HC Deb 13 April 1964 vol 693 cc87-99
>Mr. MacColl

I beg to move Amendment No. 114, in page 70, line 40, to leave out subsection (3).

>Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

>: It might be convenient to discuss, at the same time, the Government Amendment, Amendment No. 115, in line 44. at the end to insert: Provided that this subsection shall not apply to a right created with the consent in writing of the person or persons who would have power to create that right if the control order were not in force.

Mr. MacColl

I know fairly clearly what I want to do. I only hope that I understand what subsection (3) does and what the effect of eliminating it is. As I understand it, the Clause deals with the powers of the local authority under a control order and its power to deal with property as though it were the legal landlord. The situation is that the local authority may create an interest in the property which can be as near as may be a leasehold, and it may operate in general behaviour as if it is the legal owner.

But that is subject to an exception, which appears in subsection (3), and it is that exception that I want to eliminate. The exception is that The local authority shall not…create any right in the nature of a lease or licence which is for a fixed term exceeding one month or which is terminable by notice to quit…of more than four weeks. It seemed to us that the sensible way to overcome the rather awkward problem of security of tenure for the tenant in a property which is subject to a control order is to eliminate this restriction. We should not see any objection to the Minister's Amendment if the subsection were retained, but I hope very much that the subsection will be deleted.

When we discussed this in Committee I took particularly the point where there was a successful appeal—in other words, where there has been an outbreak of hostilities between the tenant and the landlord and the local authority has moved in with all the panoply of the order and taken over possession of the property, dispossessing the landlord and running it as the landlord. That is fine, and the tenant is all right. But if the dispossessed owner appeals, the county court judge has certain powers. If he allows the appeal, he can make it conditional, but we wanted to include among the conditions which would be looked at a condition that he could give the same protection against eviction as can be given in the case of a furnished house by the rent tribunal.

That was discussed in Committee, and I thought that the Government were being reasonably forthcoming and amiable about it. Indeed, I was rather rebuked by the Minister for being slightly timid and not really grasping the problem of the power required because I was limiting it to the appeal and was not dealing with what happened when the order expired with the effluxion of time. I was under the impression that the Government would do something about it. Therefore, I was a little surprised to find that nothing that I could recognise on the Notice Paper appeared to deal with the problem.

It seemed that the sensible thing to do was to get rid of the limit on the power of the local authority. It would then be possible for the local authority, while managing the property as a landlord, to have power, among other things, to give security of tenure by offering a short-term tenancy or leasehold or some interest in the land which went beyond the limit of a month. If it were possible for that to be done, it seems to me that protection would be obtained.

We may have to meet the argument that a local authority could maliciously and vindictively proceed to saddle the landlord with tenants that he did not want by giving a five-year lease. As we said in the earlier debate, local authorities are supposed to be responsible people with some experience and some public accountability, and when one is balancing, on the one hand, the interest of a man who is so bad a landlord that one has had to dispossess him by the most drastic method since the dissolution of the monastries and, on the other, the interests of a publicly accountable local authority carrying out its duties, it is surely not absurd to suggest that one might give some discretion to the local authority which has to do this distasteful work.

I hope to hear from the hon. Gentleman why he has not—if I am right in thinking that he has not—been able to produce some protection, certainly where there is an appeal. There is a real danger that where the local authority has a control order it is at least playing the hand and can to some extent dictate the terms, and when discussing the revocation of the control order, it can, even if it does not make legal conditions, argue the matter and say that if the landlord is prepared to execute a lease, or do something else, it is prepared to revoke the order.

It is not so easy when the order is finishing at the end of the period, because its maximum time has elapsed, but the worst case is when, suddenly and unexpectedly, there is a complete change in the situation as a result of an appeal being allowed. That, after all, is not the tenant's fault. It may not be the local authority's fault. It may have been done on a technicality. If we want to enable the local authority to discharge its job responsibly, we must give to it powers as wide as we possibly can. I suggest that the elimination of this restricted subsection is one right answer to the problem.

Mr. Corfield

The hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) has probably overlooked the Government Amendment, No. 163, which, I think, meets the main point that he has been argu- ing—namely, by giving power to the county court, on an appeal against the control order in the first place or an appeal against a refusal by a local authority to revoke the order, to authorise the local authority to create leases or, as the hon. Gentleman put it, "something as near as may be to a lease" up to a period of six months.

