§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly:
§ [The EARL OF BUCKINGHAMSHIRE in the Chair]
§ Clause 1 [Proposals for exercise of functions of local authorities as to clearance areas, etc.]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ LORD SILKIN
As this is the only clause which deals with actual slum clearance, I think it may be as well if we had a word or two on this provision. On the Second Reading I submitted that this clause was unnecessary, because everything that was sought to be done under this clause is already contained in Section 5 of the Housing Act, 1936. This 651 clause gives the Minister the power to require local authorities to make a survey and to submit to him proposals for dealing with slums. My point is that he could do that equally well under Section 5 of the 1936 Act. I do not want to make a big point of this, because there are occasions when, for psychological or other reasons, it is desirable to repeat in a new Statute something which is already contained in another. If we were really beginning a big slum clearance campaign, I should not object in the least to the Minister of Housing and Local Government getting a little glory by initiating it by means of Clause 1 of this Bill. It is because I fear that this Bill is not devoted primarily to slum clearance that I feel this clause should not appear in the Bill at all. We are not going to oppose it; we shall let it go. We do not particularly mind one way or the other. But we want to place on record that in our view it is not really necessary.
Having said that, I should like to ask the Government what are their intentions with regard to slum clearance. We have accepted the principle of patching up, and I am not going to contest it. My own view I expressed on Second Reading; I think it is a mistake. But by passing the Second Reading of this Bill we have accepted the principle and we do not desire to go back on that. So it will be the policy of the Government to do a certain amount of patching up. I do not think they can do very much, because of the dilemma which I expressed on Second Reading, but I should be glad at this stage to be told whether it is their policy to go out on a big slum clearance campaign. Are they really going to try within the next five years to get rid of our slums? Is the patching up to be merely in respect of those dwellings which cannot be satisfactorily dealt with in, say, the next five years? If that were so, I think there would not be a very great difference of opinion between us. If the powers of patching up contained in this Bill are residual powers, and if there is really going to be a serious campaign for the next five years to get rid of the slums, then we shall all be behind the Government in their policy in this matter.
I have read the White Paper, I have read the noble and learned Lord's speech 652 and I have read the speeches in another place. It is difficult to make up one's mind as to what really is the policy of the Government in this matter. Judging from the White Paper, it seems that they feel they must go on building houses, and encouraging private enterprise to build houses for sale, but that slum clearance will be carried out pari passu with the provision of more houses. I believe that that is a mistake. I feel that the time has now come, having regard to the number of houses that are being built, and to the large pool of local authority housing which we possess, and which is increasing, to make a determined effort to get rid of our slums, and to give that problem the highest priority. If we are prepared to do that, and we are merely going to patch up these dwellings that cannot be dealt with in the next five years, having regard to this intensive campaign, then certainly a great many of my fears and objections will be dispelled. It is because I should be grateful if we could have a statement of policy on the question of slum clearance that I have raised the matter on the question that the clause stand part of the Bill.
§ LORD BURDEN
I should like to say a word or two in support of what has been said by my noble friend Lord Silkin. No one, I think, should minimise what is involved in this clause, the complexities and difficulties of the housing problems to which it refers and the many heavy responsibilities that it places on local authorities. First, as to the number of houses which may be affected, as long ago as 1944 Mr. Willink, the then Minister of Health, in answering a question in another place, said that between 3 million and 4 million houses would be required in the post-war years, and that of these 1½ million to 2 million would be required to replace slum dwellings and dwellings grossly deficient in modern amenities. Undoubtedly, in the past ten years the numbers have increased considerably. I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord in charge of the Bill whether he will see to it that, if schemes are submitted by local authorities, those schemes include proposals for the rehousing of persons who may be displaced. I know that this is provided for in Section 25 (1) of the 1936 Act, but I suggest that we should be quite clear on the point. Further, I suggest that there is a great 653 possibility of slum clearance breaking down if there is no fresh accommodation available at rents which tenants can afford to pay. It is likely that the lower income groups will not be able to afford the high rents now charged for new houses. Perhaps I may add that subsection (2) of the section that I have already mentioned seeks to ensure that the resources of a local authority are sufficient to carry out clearance and development schemes. It is a truism to-day that the financial resources of many local authorities, and particularly those where slum clearance is necessary, are strained to the utmost limit.
I should now like to raise one or two technical points which may be of some importance. I have no doubt that the Minister will request local authorities to estimate the rate at which houses will be required for deferred demolition, and also what work must be done at once. I suggest it is important that local authorities, when they submit their proposals under Parts II and III of the principal Act, should do so in such a form as not to identify particular houses that will be ultimately demolished. I say that for this reason. It will be noticed that Clause 1 (5) states that members of the public will be able to inspect any proposals under Clause 1 approved by the Minister. The classification of all houses suitable for demolition at some future date has been found by experience to lead to neglect by owners, and therefore to even more rapid and progressive deterioration. While I am on this point, I might say that I am advised that difficulties would also arise if local authorities were required to list houses in respect of which action is proposed under Section 9 of the principal Act—that is, where repairs are necessary. Clearly, it is the condition of the houses when action has to be taken that will determine the cost of these repairs.
It is no use doing the job twice; that is to say, undertaking a detailed inspection when a scheme is submitted, and a second time when action is taken. Local authorities are, of course, well aware of the black spots, and will be able to indicate the number of houses in the different wards that will at one time or another require action to bring them into a fit state of repair, or, on the other hand, which require demolition. These may be 654 regarded as mere technical points, but I am assured that there is importance in them, so far as those who will be called upon to administer the Bill when it becomes an Act are concerned, and I hope that the noble and learned Lord may be able to help, either now or at some future date.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD SIMONDS)
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for giving me the opportunity of saying what I should desire to say, in any case, and which perhaps I should not have found it easy to say on any particular Amendment that is to be moved. It is this. The purpose of Her Majesty's Government is to make a determined assault on the problem of slums, and by every means in our power to effect clearance of those slums wherever they exist and the provision of decent housing for the population of this country. I am not going to be controversial with the noble Lord as to whether or not it was necessary to put Clause 1 into this Bill. It is perhaps sufficient answer to him to say that it is just because we are determined to make that assault that we give emphasis to it by the provisions of Clause 1 of the Bill, and remind local authorities of what they may have forgotten. I am not being provocative or suggesting any lapse on the part of the Government which preceded us, but for fifteen years almost nothing has been done. Accordingly, it is necessary and desirable now that we should assert, by the emphatic provisions of this Bill, that we dc mean to make an assault upon the slums, so far as possible—though, of course, local conditions will vary—and to give that scheme priority.
I would tell the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, this: that we do not desire to patch in order to defer demolition, but merely to patch so long as demolition is not a realistic possibility. Demolition of slums comes first. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Burden, may I say that I am grateful to him for his suggestion, which I think—and I speak without having considered the matter or looked into the papers—is the present intention of the Minister: that the proposals which are to be made shall, not identify particular houses. I think there is value in the suggestion which the noble Lord has made, and if it is not already in the mind of the Minister, as I 655 think it is, it no doubt will be now. The proposals will, of course, be proposals which bring into view the whole problem in a particular area, so that they will provide not only for demolition and rebuilding but give in a general way an indication of what patching will be contemplated, though not in regard to particular houses.
I do not think your Lordships would wish me to speak at length on this part of the debate. Let me say this, in particular, with regard to something the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said. It is not contemplated that local authorities shall do patching work only—we are looking at the matter realistically—if they do not think it possible to clear the slums and provide houses for the displaced population in a reasonable time. I use the words "reasonable time" in order not to prejudice an Amendment which is almost immediately to be moved. I have endeavoured to answer in a general way the points which have been made.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clause 2:
§ Power of local authorities to retain for temporary accommodation certain houses in clearance areas
§ 2.—(1) Notwithstanding anything in subsection (3) of section twenty-five of the principal Act or in section thirty of that Act, a local authority by whom an area has been declared (whether before or after the commencement of this Act) to be a clearance area under the said section twenty-five may postpone, for such period as may be determined by the authority, the demolition of any houses on land purchased by or belonging to the authority within that area, being houses which in the opinion of the authority are or can be rendered capable of providing accommodation of a standard which is adequate for the time being, and may carry out such works as may from time to time be required for rendering or keeping such houses capable of providing such accommodation as aforesaid pending their demolition.
§ (4) The power of a local authority under Part III of the principal Act to purchase land within a clearance area may be exercised, for the purpose of acquiring any house within that area which in the opinion of the authority is or can be rendered capable as aforesaid, notwithstanding that a clearance order has been made in respect of the house before the commencement of this Act or that any proceedings have been taken in pursuance of such an order; and on the completion of the purchase of any such house, the clearance order shall cease to have effect so far as it relates thereto.656
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ LORD WILMOT OF SELMESTON moved, in subsection (1), after "period" to insert: "not exceeding ten years." The noble Lord said: The purpose of this Amendment, which I hope will commend itself to your Lordships, is to set a term to the period under which these slums can still remain standing, the normal operation of the demolition procedure having been arrested by the operation of this clause. I was glad that the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, put it on record that it is intended that this standstill arrangement, as it were, in a clearance area, should operate for only a limited period. I suggest that it would be reasonable, therefore, to give effect to that assurance by putting a term to the period, and the term I have suggested is ten years. That, surely, is long enough to enable the authority to catch up with the arrears and get on with what is their most urgent task—the replacement of the slums by new and habitable dwellings.
