HC Deb 17 October 1973 vol 861 cc195-6
19. Mr. Kaufman

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will seek powers to provide swift redress for tenants whose private landlords fail to carry out urgently needed repairs.

Mr. Eyre

Local authorities already have adequate powers to require owners to carry out repairs needed either to make a house fit where this can be done at reasonable expense, or otherwise to bring an already fit house up to a reasonable standard. The Government are, however, proposing to introduce new powers of compulsory improvement in areas of housing stress.

Mr. Kaufman

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that neither current legislation nor, according to his White Paper, projected legislation is in any way adequate to provide sure redress for constituents of mine who are living in sub-human conditions and whose landlords callously refuse to take action, on grounds of pure meanness? Ought not the hon. Gentleman to lay down a code of conduct for private tenants and private landlords, to be supervised and enforced by local authorities, in order to end this scandal once and for all?

Mr. Eyre

I understand very well that there are areas of serious housing problems in Manchester, but the present powers to compel repair, under the Housing Acts of 1957 and 1969, are recog- nised to be effective and can be supplemented by action under the Public Health Act 1936. Furthermore, the new compulsory powers for improvements, which will relate to housing stress areas—and will probably apply very much in areas the hon. Gentleman has in mind—will greatly strengthen the hand of local authorities in dealing with areas of really serious problems.

Sir R. Cary

No doubt private landlords are sometimes dilatory and slow in carrying out urgent repairs, but is my hon. Friend aware that I sometimes get a file of correspondence in regard to the responsibilities of the corporation itself in doing exactly the same thing with council property?

Mr. Eyre

My hon. Friend is right in saying that there are great difficulties in this matter. Indeed, they have existed for many years and conscientious local authorities and landlords strive to deal with the problems. But our new legislation will be of great assistance and will make grants available to landlords in carrying out necessary repairs and improvements of amenities.

Mr. Cant

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many problems of great severity are arising now because of slum clearance schemes and the lengthening housing lists? Will he write to local authorities and tell them that they still have a statutory power—even though the schemes are subject to confirmed orders of slum clearance—to tell landlords to do the job so that people can live in reasonably humane circumstances? If landlords will not do that, local authorities should do what we do in Stoke-on-Trent—do the job themselves and send the landlords the bills.

Mr. Eyre

Under the Acts that I have mentioned local authorities have power to carry out these repairs in precisely the way the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. Of course, if a house is going to be cleared within a very short period one has to apply reason in deciding whether money should be spent on repairs.