Mr. MacColl

I read that Amendment to try to understand it. It seemed to me that it was very rigidly limited to six months. The interests can, as I understand it, be terminated within six months. I was not quite clear about: terminable by notice to quit (or an equivalent notice) of more than four weeks. That is the ordinary limit which already applies to a weekly tenancy, and that may go some way to meet the problem, I think, but the Amendment rather limits the, court to the six-month period. My proposal would be to extend the period.

Mr. Corfield

I do not want to quibble with the hon. Member over a small point, but he said something about putting the court in the same position as the furnished accommodation rent tribunal, which normally operates on a three-month basis. We have gone a little further than that.

There are good reasons for not accepting the hon. Gentleman's Amendment, which would, by deleting subsection (3), remove any restriction whatever on the length of the leases. Bearing in mind that the immediately dispossessed proprietor is likely to have a very large variety of tail-ends of leases, obviously anything that the local authority can create must be limited to the interest in the property of the dispossessed proprietor, or, indeed, by that time it may be his successor in title.

However it operates, and whoever is the person who is going to take over from the local authority, it is clear that it would be unreasonable to saddle a successor in title, who has probably been perfectly innocent in all this performance, with a relatively long leasehold created by the local authority because of the; powers which it has taken solely as a result of the fault and mis-behaviour of the man from whom it originally took over the property.

It seemed to us, therefore, that the Government Amendment enabling the local authority to go beyond the one month limit, with the consent of the person with the necessary authority, was the right approach. The hon. Member for Widnes rightly said that although, on the face of it, these people will often be not very responsible and perhaps not very co-operative, at that stage the local authority would be in a fairly strong bargaining position. As he put it, the authority would be playing the hand and in most cases it would clearly be in the interests of the dispossessed proprietor in order to regain possession to encourage the local authority to revoke the order.

6.30 p.m.

The local authority would be in a fairly strong position in being able to say, "You can take it over only on the understanding that you create a reasonable leasehold interest, or agree with us to do so, in favour of at least some of your tenants nominated by us". I suggest that the Government's Amendment does most of what the hon. Gentleman has in mind. Some limit is necessary, although I do not suggest that local authorities are irresponsible.

The plain fact is that even Ministers' powers are circumscribed and justiciable. Ministers are responsible to Parliament and local authorities are not. If the hon. Gentleman ever comes to hold my office, he will find it a certain embarrassment, because one is called the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and is then expected to be responsible for many things for which one is not. There is all the more reason for local authority powers being carefully circumscribed.

I hope that the Amendment will not be pressed and that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that our proposals go most of the way to meet what he submits to be the important point, which is that which arises on appeal.

Mr. M. Stewart

I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary that one of the important points to which the Amendment applies is when an order is revoked on appeal. The Government Amendment goes some way to protecting the tenant in that case, although I should have preferred a longer period of tenure. However, there are two other circumstances in which a control order can come to an end. It can come to an end if the local authority revokes it on its own initiative. The hon. Gentleman argued that, with the help of the Government Amendment, the local authority could approach the landlord and say, "We will revoke it if you agree to what we regard as a satisfactory security of tenure". However, there remains the circumstance when a control order comes to an end at the end of five years.

The problem, as the Government are now only too well aware, of when there is a fixed term set for anything is that the fixed term may end in circumstances in which one does not feel at all happy about it. The local authority may find, perhaps after having had great difficulty in managing the property, that the period of five years has come to an end and that the person to whom the property is to pass is not in any way a better citizen than he was at the beginning of the process—he may be the same person, although not necessarily, and he may still be an exceedingly objectionable landlord.

What our Amendment would do and what none of the Government Amendments would do is enable the local authority in these circumstances to protect the tenant at the time by creating for him a reasonable length of leasehold. If the Government will accept that principle, we will be willing to withdraw the Amendment if they are prepared to put through an Amendment in another place giving the tenant in those circumstances at least some security of tenure.

I follow the Parliamentary Secretary's argument that our Amendment would give the authority power to create a lease for 20 years and I would be willing to yield that and say that it should be able to create it for only a certain maximum period. However, when the five years are up, and the house is to pass back to the formerly dispossessed proprietor, there ought to be powers to protect the tenant. There is none in the Bill, nor in any of the Government Amendments. Unless the Government can agree to accept the principle of our Amendment, we must press it.

Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)

I can find nothing in Clause 68 or anywhere else which prohibits a local authority from making a new order on the expiry of the five years. One of the circumstances for the imposition of a control order is that it is necessary to protect the safety, welfare or health of persons within the house; if they were sufficiently deleterious, the circumstances would justify the making of an order.

Mr. MacColl

I do not know whether the hon. Member was in the Chamber during our last debate, which took place with great vigour on both sides on precisely that point. Unless there were physical conditions in the dwelling which justified the making of the control order, nothing could be done. We are arguing for getting rid of those words. If we had done so, there would be very much in what the hon. Gentleman is saying.

Mr. Cole

I was present for much of that debate. The hon. Gentleman has rushed in, with the best intentions, where angels fear to tread, because living conditions are not only physical. Any judge in the High Court or in a county court could rule that psychological conditions, about which the hon. Gentleman expatiated so well, were part of the safety, welfare or health of the person in the house. I am certain that if the conditions at the end of five years were that bad, then, if the Bill means anything, there would not be an automatic return to the undesirable landlord merely because of the expiration of five years.

Mr. M. Stewart

If the hon. Gentleman looks closely at Clause 68, he will see that not only the requirement about living conditions has to be satisfied. It has also to be a house on which there is a 1961 order which, by definition, the house we are now discussing does not have, or the condition of the house has to be such as to call for the making of such an order. It would not be in that condition after five years of management by a local authority, so Clause 68 is not the answer.

Mr. Cole

The hon. Gentleman rescued himself just in time, because the house does not have to have a 1961 order to justify this procedure. I agree that after five years of local authority management it ought not to be in that condition. No doubt this will have to be decided in the courts in due course, but I am certain which way the decision will go.

The Government Amendment removes any possibility of an appeal to the county court being turned down on technical grounds. If it is a matter of technical accuracy, then, as with compulsory purchase orders, the application for the control order can be made again the next day, and if it is a matter of the technical accuracy of the description, then we are arguing about something which ought not to have come before the court, because if the court decides that a control order should not be made the chances are that the house ought not to have been designated in the first place.

I am with the hon. Member entirely in believing that the local authority would be in a bargaining position. If it is not satisfied about the health, safety and welfare on psychological grounds it ought not to return the house to the present landlord. Amendment No. 163 refers to six months, but this might go on for two or three years. If the local authority thought the landlord was sufficiently in need of discipline, it might make the power operative for three or four years. The hon. Member has gone too far in minimising the potentialities of Amendment No. 115.

If at the expiration of the five years, or any given time, the local authority wished to pass the house back to the landlord and if it was satisfied that all conditions justified that course, I am not sure that it would be in the interests of the local authority to make a longer lease. It might find that an embarrassment. The local authority must be satisfied that the premises are put into a proper state. I do not know what was in the mind of the parliamentary draftsman, but I think subsection (3) has been included as an expression of vision of the house going back in a proper state of repair and it would be right to resume the status quo between landlord and tenant.

The Government have met the difficulty by Amendment No. 115. By leaving out subsection (3) we would leave the local authority with no guidance, but with the addition of Amendment No. 115 the local authority is given very wide powers. I think that that Amendment contains much strength and should meet the case. I am fully prepared to vote for it. For a local authority which has completed the job, subsection (3) would be a useful guide. It is obviously meant for operation at the end of the period of control because during that period the control would be from month to month and would not affect the landlord.

I have every sympathy with the tenants in these matters. In some ways I go further than hon. Members opposite. I include under safety, welfare and health almost any kind of condition in which a person might find himself as a result of duress by anyone else. I think this would meet the feelings of all decent men and women This provision meets the case and gives the local authority satisfactory powers.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Corfield

I must agree with hon. Members opposite that it is not practicable to look towards an immediate renewal of the control order at the end of five years even if one could still say that the condition of the property was such that it should be returned to a landlord, though not necessarily the same landlord.

Mr. Cole

Of course, we all hope that the local authorities could put the property into a proper state in under five years, but, if it were not amenable to treatment in that time what would my hon. Friend do?

Mr. Corfield

I should think in that case the house should want blowing up.