§ There is one question I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord, and it is this. Is not this clause, as it stands, capable of having a rather undesirable effect? I am by no means an expert in this matter, but it seems to me that by Clause 2 the normal procedure of declaration and subsequent demolition is arrested. By the clause it is arrested in definitely. By my Amendment it is arrested for at any rate no longer than ten years. There seems to be no obligation on anybody to do anything in a hurry or at any particular time. The process of demolition is arrested because it seems to the authority that the houses are capable of being patched up. But there is no obligation upon anybody immediately to do the patching, and these slum areas, which ought to have been demolished long ago—many of the houses have been declared unfit for a long time—may be left standing occupied, doing their bad work in the community, and with nobody doing anything about it. If we could have an assurance on the latter point from the Government, and if the Government would be willing to accept this Amendment, which I suggest is reasonable—ten years is long enough for these slum properties in their patched-up state to remain—then we should have gone a long way to removing one of what we feel to be the worst defects in this Bill. I beg to move.657
Page 2, line 36, after ("period") insert ("not exceeding ten years").—(Lord Wilmot of Selmeston)
§ LORD WOLVERTON
I should like to say a word or two on this Amendment, because I spoke on the matter on Second Reading. What perturbed me, like the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, was that there was no time limit, although, of course, there is a limit to the time to which you can get a grant under Clause 7 of the Bill, where it says that the local authority and the State shall pay an equal amount of £3 a year for fifteen years. I suggested that there should be a limit on that point. I understand that one of the difficulties is that if we insert a maximum period, it may become a minimum. Nevertheless, I should like to see a maximum term put in, even if the maximum does become a minimum. I felt rather keenly about this matter on Second Reading. I do not think it is possible to have a period of less than ten to fifteen years, because, as I said on Second Reading, there is in the big cities such an enormous waiting list for housing accommodation; therefore, we must have some deferred demolition in those areas. That is regrettable, but it must be done. Therefore, I agree with the principle in this Bill of deferred demolition, which is a new part of the law. If people have to remain in these houses for a long time it is only reasonable that a certain amount of patching up should be done.
§ LORD BURDEN
I should like to say a word or two in support of what has been said, in the hope that the Government will accept this Amendment. In particular, I should like to support what was said by my noble friend Lord Silkin with regard to the maintenance by local authorities of some standard for houses which are in their possession, even for this, I hope, limited period of ten years. Would the Minister also give some guidance as to what is meant by the phrase, "a standard which is adequate for the time being." One does not want the position to arise under which houses taken over by a local authority with tenants in them are allowed to deteriorate, while local authorities are given no guidance at all. That is an extremely vague phrase, and the local authorities ought to have some guidance.
658 As far back as 1919 the Ministry of Health issued a Manual of Unfit Houses, in which they said in the opening paragraphs:It is necessary to distinguish between two different standards in regard to housing accommodation. There is what may be termed the standard of mere fitness, which implies only that a house is free from any defects such as can be regarded as rendering it unfit for habitation. There is also a higher standard which may be termed the standard of amenity, which implies that the house is not only free from defects such as those mentioned, but has advantages and amenities which tend to promote to the full a healthy and contented home life. The distinction may be regarded as being between what is essential and what is desirable.In any case, I suggest that even if we cannot get the desirable, local authorities should be advised that, even during those ten years, during which, we hope, if this Amendment is accepted, the houses are kept in possession, the houses should be kept at least in a fit, habitable condition.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
There is so little between the objectives at which we aim that it is a pity that we should disagree about the methods by which we attain our goal. This matter was carefully considered by my right honourable friend the Minister and he decided against an Amendment in these terms, which was very much discussed in another place. My right honourable friend made it plain that patching is to be the exception, not the rule, and is justifiable only where the slum problem cannot otherwise be tackled. When he considers the proposals which will be put forward by the local authorities, that is the principle upon which he will act. I hope your Lordships will be very sure of that.
Of course, my right honourable friend cannot speak for those who follow him, whether they are of the same Party or of a different one, but I do not think there will be any difference between us that the clearance of slums will be the main objective of either Party. Do let us be realistic about this matter. What is the use of setting a time limit, whether it be five years or ten years, when we know, and must know, that there are great cities which, according to the best information and advice we can get, will not within a period of ten years be able to solve their problem? If they can, well and good; but if they cannot—and, believe me, they say they cannot—that 659 will be examined when they put forward their proposals. What is the purpose of putting a period of ten years into the Bill? My right honourable friend was moved by this consideration to say that there should be no time limit in the Bill. It is by the co-operation of the Minister and the local authorities that this problem will be solved. It appears to him, as it appears to me, that it is no use saying to the local authority, "Frame your proposal, but frame it upon the footing that there is going to be only a limited period within which you may patch." He will examine the proposals, and if he thinks that the local authority are taking too long he will, as the Act provides, admonish or encourage them and require an alteration in their proposals. But, to say to him, "There shall be a ten-year limit," or to say to the local authorities, "There shall be a ten-year limit" seems to be unrealistic.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who has not spoken to this Amendment, upon Second Reading thought—and he had probably information upon which he relied—that the problem could be solved in all great cities, I think he said within five years. I do not know how far he has consulted some of the great cities in this country. Our information is that this is not possible and, accordingly, it is upon that footing that we think it better not to set a time limit. Since our objective is just the same although our methods are different, I hope that that Amendment will not be pressed. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Burden, may I assure him that it shall certainly be brought to the notice of my right honourable friend that guidance should be given to the local authorities, for obviously the words "standard which is adequate" are vague. But language has its difficulties. How one is to be precise and use language to cover circumstances infinitely varying in different localities it is very hard to see. I will certainly bring it to the attention of my right honourable friend that guidance might be given to the local authorities. Knowing my right honourable friend, I do not think he will require to be told that. I am sorry that I must decline to accept this Amendment, but I do not think it would be reasonable or practicable to do so.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
I am sorry th[...] I cannot regard the reply of the noble and learned Lord as satisfactory. I think that the reply really arises through a misconception of what we have to deal with and what this clause purports to do. We are dealing with slums that have already been declared and which are ready for demolition, and with others which may hereafter be declared. Those which are hereafter to be declared are entirely within the control of the local authority. If they feel that the problem is so great, neither the noble and learned Lord nor I can settle the magnitude of the problem across this table. I take my figure of the numbers that have been declared as slums from the White Paper. The figure is 140,000 throughout the country. Certainly, that number can easily be dealt with in five years. But, of course, there are hundreds of thousands more that are ready for declaration but which have not yet been declared.
Let us deal first with those that have been declared. As regards those, is there any reason whatever why we should not impose a time limit for dealing with them? There is none at all. One hundred and forty thousand can be dealt with quite easily. As to the others, is that not entirely within the control of the local authorities? A local authority which declares an area or a house to be a slum and then says: "We are very sorry but we cannot deal with it for an indefinite period" is just acting irresponsibly. From now on, I imagine that local authorities will deal with slums as they find that they are capable of dealing with them. If they declare, then I do not imagine for a moment that they are going to declare the whole of their area within a matter of two or three months and then defer it indefinitely. I imagine that they will proceed at the pace at which they think they can go. Then, in some cases, they may have to defer and patch. It does not seem to me at all unreasonable and I suggest that in those cases they should be subject to a time limit of ten years.
As the noble and learned Lord must know, the alternative is that these houses will remain indefinitely. We see what is happening in another provision where we allowed houses to be built on public open spaces. Everybody was horrified but we agreed to it because it was 661 essential. But it was to be for ten years only. Then along came this very Bill to say: "We will extend it." At least, I know that the argument can be turned against it: "What is the good of putting in a limit of ten years if some later Government may come along and extend the period?" The answer is that if we do extend it—and we shall have something to say about that—we shall at least extend it with our eyes open and shall know what we are doing; we shall extend it in the light of the then existing circumstances. But we should not give—we did not in that case and I submit we ought not to give in this—local authorities or the Government carte blanche to patch up these houses and then let them remain indefinitely, without any demolition at all.
We recognise the noble and learned Lord's point that some slums will have to stand for longer than ten years. That is a problem that we have to face up to perhaps, although I think I have met that by saying that there is no need to declare them. But suppose it is so. I say it is a much greater evil to allow this clause to go as it stands, without any provision about demolition, and to create the impression that, once one has patched up, the houses can remain in their present condition indefinitely. I do not know whether the noble and learned Lord overlooked the point that my noble friend Lord Wilmot of Selmeston made about the fact that in this clause there is no obligation upon the local authority to do anything about it at all. All they need do is to put the thing off indefinitely.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am sorry that I did not mention it, but of course everything depends upon the co-operation of local authorities and the supervision of the Ministry. If the local authorities are not prepared to do their job, and if the Minister is not prepared to supervise adequately, the slums will not be cleared. With the permission of the Committee, may I say, in answer to what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has said—because our objective is the same—that I apprehend there may be a grave danger if his advice is followed by a local authority deferring the declaration of a clearance area. What is the harm in having a clearance area declared as soon as possible, and then, if it is not possible 662 to demolish within the time, doing what is necessary to make the standard at least adequate? Do not condemn these people within the clearance area to a greater state of misery than they need suffer. That is the point which I venture to think has been entirely overlooked by those who would attempt to put a time limit upon us. As I say, this point has been very carefully considered, and I am afraid that I cannot give way upon it.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER
If I may add some observations, in spite of the powerful arguments of the noble and learned Lord, I find myself in considerable sympathy with the purpose of the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston. As I said in my remarks on the first Part of this Bill, whilst I have no personal knowledge of local authority government, I have been, and am, apprehensive that, unless some measure of compulsion (which may not be a happy term to use) is applied, in fact too little will happen. The period proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, is ten years; as the noble and learned Lord has said, that might deter local authorities from action On the other hand, one, cannot escape from the fact that the clause refers tosuch period as may be determined by the authority.It is the authority itself which determines what it is to do. It might not be so bad if it were the Minister who is to fix a period, but it is the local authority who is its own arbiter.
§ VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER
Perhaps unwisely, I have embarked upon reference to this clause, but my hope was that a solution might be achieved by a compromise—whether the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, would accept the term of fifteen years, referred to by my noble friend Lord Wolverton in regard to Clause 7, and whether, if the noble Lord were prepared to accept it, such a term would also be acceptable to Her Majesty's Government. I do not know the answer to that question—I put, it forward merely as a suggestion, in the hope that it might prove instrumental in bridging the gap.
