HC Deb 13 April 1964 vol 693 cc43-6
Mr. Corfield

I beg to move, in page 67, in line 4, at the end to insert: (5) In Section 19(2) of the Act of 1961 (which imposes certain duties on the occupier for the time being of a house in respect of which a direction is given under that Section fixing a limit as regards the numbers who should live there) the reference to the occupier for the time being of the house shall include a reference to any person who is for the time being entitled or authorised to permit individuals to take up residence in the house or any part of the house. This is an Amendment to Section 19 of the 1961 Act, which authorises a local authority to set a limit to the number of individuals living in a multi-occupied house and puts the duty of compliance on the occupier for the time being. The Section was enacted in that way because it was then expected that the legal occupier would be the only person capable of exercising the necessary control.

During the Committee stage of the Bill, attention was drawn to the difficulties which arise—the hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) was one of those who did so—where the house or part of the house is vacant and the owner is legally in possession, but is, perhaps, outside the jurisdiction. By letting through an agent he can thereby re-establish the original number of individuals in the building after having initially allowed the number to run down in accordance with the order. This problem was not covered by the original wording.

Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

I recognise that there is multi-occupation and gross overcrowding in the London area and in other parts of England. In Scotland, there is a great deal of overcrowding—

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Do I understand, that, with this Amendment, we are discussing the Amendment in the name of the Secretary of State for Scotland to Schedule 3, in page 120, line 51 at the end to insert: In this subsection the reference to the occupier for the time being of the house shall include a reference to any person who is for the time being entitled or authorised to permit individuals to take up residence in the house or in part of the house?

Mr. Speaker

That was not my understanding, but, if it is convenient to the House, I should not raise any objection.

Mr. Corfield

The two Amendments do cover the same point. It is my mistake, I should have asked that they be considered together, Sir.

Mr. Speaker

I am obliged to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis).

Mr. Manuel

I wish to be reassured about the position which arises because of the subletting which goes on in many parts of Scotland, and to be told whether the subsection to be added to Clause 63 would protect that position. In Section 19(2) of the 1961 Act there is some local authority control. It is stated: not to permit any individual to take up residence in the house so as to increase the number of individuals living in the house to a number above the limit specified in the direction… Section 15 of the same Act states: …having regard to the number of inidividuals or households, or both, accommodated for the time being on the premises, as not to be reasonably suitable for occupation by those individuals or households, the local authority may serve either… There may be a property comprising 12 or six rooms and the local authority may be concerned at the number of people living in it and try to control that number. The local authority may have decided what work it is necessary to carry out to provide proper amenities, but this work has not been completed. The local authority, in such a case, might say that it would limit the number of individuals, but the Amendment says: …shall include a reference to any person who is for the time being entitled or authorized to permit individuals to take up residence in the house or any part of the house". I wish to have more information about this person. Will he be the owner of the house; or someone connected with the local authority; or a tenant living in the house who is to be given this—as I consider—onerous task?

4.15 p.m.

It may be that the proper number of people living in a 12-room house has not been exceeded. But a situation could easily arise in which each room of the house was sublet to a separate family and the amenities available would not be sufficient for so many families. This has been the great difficulty in respect of many tenant properties in Scotland where several families may be obliged to use one toilet, or one washbasin at the top of a stairway.

I wish to know whether the Amendment is sufficiently strong to control the subletting in Scotland which is of a different type from that in England. Who will authorise the number of households which may be housed in one property? I think that hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies are entitled to know.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Before we accept this Amendment I think it right to ask the question which has been asked before, but not answered: what is to happen to tenants displaced from overcrowded houses in circumstances where a landlord may be acting honourably or dishonourably? There will be nowhere for them to go, and, short of a vast increase in the amount of local authority housing, will the Bill do any good at all, or will the problem be transferred from one place to another?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not follow how that attaches to this Amendment. How does the definition of an occupier for this purpose affect the problem raised by the hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Allaun

We are dealing with the question of overcrowded houses and I took the opportunity to raise the problem, Sir.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are confined to what results from adding or from not adding these words.

Mr. Corfield

I understand that the position in Scotland is the same as in England. It may help if I remind the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) that Section 19 of the 1961 Act deals exclusively with limiting the number of individuals in the house. In other words, where there is a house which is not deficient as a property, but has become deficient because the number of people in it is excessive, a local authority may say that the number should be reduced by so many, but the effect of the order is that no relets shall be allowed. In other words, a remedy is being effected by wastage rather than by notice.

The difficulty has arisen where the person who is entitled to relet, who will normally be the owner is outside the jurisdiction of the law, which means that the person with an interest could be prosecuted only for aiding and abetting, because he is not a person having control, and the man truly responsible is beyond the arm of the British courts.

Section 15 of the 1961 Act raises a different set of circumstances, where the local authority is of the opinion that, having regard to the number of individuals or households in the house as at that moment, certain works are necessary; and there the question of reletting, or letting bits of the house which were not previously let, does not arise.

Mr. Manuel

The hon. Gentleman appreciates that the Amendment refers us to Section 19 (2) which, in turn, refers us to Section 15. Section 19 not only deals with the individuals he indicated but also incorporates the conditions applying in Section 15.

Mr. Corfield

I see the point, but I think that it is clear—and I will seek further advice in case it is not—that the Amendment as drafted, which refers to Section 19 and brings in anything to which Section 19 refers, covers the point which the hon. Member had in mind.

Mr. Manuel

I hope so, but I am not too sure.

Amendment agreed to.