One has to bear in mind that if we have narrowed the issue to what happens at the end of five years—and I think we have because the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) agreed that in any shorter period the local authority would be in a fairly strong bargaining position—we have to realise that it would be at least five years and a quarter, perhaps five years and a half, before any of these cases could arise. It will obviously be two or three months from now, probably six months, before any large number of orders are made. As the hon. Member himself said in Committee, by that time it is likely that some other legislation will have overtaken the problem.

The position, whatever it may be, will be quite different from what it is today. We are worrying ourselves unduly if we think that housing legislation of this sort dealing with these sort of conditions will not need renewing from time to time, well under five years. I am not prepared to give anything in the form of an undertaking. I shall certainly consider what has been said so long as it is not thought that I am giving an undertaking to introduce an Amendment in another place, as the hon. Member suggested.

Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill:—

The House divided: Ayes 189, Noes 151.

Division No. 71.] AYES [6.48 p.m.
Allason, James Burden, F. A. Duncan, Sir James
Arbuthnot, Sir John Campbell, Gordon Duthie, Sir William (Banff)
Ashton, Sir Hubert Carr, Rt. Hon. Robert (Mitcham) Eden, Sir John
Awdry, Daniel (Chippenham) Cary, Sir Robert Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)
Balniel, Lord Channon, H. P. G. Elliott, R.W.(Newc'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)
Barber, Rt. Hon. Anthony Chichester-Clark, R. Farey-Jones, F. W.
Barlow, Sir John Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.) Farr, John
Barter, John Clark, William (Nottingham, S.) Finlay, Graeme
Batsford, Brian Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.) Fisher, Nigel
Bennett, F. M. (Torquay) Cleaver, Leonard Fletcher-Cooke, Charles
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm) Cole, Norman Freeth, Denzil
Bevins, Rt. Hon. Reginald Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.
Biffen, John Corfield, F. V. Gammans, Lady
Bingham, R. M. Coulson, Michael Glover, Sir Douglas
Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Courtney, Cdr. Anthony Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham)
Bishop, Sir Patrick Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne) Gower, Raymond
Black, Sir Cyril Crawley, Aidan Grant-Ferris, R.
Bossom, Hon. Clive Cunningham, Sir Knox Green, Alan
Bourne-Arton, A. Curran, Charles Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)
Braine, Bernard Currie, G. B. H. Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)
Brewis, John Dalkeith, Earl of Harris, Reader (Heston)
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter Dance, James Harrison, Brian (Maldon)
Brown, Alan (Tottenham) d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)
Browne, Percy (Torrington) Deedes, Rt. Hon. W. F. Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)
Buck, Antony Digby, Simon Wingfield Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)
Bullard, Denys Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. M. Hay, John
Bullus, Wing Commander Eric Drayson, G. B. Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel
Hilley, Joseph Maclean, Sir Fitzroy (Bute & N. Ayrs) Shepherd, William
Hill, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe) McMaster, Stanley R. Skeet, T. H. H.
Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk) Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax) Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswlck)
Hirst, Geoffrey Maitland, Sir John Smyth, Rt. Hon. Brig. Sir John
Hobson, Rt. Hon. Sir John Markham, Major Sir Frank Soames, Rt. Hon. Christopher
Holland, Philip Marten, Neil Stainton, Keith
Hollingworth, John Matthews, Gordon (Meriden) Stevens, Geoffrey
Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Dame P. Mawby, Ray Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm
Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Storey, Sir Samuel
Hughes-Young, Michael Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Studholme, Sir Henry
Hulbert, Sir Norman Mills, Stratton Tapsell, Peter
Hutchison, Michael Clark Miscampbell, Norman Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Iremonger, T. L. Montgomery, Fergus Teeling, Sir William
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) More, Jasper (Ludlow) Temple, John M.
James, David Morrison, John Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Jenkins, Robert (Dulwioh) Neave, Airey Thomas, Sir Leslie (Canterbury)
Jennings, J. C. Nugent, Rt. Hon. Sir Richard Thompson, Sir Kenneth (Walton)
Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Oakshott, Sir Hendrie Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Jones, Rt. Hn. Aubrey (Hall Green) Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth) Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin
Joseph, Rt. Hon. Sir Keith Page, Graham (Crosby) Touche, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon
Kerans, Cdr. J. S. Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale) Turner, Colin
Kerby, Capt. Henry Partridge, E. Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Kershaw, Anthony Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Kimball, Marcus Percival, Ian Walker, Peter