§ EARL JOWITT
May I make another appeal to the noble and learned Lord? I believe that our objective is the same. He has said (and I am quite willing to accept it) that he is most anxious to deal with the slums by clearance and not by patching; that patching is to be the exception and clearance the rule; that it will depend upon the activities and the determination of the local authorities; and that the Minister will admonish them and encourage them and try to induce them to do the best they can. It is from that point of view that I look at this clause. If we say in this Bill merely that this action can be postponed, with no time limit at all, is that likely to encourage the authorities to regard this as a matter of great urgency? If I may use a vulgarism, surely what you want to do is to "rub their noses in" this problem, and to make them realise that they must apply themselves to it with the energy and enthusiasm which the noble and learned Lord would desire. No doubt most of them will, with some encouragement; but there may be some rather lazy, and some even recalcitrant, who are not impressed with the need for prompt action. Would it not be wise, for that reason, to have a time limit? The history of all these housing measures which contain a time limit of ten years indicates that in nine years' time the Government in power, whether made up of members of the Party opposite or of those on this side of the House, may come to the House again and say, "We have been looking at this matter and have come to the conclusion that the ideas of our predecessors nine years ago were not right, and therefore we feel we have got to give a further extension." Be it so. But by having a time limit in this Bill it creates that sense of urgency and clamancy in dealing with the problem, and does not allow these people to lie back on their oars and do nothing about it.
I am impressed with the fact that the two speeches we have heard from private Members on that side of the House, both noble Lords having great knowledge on this subject, have pressed the Government to give way. I venture to ask the noble and learned Lord to look at the matter again. I really do not think the Government have anything to lose. Above all, they have a time limit which may make these people more intent on 664 being busy about the work, and it may possibly help them to get their ideals carried out. If the worst happens, and the ten years' period proves to be impossible, then they will have to bring in another Bill to extend the time. But that fact alone, I suggest, impresses upon local authorities the sense of urgency in dealing with the slum problem, which is exactly what the noble and learned Lord himself wants and what the Minister wants. I ask the Committee to say that by putting a time limit in this Bill we prevent anybody from saying that the Government are prepared to allow a slack local authority, if there be such a thing, to go on dealing with the problem for ever. It is far better to say that they must deal with it within ten years. That will bring them up to scratch in dealing with the problem. If Within the ten years, they find the situation impossible, then by all means let us consider again whether we should give a further extension of time. I beg the Government to take action on this matter, on which I believe noble Lords in all parts of the House are most anxious to do everything that can be done to get these slums removed from our midst.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
I hope the Committee will forgive me if I intervene for a moment, because I have some special experience of housing matters in relation to London. Of course, I realise that London is different from other parts of the country, and I am not putting forward the point of view of London on this Amendment. However, I feel that perhaps London's experience is of some value in dealing with this problem, as it has to be dealt with by local authorities in other parts of the country. As to the aim of this Amendment, there is no difference between the Government and the noble Lords who have expressed criticism of the Government for not accepting it. I think everyone agrees with the purpose that underlies the Amendment. None of us regards this patching up of condemned homes as an alternative to demolition, but we all, I think, take the view that a patched-up house should be demolished and removed as soon as local authorities can provide a new home for its occupants. I have no doubt that most local authorities will carry out what is the clear intention of the Government—namely, that these patched-up houses 665 should be pulled down and replaced at the earliest possible moment. But some local authorities may not wish, or may not be able, to give up the financial advantage of postponing demolition until the last possible moment. That is what we are afraid of. Having spent money on patching up, they may be in a difficult financial position which will oblige them to try to save the cost of demolition and replacement by spinning out as long as possible the life of these patched-up dwellings. This is a very real danger, and I hope that the noble and learned Lord, if the Committee defeat this Amendment, can suggest some other way of meeting that danger.
It may be said that the ten year period of time suggested in the Amendment is a period that is not long enough for some authorities. I only know the situation in London, and I can tell your Lordships that, as far as London is concerned, tie London County Council and metropolitan boroughs expect, other things being equal, to clear all slum dwellings within the next ten years. We are now starting—this of course applies equally; it is a joint affair of the metropolitan borough councils and the London County Council—on our second post-war five-year slum clearance programme, and under this programme we hope to pull down about 10,000 unfit dwellings in the years that lie ahead, within ten years, we hope, from now. When these have been demolished we shall have wiped out all the arrears of slum clearance accumulated during the war and during the period of neglect before it, and by 1960 we hope that the only slum dwellings not covered by our programme will be a few hundred which every year become unfit owing to the ordinary course of wear and tear; and these can easily be dealt with by our normal rehousing programme.
Therefore I think that so far as London is concerned it is safe to say that a maximum period of ten years would not be unworkable, from the point of view of patched-up houses. I am not saying that London would wish to take advantage of this facility at all; I am saying merely that the objection to a ten-year period cannot be used from a London point of view.
I have heard it said, and it may well he the case—I have not had experience in other parts of the country—that there 666 are large towns in the Midlands and the North which are in quite a different position and there might be real difficulty there in rehousing slum dwellers in ten years. If that is so, may I suggest an Amendment to the Amendment? I do not see why some compromise should not be possible. Why should not the Amendment be qualified so as to allow exceptional treatment in genuine hard cases? The Minister might be authorised to extend the ten-year period on application by a local authority if he were completely satisfied that a particular authority was absolutely unable to clear its slums within the time. I put that forward only as a possible compromise suggestion but I very much hope the noble and learned Lord will be willing to consider it.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I still think that exactly what the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, foresees is provided for by Clause 1 of the Bill, because the Minister will have regard to the proposals that are made, and if he finds that they involve the deferment of demolition for, more than a certain time, whether ten years or any other time, if he thinks appropriate he will say, "These proposals are not adequate." I believe the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and perhaps other of your Lordships were under some misapprehension and did not appreciate what is the power of the Minister here to require proposals and to demand that proposals shall, if necessary, be altered. He has the power already to say just that which Lord Listowel was postulating. He can require what shall be done; he can require proposals to be made or proposals to be altered; and if he thinks—and he will only think so in an exceptional case—that a longer period than whatever you like to take is required, only then will he sanction the proposals.
I want to be quite candid with your Lordships. This matter has been so carefully considered by my right honourable friend that I do not think he will be willing to give way. He must, of course, give way if this House is against him, unless a different view is taken in another place. But I think it is right that I should say that I will bring to his notice what has been said on both sides of the Committee, and in particular the 667 valuable suggestion which was made by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. If your Lordships think fit to press the matter to a Division we will, of course, meet you accordingly. On the other hand, I will (but, frankly, without any promise that it will result in a concession) bring the matter to the attention of my right honourable friend, and we can discuss the matter again on Report if we are still at issue—and I should not like to say we shall not be. I hope, however, that your Lordships, on considering what I have said, will see that, having the same objective, we may reach that objective better by the means which the right honourable gentleman suggests than by those which your Lordships suggest.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ LORD WILMOT OF SELMESTON
We are all indebted to the noble and learned Lord for his promise to convey to his right honourable friend the views which have been expressed, but I am still rather puzzled about some of the things he said. Let us take the case we fear: the backward or lethargic local authority that does not get on with the job. As I understand it—I shall be glad to know if I am wrong—they can invoke the deferment provided under Clause 2 without having to get the prior permission of the Minister. They have only to say that they want to carry out works on a demolition area to be able to postpone the demolition. There is nothing in the Bill which requires them to bring forward an approved proposal. If it were contingent upon getting a plan approved by the Minister, and the Minister had powers of compulsion and sanctions to enforce those proposals to be carried out within a reasonable time, that would make a great difference. But the Minister, as I see it, has no such powers. This Bill merely hands a blank order of delay over to an authority which may be an authority which will be only too glad to avail itself of these delays and which will not then carry out the excellent intentions which the noble and learned Lord put forward as the Government's intentions, with which we certainly all agree. Therefore, in default of some concrete and complete assurances that these 668 powers of delay will not be available unless there is a plan which can be enforced by the Minister, I think my friends and other noble Lords who feel that this is a dangerous thing had better take this Amendment to a Division. But I hope the Government will feel that they can go a little further than they have.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I certainly consider that the Minister contemplates that the powers conferred in Clause 1 provide sufficient safeguards against the indefinite retention of patched slum houses. He is authorised to modify the proposals submitted under subsection (1) and is entitled at any time to ask for new or modified proposals. It is certainly contemplated that the modification of proposals submitted under subsection (1) will include patching proposals—that is the intention. If it is not so, I will certainly have it looked into to make it abundantly clear.
§ LORD WILMOT OF SELMESTON
May I ask another question? If the proposals are not satisfactory, can the powers of delay provided under Clause 2 be withheld? And secondly, if the powers of delay are exercised, can the works be insisted upon within a reasonable time? We are anxious to avoid any chance of matters getting stuck. It seems to me that it might happen that these powers of delay would be invoked, so that a demolition which was about to take place would be stopped and nothing would happen. In my view, the Minister is not armed with the necessary powers to compel a recalcitrant authority to carry out its duties.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I will certainly look into that matter. There is always the problem, is there not, of how to enforce upon a local authority the performance of its duty. That is so whether we impose a time limit or whether we do not. That is why I said at the outset that everything depends on the co-operation of the local authorities with the Minister. I will bear specially in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, has said.
