HL Deb 13 August 1885 vol 301 cc4-7

Commons' Amendments considered (according to Order).


, in rising to move that the House do agree with the Commons' Amendments, said, that the Bill had been discussed at great length, both in that House and in the Commons, and some of the points formerly objected to by the noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord Bramwell) were also objected to very strongly in the Commons. Amendments had been introduced in the Commons, the result of which would be to make the Bill more acceptable to the noble and learned Lord's feelings. For himself, he (the Marquess of Salisbury) did not think these Amendments were improvements; but, as it was desirable that the Bill should pass, he would move that they be agreed to.

Moved, "That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendments."—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)


said, that the Amendments did, indeed, make the Bill more agreeable to his feelings and to his opinions, which were those which the noble Marquess held three years ago. On that occasion he had the honour of expressing the same opinions; and if he might not venture to say that he had the support of the noble Marquess, then he would say that he was one of the supporters of the noble Marquess in the discussion on the Agricultural Holdings Bill. There was one alteration made by the Commons in this Bill which he thought so foolish and so mischievous that he must ask their Lord- ships not to agree to it. One of the clauses provided that in the letting of a house there should be an implied undertaking that the house was fit for habitation. To that the Commons had added—"Notwithstanding any contract or stipulation to the contrary between the landlord and the tenant." Such an alteration was, to his mind, most objectionable. The clause did not apply only to the case of a man knowingly letting a house unfit for habitation—it also applied to cases in which the landlord did not know of the condition of the house. If it only applied to the wilful letting of a house not fit to be inhabited he should rejoice at the clause, because he would punish the man who knowingly let a house in an unhealthy condition, just as he would punish a man who sold food that was adulterated and not fit for human use. But the clause, as it stood, would apply equally to a man who might be quite innocent in the matter. It was contrary to the ordinary principle of caveat emptor—that each man should examine and decide for himself. What justification could there be for that? The landlord might know no more about the condition of the house than the tenant; the tenant, indeed, by having formerly resided in the locality, or otherwise, might know more about it than the landlord. The clause was altogether an unwarranted interference with freedom of contract, and would have an injurious effect even on the working classes, for whose benefit it was intended. A working man—a bricklayer, for example—might at present say—"I know all about this house. I know there is a drain wrong; but if you will give it me cheap I will put it all right." If the Bill passed as it stood such an arrangement could not be made, for if it were made the tenant could afterwards turn round on his landlord and say the contract was void, because the landlord was responsible by the law of the land for the sanitary condition of the house. Then, again, the tenant was likely to be the first to find out whether there was anything wrong. From indolence and indifference he took no notice; somebody might fall ill and die, and the first knowledge the landlord might have of anything being wrong in the sanitary arrangements of the house would be a claim by the tenant, who could come and say—"You were bound by law to let me that house in a sanitary condition." Men might come into Court with their families dressed in mourning, and the jury would very likely say—"Oh, there must have been something wrong; the landlord is evidently a rich man; he ought to have done something for his tenant;" and so a verdict would be given for the plaintiff. The case was not imaginary; the thing had happened—that was, the claim had been made in Court. Supposing even that the House was not in an insanitary condition, that would not prevent claims being made against the landlord; and, even if the landlord succeeded in resisting the action, in many cases he would not recover his costs. He would point out, further, that if landlords found themselves liable for such claims, well or ill-founded, they might depend upon it that, acting on ordinary economic principles, they would indemnify themselves by raising the rents. The provision would also tend to make landlords object to let their houses to people with largo families, for every additional person in a house increased his risk. When the Agricultural Holdings Bill was before the House the noble Marquess objected to a clause analogous to this, forbidding contracts which landlords and tenants might make out of the Bill. The only difference between that Act and the present measure was that the one applied to farmers and the other to working men. He protested against this mischievous, grandmotherly legislation. The best thing both for farmers and working men was to teach them to look after themselves. They were quite able to do so.


said that, being the owner of several small houses, he thought it was the duty of every landlord to know the condition of his houses. If a nuisance arose, the tenant was first called upon; and if he neglected his duty, the landlord was even now obliged by the local Sanitary Authority to make the place healthy.


said, the noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord Bramwell) was a dangerous opponent, as one was apt to be convinced in listening to him. He (the Marquess of Salisbury), himself, had not noticed the effect of the words complained of, and did not know why they had been introduced; but, believing that, if they did not do more harm, than good, they would be easily evaded by those who desired to evade them, and be productive of a considerable amount of litigation, he would move to disagree with the words—namely, "notwithstanding any contract or stipulation to the contrary."

Amendments, as far as page 3, line ending with the words ("classed a"), agreed to.

On the Motion of The Marquess of SALISBURY, the following Amendment:—In Clause 13, page 8, line 35, leave out ("an unfurnished") and insert ("a"), and after ("implied") insert ("notwithstanding any contract or stipulation to the contrary"), disagreed to.

Remaining Amendments agreed to.

A Committee appointed to prepare a Reason for the Lords disagreeing to the said Amendment: The Committee to meet forthwith.