Langford-Holt, Sir John Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir Derek
Leavey, J. A. Pitt, Dame Edith Whitelaw, William
Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Prior-Palmer, Brig, Sir Otho Williams, Dudley (Exeter)
Lilley, F. J. P. Proudfoot, Wilfred Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Linstead, Sir Hugh Pym, Francis Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Litchfield, Capt. John Rees, Hugh (Swansea, W.) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Loveys, Walter H. Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley) Wise, A. R.
Lucas, Sir Jocelyn Roots, William Woodhouse, C. M.
Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard Worsley, Marcus
McAdden, Sir Stephen Russell, Sir Ronald Yates, William (The Wrekin)
MacArthur, Ian Seymour, Leslie
McLaren, Martin Sharples, Richard TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Maclay, Rt. Hon. John Shaw, M. Mr. Peel and Mr. Ian Fraser.
Ainsley, William Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Mitchison, G. R.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Monslow, Walter
Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J. Hamilton, William (West Fife) Morris, Charles (Openshaw)
Bence, Cyril Hannan, William Mulley, Frederick
Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Harper, Joseph Neal, Harold
Benson, Sir George Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Rwly Regis) Oliver, G. H.
Blackburn, F. Hill, J. (Midlothian) O'Malley, B. K.
Blyton, William Hilton, A. V. Oram, A. E.
Boardman, H. Holman, Percy Oswald, Thomas
Bowles, Frank Hooson, H. E. Owen, Will
Boyden, James Howell, Charles A. (Perry Barr) Paget, R. T.
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Howie, W. Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Parkin, B. T.
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Hunter, A. E. Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Hynd, John (Attercliffe) Pentland, Norman
Carmichael, Neil Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Popplewell, Ernest
Castle, Mrs. Barbara Janner, Sir Barnett Prentice, R. E.
Chapman, Donald Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Cliffe, Michael Jeger, George Probert, Arthur
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Pursey, Cmdr. Harry
Cronin, John Jones, Dan (Burnley) Randall, Harry
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Jones, Elwyn (West Ham, S.) Rankin, John
Dalyell, Tam Jonas, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)
Darling, George Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Rhodes, H.
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Kelley, Richard Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Deer, George Lawson, George Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Delargy, Hugh Lee, Frederick (Newton) Robertson, John (Paisley)
Dempsey, James Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Doig, Peter Lever, L. M. (Ardwick) Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.)
Duffy, A. E. P. (Colne Valley) Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.) Ross, William
Ede, Rt. Hon. C. Lipton, Marcus Short, Edward
Edelman, Maurice Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Silkin, John
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) McBride, N. Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Edwards, Walter (Stepney) McCann, J. Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Evans, Albert MacColl, James Skeffington, Arthur
Fernyhough, E. MacDermot, Niall Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)
Fitch, Alan McLeavy, Frank Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)
Fletcher, Eric MacPherson, Malcolm Small, William
Forman, J. C. Manuel, Archie Snow, Julian
Ginsburg, David Mapp, Charles Sorensen, R. W.
Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C. Mason, Roy Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Gourlay, Harry Mayhew, Christopher Spriggs, Leslie
Greenwood, Anthony Mendelson, J. J. Steele, Thomas
Grey, Charles Millan, Bruce
Stewart, Michael (Fulham) Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield) Winterbottom, R. E.
Stonehouse, John Thornton, Ernest Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Stones, William Wainwright, Edwin Woof, Robert
Stross, Sir Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.) Warbey, William Yates, Victor (Ladywood)
Swain, Thomas Whitlock, William
Swingler, Stephen Wilkins, W. A. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Symonds, J. B. Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.) Mr. Redhead and Dr. Broughton.
Taverne, D. Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)

Amendment made: In page 70, line 44, at end insert: Provided that this subsection shall not apply to a right created with the consent in writing of the person or persons who would have power to create that right if the control order were not in force.—[Sir K. Joseph.]

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Gordon Campbell)

I beg to move Amendment No. 116, in page 71, to leave out lines 23 to 26.

It would be convenient to the House if Amendment No. 118—in page 72, line 43, to leave out from "(2)" to "for" in line 1 on page 73—which is associated with it, were taken with this Amendment. Both are drafting and consequential upon an Amendment made in Committee whereby the definition for Scotland of the term "licence" was placed in Clause 87.

Amendment agreed to.