§ On Question, Whether the Amendment shall be agreed to?669
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 24; Not-Contents, 53.
|Jowitt, E.||Burden, L. [Teller.]||Kenswood, L.|
|Douglas of Barloch, L.||Lawson, L.|
|Alexander of Hillsborough, V.||Douglas of Kirtleside, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Allenby, V.||Greenhill, L.||Pethick-Lawrence, L.|
|Haden-Guest, L. [Teller.]||Shepherd, L.|
|Amwell, L.||Hardinge of Penshurst, L.||Silkin, L.|
|Ashton of Hyde, L.||Hare, L. (E. Listowel.)||Wilmot of Selmeston, L.|
|Bingham, L. (E. Lucan.)||Hungarton, L.||Winster, L.|
|Boyle, L. (E. Cork and Orrery.)||Inman, L.|
|Simonds, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Furness, V.||Glyn, L.|
|Goschen, V||Hamilton of Dalzell, L.|
|Sutherland, D.||Leathers, V.||Hampton, L.|
|Swinton, V.||Hindlip, L,|
|Cholmondeley, M.||Trenchard, V.||Howard of Glossop, L.|
|Willingdon, M.||Jeffreys, L.|
|Amulree, L.||Lyle of Westbourne, L.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Baillieu, L.||Mancroft, L. [Teller.]|
|De La Warr, E.||Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Meston, L.|
|Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.)||Brassey of Apethorpe, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Broughshane, L.||Monson, L.|
|Dundonald, E.||Carrington, L.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Fortescue, E. [Teller.]||Coleraine, L.||Remnant, L.|
|Grey, E.||Cranworth, L.||Rochdale, L.|
|Rothes, E.||De L'Isle and Dudley, L.||Saltoun, L.|
|Selborne, E.||Dormer, L.||Sinha, L.|
|Dovercourt, L.||Strang, L.|
|Bearsted, V.||Fraser of North Cape, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.)||Waleran, L.|
|Devonport, V.||Gifford, L.|
On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I do not think that this Amendment can be in any sense controversial. Your Lordships will see that paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (3) deal with houses which it is desired to retain as being required for supporting houses which are being patched up or where there is some other special reason why they should not be demolished. However subsection (4) does not extend to houses not intended to be patched but which are required for the support of patched houses or for other purposes—for instance, as a store. The Amendment brings these houses into line. I beg to move.
Page 3, line 34, leave out ("as aforesaid") and insert ("of providing such accommodation as is mentioned in subsection (1) of this section, or in the case of which it appears to them desirable that it should be retained for either of the purposes mentioned in paragraphs (a) and (b) of the last foregoing subsection").—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 3 to 5 agreed to.670
§ Clause 6:
§ Licences for temporary occupation of houses subject to existing demolition or clearance orders
§ 6.—(1) If it appears to a local authority that any house in respect of which a demolition order or clearance order had been made by that authority under Part II or Part III of the principal Act before the commencement of this Act is capable of providing accommodation of a standard which is adequate for the time being, they may grant to the person who, but for the said order, would be entitled to authorise the occupation of the house a licence permitting the occupation of the house during such period as may specified in the licence by such number of persons and on such terms as to the rent and other conditions on which the house may be occupied as may be so specified.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN moved, in subsection (1), after "period" to insert: "not exceeding five years." The noble Lord said: The clause on which we have just divided, and on which we had a moral victory, dealt with houses which the local authority were going to patch and which had been scheduled for demolition. An alternative method of dealing with these houses is provided in Cause 6. Under this clause, instead of patching up a house a local authority may authorise 671 the owner to do the work under licence. Whatever may have been the case for not imposing a time limit upon local authorities, I find it difficult to understand why, where a local authority grant a licence to an individual to continue to permit a house to be inhabited, the local authority should not be required to include in the licence a time limit stating how long the house may be occupied. Surely that is in the interest of even the owner himself.
§ Although the clause does not say so in terms, I presume that the owner will spend some money in patching up. Will he not want to know for how long occupation of the house will be permitted? Would it not be to his advantage in determining how much money he could spend? I agree that the Amendment provides for a maximum period, but if it should be thought more appropriate to put in a definite period, we should not greatly object. In my Amendment I have said five years. I think that, in the case of a house which is to be retained by the landlord, five years is not an unreasonable period, but if the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is going to charge us with inconsistency for saying ten years in the case of a local authority house and only five in the case of a privately owned house, we should not mind even ten years, if that would be acceptable, although we think that five years is right.
§ I need not repeat all the arguments put forward on the previous Amendment. The case is much stronger here, in view of the fact that these houses are to be retained not by local authorities but by private individuals. There is nothing here which requires a house to be put into good repair, but that point is dealt with on the next Amendment and I shall be able to argue it on that. I presume that it is not the intention of the Government that a slum house which ought to be demolished should continue to be occupied under licence indefinitely, without repairs being carried out. If there is a licence, I think a term ought to be inserted in it, so that the owner himself will know how long he will be allowed to occupy the house and may fix the amount of money he thinks it worth while to spend. I beg to move.672
Page 6, line 30, after ("period") insert ("not exceeding five years").—(Lord Silkin)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I can hardly believe it, but I believe that the noble Lord has overlooked something, which would be extraordinary in a Housing Bill. The noble Lord wants to insert after "period" the words "not exceeding five years," but he is prepared to say that it might be some other period. But in subsection (4), the Bill itself provides that a licence shall cease to have effect at the expiry of three years. I thought the noble Lord was quite unwittingly offering a longer extension than the Bill itself provides. I do not know whether I dare ask him if he has overlooked that provision and, having overlooked it, will now perhaps withdraw his Amendment. Perhaps it may be something we have overlooked in this complex matter, but our intention is precisely the same as his: that where there has been a licence, it shall cease to have effect after a certain time. We have provided for a period of three years beginning with the commencement of the Act. True, subsection (4) provides forsuch extended period as the Minister may in any particular case allow in pursuance of an application made by the local authority within the said period of three years.I think that really meets the noble Lord's point, but if there is anything in it which I have failed to understand, of course I will give the matter further consideration.
§ LORD SILKIN
I am obliged to the noble and learned Lord. The point in subsection (4) is that this period may be extended. The difference between us—and I agree that it is not a big difference—is that, whereas the period in subsection (4) is indefinite, in the sense that it may be periodically extended by the Minister, I seek to put in a definite period. Incidentally, it makes me rather wonder about my next Amendment, because I cannot conceive that it would be worth anybody's while to spend much money on a slum house merely to have it occupied for three years. We have to be realistic about these things, and in suggesting five years, I had in mind that that was the minimum period which would enable any landlord to recover his expenditure. What I fear is that in almost every case, the landlord will be 673 able to make out a good case for extending the period beyond the three years. In other words, I would rather put in a realistic period straight away than have an unrealistic period which is capable of indefinite extension, such as is given by subsection (4) However, I admit that the point is small, and I do not want to take up time on it. I have put my case. I would ask the noble and learned Lord to see that the point is looked at to ascertain whether it is not possible to have a realistic period which is definite and final, rather than a short period which is capable of indefinite extension.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
This particular provision illustrates the determination of the Minister that the patching up of these houses shall be on the smallest scale possible—that is all it means.
§ LORD SILKIN
If the noble and learned Lord will look at this point again—there is no strong feeling about it, but I think it is worth looking at to see whether it is better to give a realistic period straight away, than to give short periods which are capable of extension—I am willing to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
LORD SILKIN moved, in subsection (1), after "rent" to insert "repairs." The noble Lord said: As I hinted earlier, there is no provision in subsection (1) of Clause 6 requiring the landlord, among the other conditions which he has to fulfil, to put the house into some kind of repair. The subsection says that a licence may be granted so that the house may be occupied
by such number of persons and on such terms as to the rent and other conditions … as may be so specified.
The words "other conditions" could be construed as meaning conditions as to repair. It is an odd way of doing it, because the whole purpose of this provision is to see that repairs are done. It is rather odd to omit the one essential thing among the conditions, and to leave it to be inferred. Therefore I suggest that we should put in the word "repairs," which will make it clear that that is a condition which has to be fulfilled. I beg to move.
Page 6, line 31, after ("rent") insert ("repairs").—(Lord Silkin.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
What the noble Lord has said carries conviction. We do not think it is necessary, because it is quite clear that in licensing a house under these conditions the authority would undoubtedly impose the necessary conditions to ensure its maintenance up to the adequate standard during the term of the licence. Therefore, although, perhaps, strictly it is unnecessary to put in the word "repairs," if the noble Lord feels that it would be clearer if that word were inserted, we will certainly accept the Amendment.
§ Clause 6, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 7 and 8 agreed to.
§ Clause 9:
§ Standard of fitness for human habitation
§ 9.—(1) In determining for any of the purposes of the principal Act whether a house is unfit for human habitation, regard shall be had to its condition in respect of the following matters, that is to say—
- (a) repair;
- (b) stability;
- (c) freedom from damp;
- (d) natural lighting;
- (e) ventilation;
- (f) water supply;
- (g) drainage and sanitary conveniences; and
- (h) facilities for storage, preparation and cooking of food and for the disposal of waste water;
§ (2) The provisions of the foregoing subsection shall be without prejudice to section twenty-two of the principal Act (which provides that certain back-to-back houses are to be deemed for The purpose of that Act to be unfit for human habitation).
§ 4.25 p.m.
LORD SILKIN moved to leave out subsection (1) and to insert:
(1) For any of the purposes of the principal Act, a house shall be regarded as unfit for human habitation if it is not—
The noble Lord said: I beg to move the next Amendment standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Burden. The purpose of this Amendment is to substitute what we think is a more satisfactory definition of "fitness" or "unfitness" for the one that is included in Clause 9 (1) of the Bill. Let me say at once that I regard Clause 9 (1) as a considerable improvement on the existing law. Section 188 of the Housing Act, 1936, is unsatisfactory, and I think the Government have gone some way towards including a more satisfactory definition of "fitness" or "unfitness" than we have under the existing law. However, we feel it is a pity that, when they have done this, they should not have gone the whole way and included a definition which is wholly satisfactory. In the first place, the language is not really apt, because it provides, not that paragraphs (a) to (h) are essential but merely that
In determining … whether a house is unfit for human habitation … regard shall be had to its condition in respect of
repair, stability and so on. Exactly what that means, and what an unfortunate county court judge who may have to decide whether or not a house is fit has got to do, "having regard to" these things, it is extremely difficult to know.
