local authorities to give the people concerned every opportunity to put matters right before resorting to the penalty provisions. I do not think that the fears which the hon. Member for Widnes expressed are justified. This is one of the matters which we must, perhaps, judge by experience.

Equally in enforcing the necessary works, it is important that local authorities should act reasonably. The hon. Member had some doubts about Regulation 2 and its reference to the standard of repair. Here again the circular quite rightly underlines the importance of this Regulation by drawing the attention of local authorities to the need for their being reasonable in their demands, for works to be done to comply with the Regulations. It seems to me perfectly reasonable in these matters that we should have regard to the age, character and prospective life of the house in laying down the standard.

It will be noted also that the works which can be called for under these Regulations are clearly distinguishable from the works which may be required under Sections 15 and 16 of the Act. They are simply works necessary to comply with the requirements of the management Regulations as contrasted with works of alteration or addition which may be required under Sections 15 and 16. I take the point that the hon. Member for Widnes made about space heating, which comes under Section 15, but I do not think that that is a matter which we could have dealt with directly in these Regulations.

This, of course, is the first attempt which has been made to deal seriously with this particular problem of badly managed houses in multiple occupation. In implementing the Act, we are breaking quite new ground; but I consider that the Regulations do show that we are determined that the strong powers which we have put into Part II of the 1961 Act shall be used vigorously by local authorities. The local authorities can take effective action backed up by severe penalties.

We have given an opportunity for the Opposition, the local authority associations and for all the other interested bodies to comment. I do not claim that the code of management embodied in these Regulations is the last word on the subject. The Regulations enable an effective start to be made. The sensible thing for us to do is to go ahead now and gain experience in working them. As we learn from experience I am sure we shall all wish to make improvements. With that assurance, I hope that the hon. Member and his hon. Friends will be inclined to allow these Regulations to go forward.

Mr. MacColl

There is just one comment I make to my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin). With much of what he said I entirely agree, but, in connection with what he said about the danger of people being evicted, which is a real problem we all felt in Committee, he will see from paragraph 4 of the circular that the Minister has been at least fair in drawing the attention of local authorities to their powers of compulsory purchase. In Committee we moved a new Clause on that and I was a little suspicious whether the Government meant people to know about it. To be fair to the Government, they have drawn to the attention of local authorities the fact that they have power of compulsory purchase where necessary. If that is enforced, and the Government co-operate in its enforcement, possibly that will be some safeguard.

I do not want to tread over the line by going back over the things which are thought to be outside the Act. My general point is that what Section 13 says is that standards of good management should be enforced. That is the general instruction behind the code. I say that standards of good management for any good manager should include Regulations about playing musical instruments after midnight in a block of flats or wherever it may be.

We have had a useful debate and we are grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for having explained some of the points. We were anxious to discuss these matters. What tends to happen is that we have a long debate in Committee and then, when Regulations come out, nobody takes any notice of them. We were anxious that there should be a full discussion of the Regulations so that their great importance should be drawn to the attention of the public. With the permission of the House, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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