§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Viscount Novar.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly:
§ [The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]
§ Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
§ Clause 3 (Power to suspend liability if premises unfit for human habitation or in state of disrepair):
THE SECRETARY FOR SCOTLAND (VISCOUNT NOVAR) moved, after subsection (2), to insert the following new subsections:
(3) Where a tenant has obtained from the sanitary authority a certificate that the house is not in a reasonable state of repair, and has served a copy of the certificate upon the landlord, it shall be a good defence to any claim against the tenant for the payment of any sum which the tenant is by virtue of this Act liable to pay by way of rent or on account of arrears in respect of any subsequent rental period that the house was not in a reasonable state of repair during that period, and in any proceedings against the tenant for the enforcement of such claim (including proceedings for recovery of possession or ejectment on the ground of non-payment of rent so far as the rent unpaid includes any such sum), the production of the said certificate shall be sufficient evidence that the house was and continues to be in the condition therein mentioned unless the contrary is proved:
Provided that the foregoing provision shall not apply in any case where and so far as the condition of the house is due to the tenant's neglect or default or breach of express agreement.
(4) For the purposes of this Act a certificate of a sanitary authority shall specify what works (if any) require to be executed in order to put the house into a reasonable state of repair.
(5) An instrument purporting to be a certificate of a sanitary authority and to be signed by an officer of the authority shall, without further proof, be taken to be a certificate of the authority unless the contrary is proved.
§ The noble Viscount said: The object of this Amendment, which I move on behalf of the Lord Chancellor, is to prevent the benefits conferred by the Bill being secured by landlords who do not do their duty by their tenants in keeping their houses in a proper state of repair. Clause 3 already provides a remedy, but that remedy has been found ineffectual in practice, because in order to obtain it an application by the tenant to the county court or sheriff is necessary, and the tenants of slum landlords, speaking generally, are amongst the poorest and most ignorant, and do not take the initiative. It is true that both the Act of 1920 and Clause 3 of this Bill enable a sanitary authority to take action on behalf of tenants, but it has been found in practice that, generally speaking, sanitary authorities are not disposed to exercise their powers.
§ The remedy proposed by this Amendment is to make disrepair, if certified by a sanitary authority, a good defence in an action for the recovery of the increases of rent validated by this Bill. The tenant, therefore, will not have to initiate legal proceedings. The Amendment is, in truth, in the interests not only of the tenant but of the large mass of landlords. This is a point on which the Attorney-General laid some stress. He said that landlords suffered at present through being accused as a body of keeping their premises insanitary while extorting exorbitant rents. If a simple remedy is provided for cases in which this is true, as is proposed in this Amendment, the great mass of landlords who act reasonably and properly will cease to suffer from this slur. I beg to move.
Page 4, line 9, at end insert the said new subsections.—(Viscount Novar.)
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
I venture to express my thanks to the noble Viscount for the Amendment, which he has moved. I think it marks a very distinct improvement in the Bill. The matter was not mentioned when we had a short discussion on the Second Reading; we were dealing with other matters which were equally germane, but the absence of this suggestion was noticed by a good many people. The object of the Amendment has, I am sure, the sympathy of most noble Lords on this side of the House. With the technical side of the matter I am not at all qualified to deal. No doubt it will be dealt with by lawyers in another place. But in so far as I understand the object of the Amendment which has been moved by the noble, Viscount it has my heartiest sympathy and my best wishes.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 4 agreed to.
§ Schedule agreed to.