§ Mr. Willink, when he was Minister of Health, set up a Committee, known as the Mitchell Committee, to investigate standards of fitness for habitation. I have to confess that I looked at the Committee's Report last night, and I found, to my complete surprise, that I was a member of that Committee. It sat a long time ago, and until I saw my name I had completely forgotten that I was a member. I was a member for only a short period, until the last Government was formed. However, in spite of my leaving the Committee it was still a good Committee, and it had on it representatives of a number of eminent housing 676 authorities, including representatives of building societies, a medical officer of health, one or two present Ministers and so on. It was an eminent Committee, and its members arrived at a unanimous conclusion. They laid down a definition of what they regarded as fitness. It so happens that this definition was one which had been laid down in 1919. In 1919, in a Manual of Unfit Houses, issued by the Ministry, a standard for a fit house was set out. They felt that they could not improve on that definition which was laid down in 1919. Much this same definition was confirmed in the Rural Housing Manual, issued in 1938 by the then Minister of Health. Therefore, we have a definition which has been approved by two separate Governments, one in 1919 and one in 1938, and also unanimously recommended by the Mitchell Committee. My Amendment simply takes that standard and seeks to incorporate it in the Bill. In my judgment, it is much more satisfactory than the definition which is included in the Bill at present. It is more satisfactory, first of all, for the reason I have already given: that it is positive and lays down what is required, rather than what should be had regard to. Apart from that, there is no serious difference between the two. In fact, it was argued in another place that they were much the same.
I admit that, in certain respects, the definition laid down in my Amendment is, if anything, of a somewhat higher standard than the definition in the Bill. For instance, in the Amendment we provide for "a well ventilated food store," whereas in the Bill the language is, "facilities for storage of food." Well, "facilities for storage" may be of any character at all—they may be an unventilated cupboard, or a cellar. If an owner claimed that his facilities for storage of food were in the cellar, so far as I can see from the definition in the Bill, no objection could be taken to it. We provide for "a well ventilated food store." The Bill provides for
facilities for storage, preparation and cooking of food,
Whereas we provide for
adequate facilities for preparing and cooking food.
I have seen facilities provided on a landing of a house, not in a kitchen at all,
and with no ventilation. That would comply with the definition in the Bill as it stands. Such a house would be regarded as a fit house, even though sit had that kind of facility. As long as there was a gas cooker on a landing, it would be covered by this definition.
§ I do not want to run through the whole of them, but I think I can claim that, generally speaking, the standards laid down by this Amendment are somewhat higher than those laid down in the Bill. I confess that I find it extremely difficult to understand why a definition which was regarded as satisfactory in 1919, again in 1938, and again in 1945 by the Mitchell Committee, should not be regarded as a reasonable definition to incorporate in this Bill. We are told (I think the Minister said this in another place) that the standard was an unrealistic one. I cannot agree. I do not think the requirements of paragraphs (a) to (h) of the Amendment are unrealistic. There was, in fact, in the Report of the Mitchell Committee, another definition of fitness, which is much more rigorous and of a higher standard. The definition that we propose to put in the Bill is of a lower standard. We think that the least the Government can do is to accept the recommendation of its own Committee, which was composed of people who have a practical understanding of these things. The Chairman, Sir Miles Mitchell, is a man of many years standing in local government affairs and a former Chairman of the Housing Committee in Manchester, and most of the other member of the Committee were fully alive to what was practicable in laying down this definition. I hope, therefore, that Her Majesty's Government will see their way to substituting the definition in the Amendment for the one which is at present in the Bill. I beg to move.
Page 9, line 26, leave out subsection (1) and insert the said new subsection.—(Lord Silkin.)
§ LORD BURDEN
I wish to support what has been so well said by my noble friend Lord Silkin. There are just one or two points I should like to put to the noble and learned Lord. May I ask whether the definition of "sanitary defects" contained in Section 188 of the Housing Act, 1936, includes: 678Lack of air space or of ventilation, darkness, dampness, absence of adequate and readily accessible water supply or sanitary accommodation or of other conveniences, and adequate paving or drainage of courts, yards or passages.Will that still stand as a definition of "sanitary defects," or will that be superseded by the clauses in the present Bill? May I suggest, too, that when the qualification in Clause 9 (1) that:the house shall be deemed to be unfit as aforesaid if and only if it is so far defective in one or more of the said matters that it is not reasonably suitable for occupation in that conditioncomes to be construed in a court on any application by a local authority, it may give rise to endless interpretations, litigation and judgments. It is a clause which is difficult to construe and, therefore, I think that the points urged by my noble friend to make the definitions as wide as possible are important. I would ask the noble and learned Lord whether, between now and the Report stage, he could consider some Amendment of the qualifications I have read out, in order to be helpful to the local authorities.
May I also suggest that it would be a mistake to look at the problem of slum clearance purely from an urban point of view. There are as many slums behind the rose-covered frontages of cottages as in many urban areas. I should like to put in evidence, in addition to what my noble friend Lord Silkin has said, the standard of fitness recommended in 1947 by the Hobhouse Committee on the reconditioning of rural houses. It was as follows:…be in all respects dry; be in a good state of repair; have each room properly lighted and ventilated; have an adequate supply of wholesome water laid on for all purposes inside the dwelling; be provided with efficient and adequate means of supplying hot water for domestic purposes; have an internal or otherwise readily accessible water closet; have a fixed bath,and so on. That may be a counsel of perfection. In any case, I submit to the noble and learned Lord that the definition included in this Bill would be far more satisfactory if widened as we suggest. In setting out on this campaign, as the noble and learned Lord has said, do not let us lower the flag. Let us make a determined effort on the slums, but not lower the definition as to what is considered to be slum property deserving of clearance.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I think we all have the greatest sympathy with the purpose of this Amendment. It is true the Amendment reproduces substantially the recommendation of the Central Housing Advisory Committee, of which Sir Miles Mitchell was Chairman and the noble Lord a transitory member. But the noble Lord has not told your Lordships of what I think was a vital paragraph of the Report. After paragraph 23, recommending this standard of fitness, the Committee went on in paragraph 24 to recognise the impossibility of applying that standard wholesale, except at some time in the future when the housing condition of the country permitted. That is the vital part of the Report which your Lordships have to consider. We are not laying down here a standard of what is unfit for human habitation; we are laying down a standard for the purposes of the principal Act; and the result of declaring a house unfit for human habitation is at once to impose certain duties upon the local authority. It is quite clear that it would be absolutely—we have used the word so often—unrealistic to impose upon a local authority, here and now, the duty of proceeding on their necessary acts under the Act of 1936 in the case of every house which does not now conform to the standard laid down in this Amendment. That is not to deal realistically with the situation. The application of this definition to-day is quite out of the question and would impose a wholly impossible burden upon local authorities.
The Amendment lists the eight conditions which were envisaged by the Sub-Committee's standard. Subsection (1) of this clause does not make the house unfit if it does not satisfy every item in the list, but makes it unfit only if the defects in respect of any one or more of the items are so far-reaching as to render the house not reasonably suitable for occupation. Your Lordships will see the difference. The Amendment would require a local authority to go through this list of conditions one by one and condemn a house which failed to satisfy one of them, in however unessential a degree. That is surely a quite impracticable way of looking at the problem, and one unrelated to the immense diversity of houses with which we have to deal. There are years of arrears of work 680 to be done in the remedying of the defects in houses. If this Amendment were accepted, it is calculated that there would be tens of thousands of houses which would have to be dealt with by the local authorities because of the enforcement of the higher standard to be established by the Amendment. That situation just cannot be faced. I do not dissent in the least from the proposition as a theory, that a house is unfit for habitation if it does not comply with these several conditions; but to say that it is unfit for habitation for the purposes of the principal Act, with all that that involves, is utterly unrealistic. That was recognised by the Committee of which the noble Lord was a member, because they said that the standard could be introduced only at a time when the housing condition of the country permitted.
Now, as the clause stands, the local authority, while taking account of all relevant conditions, will assess the degree of each deficiency in a house. I can see that it may be totally deficient in one item and yet it may not be unfit for human habitation, according to the standard which we must lay down and follow to-day until the housing condition of the country is better. The cumulative effect of all the deficiencies will have to be considered and then the local authority will have to make up its mind whether the individual house is reasonably suitable for occupation. Taking into consideration all the circumstances, that is just as far as it is possible to go at the present time. The noble Lord, Lord Burden, made some observations upon this question. Again, I am entirely in sympathy with what he has said, but it is impossible to-day to say that a house which does not satisfy any one of the eight respects prescribed is unfit for human habitation and accordingly must be demolished. That is an impossible proposition. So, unwillingly, I say it is impossible to accept this Amendment and to lay down, here and now, that every house is unfit for human habitation which does not satisfy those conditions. It cannot be done.
§ LORD WILMOT OF SELMESTON
I am sorry for what the noble and learned Lord has just said, because I was hoping that he was going to—
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am sorry, but I did not answer a question put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Burden. 681 The definition of sanitary defects in Section 188 is repealed by Clause 52 and the Fifth Schedule to the Bill.
§ LORD BURDEN
I thought it was. May I ask whether the noble and learned Lord will look at the other point I raised—the clarification of the sentence: "…the house shall be deemed to be unfit," and so on? It is a little difficult.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
It is impossible to get better words. I will look at it, of course, but it is a matter which has been much considered. It is one of those problems which a county court judge has to solve. It is a difficult one.
§ LORD WILMOT OF SELMESTON
May I appeal to the noble and learned Lord to encourage us to believe that at the next stage something will be done to meet the point which my noble friend has just put? May I say why I think there is some reason for asking that. This Bill will provide for a halt in the process of demolition and require, in lieu, improvements to be made. If we are going to take that course, surely it would not be too much to ask that the sights should be raised a little and that, instead of the bare list which appears in the Bill as drafted in Clause 9, we should include something to indicate the sort of standard we have in mind. There is nothing in the Bill which really gives it. What is given is just a list of parts, whereas my noble friend Lord Silkin, has at any rate mentioned some minimum standards. Maybe those standards go a little far, but, at any rate, I think we ought to put more in the Bill itself, in view of the fact that we are going to allow those houses to remain. Even if there is only one serious defect—suppose, for instance, there is no water supply or the water supply is, as is still the case in some parts of London, just a tap at the end of the yard—surely we ought to require the local authority, if they are going to be excused from the duty of demolishing that building, at least to put right that defect according to a standard set down in the Bill. Perhaps I may appeal to the noble and learned Lord once again to look at this Amendment, to see whether something cannot be done to meet the point.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I can never resist an appeal of that kind, and of course I will look at it again. But the 682 noble Lord realises the hours that have been spent in trying to obtain a satisfactory definition. There are some things which are incapable of precise definition. Even in the Amendment proposed there are such words as "satisfactory water supply." What do you mean by that? I suppose that in regard to a flat in London you mean quite a different thing from what you mean in regard to a cottage in the country, where a well may be required. Things differ infinitely according to circumstances. I will, of course, look at the matter again, but I cannot promise that much good will come of it.
§ LORD SILKIN
Of course there is some validity in what the noble and learned Lord has said. On the other hand, in my view the definition in the Bill, which one must assume is a definition which is going to stand for some time, is unsatisfactory. The noble and learned Lord has referred me to paragraph 24 of the Report of the Mitchell Committee of which I was aware. In that paragraph the Committee recommend that any legislation which may be introduced pursuant to the preceding recommendation—therefore they contemplate that their recommendation will be incorporated in legislation—should provide for the revised minimum period to take effect as from an appointed day to be fixed by the Minister. Of course it is nine years since the Committee made their recommendations, and conditions have undoubtedly improved since then. There are many more houses, and it is much easier to deal with slum clearance. If the noble Lord opposite wishes to pat himself on the back, I would remind him that we provided many more houses than he did; but we will not go into that now.
The fact is that there are now many more houses than there were in 1945, and, as we all recognise, it is much easier to-day to deal with the problem of slum clearance than it was in 1945, when of course it was quite impossible. We are considerably nearer to the time when this definition can be implemented, even if we accept that it cannot be done at this moment. But if that is the case, what is the justification for putting into a permanent housing measure a definition which is not satisfactory? If we retain the present definition, could we not at any rate have the additional one, which is something the Minister can bring into 683 operation on an appointed day, in accordance with the recommendation of the Mitchell Committee? I hope that the noble and learned Lord will give that suggestion sympathetic consideration. If he will, I should be quite prepared to facilitate matters in the usual way. But I think it is quite wrong to reconcile oneself, apparently for a long time, to an unsatisfactory definition of "unfitness," and to make no provision at all for the time which the noble and learned Lord is arguing is going to be very soon, when it might be possible to improve our standards.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Once again the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, makes an appeal. I do not want to be put in the position of appearing to suggest that
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ LORD MESTON moved, in subsection (1) (a), after "repair" to insert "(other than internal decorative repair)." The noble Lord said: The object of this 684 consideration will result in anything which will be favourable to the Amendment which is proposed, or even to a sort of compromise Amendment which would give effect to this Amendment on an appointed day in the future. Therefore, if the noble Lord will accept it upon that footing, that I really make no promise—he has not persuaded me, and I do not think he will persuade the Minister—I will of course look at it. But it would not be right for me to say more than that. Frankly, I hold out no hope at all, because, with great respect, I do not think the Amendment is a sound one.
§ On Question, Whether the Amendment shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 20; Not-Contents, 70.683
|Jowitt, E.||Douglas of Barloch, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Douglas of Kirtleside, L.||Pethick-Lawrence, L.|
|Stansgate, V.||Greenhill, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Hare, L. (E. Listowel.)||Silkin, L.|
|Bingham, L. (E. Lucan.) [Teller.]||Hungarton, L.||Wilmot of Selmeston, L.|
|Inman, L.||Winster, L.|
|Boyle, L. (E.Cork and Orrery.)||Kenswood, L.||Wise, L.|
|Burden, L. [Teller.]||Milner of Leeds, L.|
|Simonds, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Falmouth, V.||Gifford, L.|
|Salisbury, M. (L. President.)||FitzAlan of Derwent, V.||Hacking, L.|
|Furness, V.||Hamilton of Dalzell, L.|
|Cholmondeley, M.||Goschen, V.||Hampton, L.|
|Willingdon, M.||Hudson, V.||Hindlip, L.|
|Leathers, V.||Howard of Glossop, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Swinton, V.||Jeffreys, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Killearn, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Aldenham, L.||Lloyd, L.|
|Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.)||Amulree, L.||Lyle of Westbourne, L.|
|Ashton of Hyde, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Dundonald, E.||Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Meston, L.|
|Fortescue, E. [Teller.]||Blackford, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Grey, E.||Brassey of Apethorpe, L.||Monson, L.|
|Mansfield, E.||Broughshane, L.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Munster, E.||Carrington, L.||Remnant, L.|
|Onslow, E. [Teller.]||Coleraine, L.||Rochdale, L.|
|Rothes, E.||Cranworth, L.||Rockley, L.|
|Selborne, E.||De L'Isle and Dudley, L.||Saltoun, L.|
|Dormer, L.||Sandhurst, L.|
|Allenby, V.||Dovercourt, L.||Strang, L.|
|Bearsted, V.||Ebbisham, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Turnour, L. (E. Winterton.)|
|Buckmaster, V.||Fraser of North Cape, L.||Waleran, L.|
|Devonport, V.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.)||Wolverton, L.|
Resolved in the Negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ Amendment is to make it clear that in considering the word "repair" there shall always be excluded internal decorative repair. In a recent case in the Queen's Bench Division it was decided that, under existing law, internal decoration which causes discomfort and inconvenience to the tenant does not constitute 685 a nuisance within the meaning of Section 82 of the Public Health (London) Act, 1936. If lack of internal decoration is not a nuisance, it is still less a ground for holding that the premises are unfit for human habitation. I have moved the Amendment very shortly. I hope that, none the less, it is worthy of consideration. I beg to move.
Page 9, line 30, after ("repair") insert ("other than internal decorative repair").—(Lord Meston.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I regret that I cannot, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, accept the Amendment, which would in fact reduce the standard of fitness for human habitation which it is the purpose of Clause 9 to apply to all houses. It would relieve a landlord from the responsibility of making good defects in internal decorations so bad as to make the house unfit for human habitation. All the wallpaper might be falling off in strips; the paint and distemper might have disappeared, and the house might be liable to further deterioration. There fore it is essential that a local authority should have power to require a landlord to do the work necessary to remedy that state of affairs. It is not only a matter of the comfort of a tenant, but concerns also the preservation of part of our national assets. The Amendment would lower the standard which my right honourable friend has decided to maintain, and therefore I must resist it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLS-BOROUGH
With your Lordships' permission I wish to raise a point of order with regard to the last Division. I am entirely in the hands of the Committee, but I am most anxious that, in a debate of this kind, there should be no possibility that noble Lords may be unable to get into the Division Lobby in time. I came straight away from the tea-room as soon as the bell was ringing. It had just finished ringing, and I got into the Prince's Chamber just in time to hear the click of the lock and was refused admission to the Lobby. It may be a matter that we can deal with later, but it is obvious that, if time is to be limited to less than three minutes between the time the Question is first called until the door is locked, then in future Divisions we must have adequate time before the order 686 is given for the doors to be locked, unless noble Lords are to be prevented, if they are in another part of the House, from being able to record their sincere vote.
§ EARL FORTESCUE
I understand that it has always been the practice for the Clerk to turn up the sandglass and when it has run out he informs the doorkeeper and the door is locked. So far as I know, that is what happened this time.
I think I was the last one out of your Lordships' tea-room; and I paid my bill and had time to finish my cigarette and still be in time for the Division.
VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLS-BOROUGH
I paid my bill immediately after the noble Lord, so there could not have been very much in it.
§ VISCOUNT GAGE moved to leave out subsection (2). The noble Viscount said: I have no personal interest in these houses, but I understand that some of the worst slums in the North of England are composed of back-to-back houses, and those will, no doubt, be dealt with under the slum clearance schemes which we have been discussing. I understand, however, that there are other houses of this particular type of construction which are in a reasonably good state and unlikely to be dealt with under slum clearance schemes. They house a large number of people. The point is perhaps a technical one, but I understand that a provision in the Housing Act, 1936, made it clear that any house of that type of construction built after that date would be deemed unfit for human habitation. Apparently nothing was said about houses in a reasonable state of repair that had been built before 1936, and the question is: if there is that doubt, what is their position under this Bill? Do they come within the ambit of this Bill or not? As they house a number of people and are not likely to be covered in slum clearance schemes, it would seem a little unfortunate if they could not enjoy the provision made in this Bill. I beg to move.
Page 9, line 42, leave out subsection (2).—(Viscount Gage.)
May I say a few words in support of the Amendment. 687 From the practical point of view, the position is extraordinarily difficult. I have been informed that in the city of Bradford there are 92,831 dwellings, of which approximately 30,000 are back-to-back houses. Many of them are houses which provide reasonable accommodation and are structurally sound, although it must be admitted that in many other respects they are not by any means satisfactory. I submit that to condemn a house merely because it is a back-to-back house is going too far in present conditions, and that therefore it might be better if each back-to-hack house were to be considered entirely on its own merits.
§ LORD MANCROFT
This is rather a technical point. I think that the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, may not be quite clear as to the interpretation of this particular subsection. I see what he is trying to get at, and I equally understand the point which Lord Meston has raised. What they are concerned with is to secure that back-to-back houses should not automatically be deemed to be unfit, but should be judged by the standard of fitness laid down by the clause. So far as I know, there are no back-to-back houses which are deemed to be unfit under Section 22 of the Housing Act, 1936. That section, which reproduced Section 43 of the Housing and Town Planning Act, 1909, prohibited the erection of back-to-back houses, unless they were erected on streets of which the plans were approved by the local authority before 1909. The only back-to-back houses which could automatically be deemed unfit are, therefore, those back-to-back houses which were built unlawfully after 1909. In these circumstances, your Lordships may ask why the provision contained in this subsection is necessary at all. The answer is that, without it, a back-to-back house which was built unlawfully would not be deemed to be unfit, and a simple means of securing its demolition would therefore be taken away. Unfortunately, there are a great many back-to-back houses, as noble Lords have mentioned. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds, would, probably, be prepared to bear me out that in his city of Leeds alone there are some 30,000 such houses. But these are either houses built before 1909 or houses built on streets of which the plans were approved by the local authority 688 before 1909; and they are therefore not automatically deemed to be unfit for human habitation. The clause will apply to them as it applies to any other house. I hope that that explanation has removed any doubts in the minds of the two noble Lords who have supported this Amendment.
So far as I am concerned it has, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment. I should like to express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 9 agreed to.
§ Clause 10 agreed to.
§ Clause 11:
§ Houses let in lodgings, &c.
§ (2) Nothing in the Rent and Mortgage Interest Restrictions Acts, 1920 to 1939, shall prevent possession being obtained of any house or part of a house possession of which is required for the purpose of complying with a requirement under paragraph (b) of the foregoing subsection.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN moved to leave out subsection (2). The noble Lord said: I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name. This clause deals with houses which are let to more than one family, and it enables the local authority to require that certain steps should be taken, among other things, to thin out a house which otherwise would be unfit for occupation. Further, it provides, by subsection (1) (b), that certain people may be dispossessed in order to make the house suitable for occupation by those that remain. I think that the new clause which the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack is to move later has the same object, but this Amendment is specifically for dealing with overcrowding. My concern, both in this and in the Amendment which the noble and learned Lord is to move later, is to ensure that people thus dispossessed are not thrown out into the streets but are provided with other accommodation.
§ I am moving to delete subsection (2) because that provides that the Rent Restrictions Acts shall not operate in order to prevent a person from being dispossessed. It may be that that is not the most elegant way of achieving what I want to achieve. But it is clear that what 689 I want is that the Rent Restrictions Acts should apply to such persons, so that if they are turned out they will be provided with alternative accommodation. The most satisfactory rule would be that the local authority should not make an order at all unless they can provide such persons with other accommodation. If the noble and learned Lord is prepared to give me some encouragement on that, and to say that, at a later stage, he will have something inserted in the Bill to ensure that anyone who is turned out of an unfit house in order to enable the house to be made fit will be provided with alternative accommodation, then I shall be perfectly happy to withdraw my Amendment.
§ I think it is an extraordinary way of going about matters, to turn people out in order to make places fit, yet not to provide them with any other accommodation. A house with three families may, for instance, be regarded as being fit for two families only, not necessarily because it is overcrowded but because it has not the facilities which are required for three families. But reduction of the occupancy to two families would mean turning one family into the street, and it seems to me that the clause would enable a landlord to do that—in fact it encourages a landlord to take proceedings. He may be fined for not taking proceedings to get possession where ordered to by the local authority, but no provision is made for the poor tenant who may be dispossessed. I am sure that, with his kind heart, the noble and learned Lord does not wish that to be the effect of anything done under Clause 11, so I hope the Government will be able to suggest some method of dealing with this difficult problem. I beg to move.
Page 11, line 21, leave out subsection (2).—(Lord Silkin.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
No doubt this is a somewhat difficult dilemma. It is clear that the provisions of Clause 11 must be retained—that is to say, there must be this power to prevent overcrowding. I think that is beyond all question. If there is that provision in the Act, equally it must not be the case that the landlord is prevented by any other Act, such as the Rent Restrictions Act, from doing that which he is told to do to mitigate overcrowding. Accordingly, subsection (1) being in the Bill, 690 subsection (2) should be there also. I think the noble Lord will recollect that exactly this problem arose long ago. Section 65 (1) of the Housing Act, 1936, provides as follows:Where a dwelling-house is overcrowded in such circumstances as to render the occupier thereof guilty of an offence, nothing in the Rent and Mortgage Interest Restrictions Acts, 1920 to 1933, shall prevent the landlord from obtaining possession of the house.There is exactly the same provision and exactly the same problem. Speaking from recollection, I believe that no special provision was made in the 1936 Act in regard to the local authority's finding alternative accommodation. I venture to think that it was left to the intelligence and good will of the local authority to see that at any rate temporary accommodation was provided where they had to serve notice in order to prevent overcrowding, and where, in consequence, those who were overcrowded had to be ordered out. I imagine that the local authorities will act now as they have done in the past when enforcing the provisions of the Housing Act, 1936, including Section 65. Therefore, I must resist the Amendment. Whether anything further can be done is another matter. I should not have thought it was necessary.
§ LORD BURDEN
While I appreciate what the noble and learned Lord has said, may I suggest, out of some experience of local government, that local authorities who are housing authorities will be reluctant to put people on the streets if there is no alternative accommodation. That will make this clause difficult to operate. May I point out what seems to me to be a difficulty? In a further Amendment which the noble and learned Lord is to move, a landlord will be guilty of an offence and on summary conviction may be fined for non-compliance, but the clause does not give the landlord authority to put a tenant's goods and chattels on the street. I assume that if a notice is served on him by the local authority, he will have to take action for possession in the county court. Suppose the county court refuses to give the landlord possession, would the landlord then be guilty of the offence provided for in the noble and learned Lord's Amendment, if another department of the local authority take action against him for overcrowding? I am not raising this in a debating way, but simply for information.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I suppose exactly the same thing might arise under the Act of 1936. Whether it did and what the consequence was, I am afraid I have not in mind to tell the noble Lord, but I should imagine that, if it was impossible by reason of a court order for a landlord to give effect to the direction given by the local authority, although he may be technically guilty of an offence, I cannot conceive that any magistrate would deal hardly with him.
§ LORD SILKIN
I am not going to press this Amendment to a Division because, among other things, I never thought it was a good Amendment. It was merely a means of raising a point that I wanted to raise. I hope the noble and learned Lord will agree that it is an important point. The fact that under the provisions of the 1936 Act, in the interests of relieving overcrowding it is possible to turn people out without providing them with alternative accommodation does not justify extending the practice. Local authorities are in a real dilemma here. I hope that something can be done to ensure that nobody is turned out into the streets merely because he has the misfortune of living in a house which is overcrowded. It is penalising the already unfortunate person who has had to live in these conditions, to say to him. "We shall not even let you live in these conditions. You must get out, and we are not interested in where you go." Since we are giving additional powers to local authorities to deal with these houses, I should have thought it possible to say to them in these cases that they must give other accommodation to the persons displaced. But I am content to leave it at that. I do not ask for any undertakings, but I hope that between now and Report stage it may be possible to find some way of ensuring that people are not just turned out into the streets.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am obliged to the noble Lord. I think this is one of the many cases where we have to decide between legislation which may be very complicated and relying upon wise and prudent administration. The latter was the policy followed under the 1936 Act, and I think it has been successful.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.692
§ 5.29 p.m.
LORD BURDEN moved, after subsection (2) to insert:
(3) Without prejudice to any other powers exercisable under the principal Act or this part of this Act, a local authority may, as respects any house or part of a house which is let in lodgings, serve on the person having control of the house (as defined for the purposes of Part II of the principal Act) a notice—
§ The noble Lord said: Before coming to the Amendment, may I say that I regard this clause as somewhat unfortunate. I discussed the clause at great length with officers and members of the Sanitary Inspectors' Association, who will be responsible for working the clause in the field as officers of local authorities. Their opinion is that the powers which local authorities have under the 1936 Act to make by-laws controlling the letting of houses and lodgings which are occupied by more than one family are reasonably efficient and have worked fairly well. I am aware that the Committee which is referred to as the Silkin Committee made recommendations that the power of making by-laws should be repealed. As I understand it, however, that recommendation was made because it was suggested that model by-laws, so to speak, should be written into new legislation. It is because the Bill does not do that that I am venturing to move this Amendment. I am not suggesting for a moment that the Amendment covers all the points which would be covered by model by-laws. I say in regard to by-laws only that their effectiveness or ineffectiveness would not rest only with the local authority but would rest also with the Minister, who would have to give his approval to the by-laws. However, that is a subsidiary matter.
§ I come now to the Amendment standing in my name. Where a house is used as a lodging house it will normally be occupied by a larger number of persons than it would be if it were used only for family accommodation, and often there 693 will be more frequent changes of occupier than in the case of an ordinary house. Therefore I submit to your Lordships that, in any circumstances of that kind, more stringent provisions are required for reasons of health and safety. Clause 9 (1) provides for the essential maintenance of such things as ventilation, natural lighting, water supply, sanitation, cooking facilities and so on; but neither that subsection nor Section 9 of the Housing Act, 1936, which deals with repairs to houses required to render them fit for human habitation, covers the matters referred to in this new subsection. Looked at as a house and without regard to The number of people occupying it, it may be quite possible to say that a particular lodging house is, under Section 9 of the Housing Act, 1936, fit for human habitation, In any event, it is questionable whether the provisions of Section 9 of the 1936 Act are sufficiently wide to enable a local authority to require the person taking control of a house to provide, for example, handrails to a staircase or means of lighting for staircases and corridors. In a lodging house, however, with its large number of occupants and its comparatively frequent change of persons using it, it is necessary to make provision for satisfactory conditions as respects decoration and for adequate safety precautions, such as handrails to stairs and proper lighting of stairs and corridors.
§ If the clause passes into law in its present form, it will take away from local authorities powers which many of them already possess and which all can obtain, and substitute nothing in their place. These powers are still needed. The problem of lodging houses in London, Birmingham, Manchester and other large centres, particularly those where overseas workers come to obtain employment, is serious. I believe that in some quarters of our large towns the growing coloured population is living in houses which are turned practically into lodging houses, three, four and five people sleeping on the floor in one room. These problems still require the urgent attention of our local authorities, and this Amendment seeks to make good the omission which would arise from the acceptance of the clause in its present form. As this Amendment has been put on the Order Paper only recently, the noble and 694 learned Lord may not have had an opportunity to consider it fully, and if he cannot accept it at present I hope he will give me an assurance that he will look at it between now and the Report stage and endeavour to remedy the omissions to which I have ventured to refer. I beg to move.
Page 11, line 25, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Burden.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
It is true, as the noble Lord has said, that this Amendment was put forward at a late hour. However, I have had some opportunity of looking into it and I would make these observations upon it. The Amendment reproduces, in effect, certain of the by-law-making powers of Section 6 (1) of the Housing Act, 1936, which are being repealed, and Celiberately repealed. I leave it to the noble Lord, Lord Burden, and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, to determine together whether the repeal of the by-law-making power Which Lord Silkin's Committee recommended was, as the lawyers say, sub modo or absolute—I think it was the latter. However that may be, in this Bill we do repeal those by-law-making powers. As to the provisions which the noble Lord, Lord Burden, suggests by this Amendment, paragraph (a) is, I venture to think, quite unnecessary. Decorative repair which is considered to be so far defective as to make the house unsuitable for occupation can be required to be remedied by a works notice under Section 9 of the 1936 Act. Noble Lords will remember that I dealt with this matter on an Amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Meston. I pointed out that repair of that kind, of interior decoration, did fall within the scope of the Act. Therefore I feel that paragraph (a) is quite unnecessary.
As to paragraph (b) of the Amendment, as I am at present advised, it is true that the provision of handrails cannot be required by a notice under. Clause 9; but the view has consistently been taken and is maintained by the Department that the need for a power of this kind no longer exists. There is power to require repair or replacement by a notice under Section 9 of the Act of 1936 or by Clause 9 of the Bill. Therefore, it is not thought necessary to have any provision as to handrails. The noble Lord then deals 695 with the means of lighting corridors, and so on. I am not sure how far he is thinking there of the natural means of lighting, or of artificial means. In so far as the Amendment refers to natural means, that is something that can be provided for under Clause 9, as it stands. That power would not extend to artificial means, but it is not considered necessary to confer power in regard to a matter of this kind, for that, by and large, is provided for by landlords. Moreover, to retain in another form the by-law-making power which has hitherto existed in this connection would entail an army of inspectors, and that is one of the reasons which I believe actuated the Silkin Committee in advocating the abolition of the by-law-making power. I do not quite know what the noble Lord means by the wordsother works … necessary for the safety of persons using the premises.I do not know whether he means the stability of the premises, or fire precautions. If it is the stability of the premises, that is covered by Clause 9; and, if he refers to fire precautions, that is adequately covered by the Public Health Acts. For those reasons, I regret that I am unable to accept the Amendment.
§ LORD BURDEN
I am sorry that the noble and learned Lord cannot accept this Amendment. He is not going to involve my noble friend Lord Silkin and me in a dispute as to the exact intention of my noble friend's Committee. I am sorry that the noble and learned Lord should say that the Department thinks the powers are unnecessary. This Amendment is moved because the local authorities are of the opinion that these things should be carried out. The noble and learned Lord is subscribing to the dictum which has been derided so often from the other side of the House, that "the gentleman in Whitehall knows best." I am asking only that a local authority, responsible to its own people for the public health in its own area, should have power to deal with what I suggest is an increasing social problem in many of the industrial areas of our large towns—places like Sheffield, Cardiff and others. You are taking away from the local authority powers to deal with a grave question. I would ask the noble and learned Lord to go into this question with the Department, when I believe he will see that there is some substance in what 696 I have ventured to submit to him. I will not press my Amendment at the moment, and, unless my noble friend Lord Silkin wishes to say anything, I beg leave to withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 11 agreed to.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR moved, after Clause 11, to insert the following new clause:
§ Further provisions about overcrowding
§ ".—(1) If it appears to a local authority, in the case of a house within their district, or of part of such a house, which is let in lodgings or occupied by members of more than one family, that excessive numbers of persons are being accommodated on the premises having regard to the rooms available, the authority may serve on the occupier of the premises or on any person having the control and management thereof, or on both, a notice—
- (a) stating, in relation to any room on the premises, what is in the authority's opinion the maximum number of persons by whom it is suitable to be occupied as sleeping accommodation at any one time, or, as the case may be, that it is in their opinion unsuitable to be occupied as aforesaid; and
- (b) informing him of the effect of subsection (3) of this section.
§ (2) For the purposes of paragraph (a) of the foregoing subsection a notice may, in relation to any room, prescribe special maxima applicable in any case where some or all of the persons occupying the room are under such age as may be specified in the notice.
§ (3) Any person who has been served with a notice under this section shall be guilty of an offence if, after the notice has become operative,—
- (a) he causes or knowingly permits any room to which the notice relates to be occupied as sleeping accommodation otherwise than in accordance with the notice; or
- (b) he causes or knowingly permits to be accommodated on the premises such a number of persons that it is not possible, without contravention of the foregoing paragraph or the occupation as sleeping accommodation of some part of the premises for which a maximum is not specified under paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of this section, to avoid persons of opposite sexes and over the age of twelve years (other than persons living together as husband and wife) occupying sleeping accommodation in the same room.
§ (4) Any person committing an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding five pounds and, where the offence of which he was convicted continues after conviction, to a further fine not exceeding two pounds for every day for which the offence so continues.
§ (5) Section fifteen of the principal Act (which provides for an appeal against certain notices and orders under Part II of that Act 697 and determines the date on which a notice or order is to become operative) shall apply in relation to a notice under this section as it applies in relation to a notice under the said Part II requiring the execution of works; and in section one hundred and fifty-seven of that Act (which confers powers of entry for purposes connected with housing) the reference in paragraph (d) to Part IV of the Act stall include a reference to this section.
§ (6) Where a local authority has served a notice under this section in respect of any premises, they may at any time withdraw the notice, without prejudice to anything done in pursuance thereof or to the service of another notice, or, if there is any material change of circumstances, they may substitute for the notice a further notice under this section; and, where a notice is withdrawn, subsection (3) of this section shall cease to apply in relation to the premises, without prejudice to its further application if a subsequent notice is served in respect of the same premises.
§ (7) The powers exercisable by a local authority under this section shall be without prejudice to those conferred by the last foregoing section, and nothing in this section shall be taken as prejudicing the provisions of Part IV of the principal Act (which relates to overcrowding in separate dwelling houses).'
§ The noble and learned Lord said: This is a somewhat lone clause which I seek to incorporate by Amendment. It is a clause which is designed to fill a gap in the powers of local authorities in dealing with overcrowding which will result from the repeal by Clause 11 of the by-law-making power. That power, as your Lordships know, was given by Section 6 (1) (a) of the Housing Act, 1936, enabling the fixing of the number of persons who may occupy sleeping accommodation in a lodging house or a house occupied by members of more than one family, and for securing the segregation of the sexes. Of course, the by-laws under Section 6 (1) covered much more than that single point, but this is the point with which we wish specifically to deal. It was in fact represented in another place, and very forcibly represented, that there ought to be a specific provision as the by-law-making power had been repealed.
§ I will state briefly the purpose of this new clause. Subsection (1) empowers a local authority to serve a notice on the occupier or person having control of a lodging house, stating in relation to any room on the premises what, in their opinion, is the maximum number of persons by whom the room is suitable to be occupied as sleeping accommodation, and informing him of the effect of subsection (3). Subsection (2) enables 698 the local authority to vary the numbers where some or all of the persons occupying the room are children. Subsection (3) makes it an offence if the occupier or person having control causes or knowingly permits any room to which the notice relates to be occupied as sleeping accommodation otherwise than in accordance with the notice, or if he causes or knowingly permits to be accommodated on the premises such a number of persons that the sexes cannot be separated without overcrowding.
§ Subsection (4) provides for the same penalty as is provided for by Clause 11 (3) in relation to overcrowding in that clause, which relates to overcrowding of a house as a whole, as opposed to this clause, which deals with overcrowding in relation to rooms. Subsection (5) applies the appeal previsions of Section 15 of the Housing Act, 1936. This will enable a person served with a notice to challenge its reasonableness in the county court, and the notice will not become operative until the time for appealing has expired or any appeal brought has been dismissed. Subsection (6) enables the local authority to vary or withdraw the notices, and subsection (7) is probably unnecessary, but it is added out of abundant caution. I beg to move.
After Clause 1[...] insert the said new clause.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ LORD SILKIN
I think this new clause is an improvement, and we welcome it. I wish to raise briefly the same point as I raised before. Under this clause it is possible to cause persons to be dispossessed simply because they are living in overcrowded conditions, and no provision is made for rehousng them. In an earlier statement, the noble and learned Lord referred to Section 65 of the Housing Act, 1936, and he made the point that there was no provision in that Act for providing people with alternative accommodation in this or similar in stances. I think he is right. I have not been able to find anything, in the short time since he drew my attention to it.
I was Chairman of the Housing Committee of the London County Council at the time when the 1936 Act came into operation. I am not able to charge my memory with accuracy, but I have an impression, which I shall be able to check in the next few days, that there was 699 some order by the Ministry of Health which prevented us from dealing with overcrowding unless we had alternative accommodation available for people who would be dispossessed. That is, it was done administratively by some regulation, order or direction of the Ministry of Health. I am quite sure that it was not left entirely to the discretion of the local authority. I think it worked well and, in fact, having regard to such a regulation or order, no local authority attempted to enforce the overcrowding provisions and turn people out into the streets. I should be grateful if the noble and learned Lord, among his many other preoccupations, would look into this matter and see what is the position, and ascertain whether similar provision could not be made either under this Bill or administratively. That would ensure that, if any of the provisions under either Clause 11 or the clause following are brought into operation, the result would not be that people would be turned out without other accommodation being made available.
§ 5.49 p.m.
I am not very happy about this new clause. That may be, and no doubt is, due to my lack of legal education. I am wondering whether the right person will bear the brunt of the criminal charge which is provided for in this new clause. Is any person "having the control and management of "a house always the person who is guilty of causing the overcrowding? Do not cases occur where the statutory tenant takes in lodgers? Are there not cases where an owner has put a restrictive covenant on a sub-tenant, and finds that that sub-tenant has broken that restrictive covenant? If I could be assured that people who have done their best to prevent overcrowding are not going to be summoned, then I should be easier in my mind.
There is one further point, which I think has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. In this clause there does not seem to be any exact method by which the person who is responsible for the control of the house can secure eviction of the tenants overcrowding his house. I can only presume that the provisions of subsection (2) of Clause 11—that is to say, the removal of the rent restrictions protection—will apply also to this clause.
May I make two short comments upon this otherwise excellent new clause—they have both been covered by observations made by the noble Viscount, Lord Gage. So far as criminal responsibility is concerned, it may be, of course, that subsection (3) protects the owner or occupier, or person having the control and management of the premises, from liability in a case where he has done nothing he should not have done or omitted nothing which he should have done. On the other hand, if it does not so protect such a person in those circumstances, it might be desirable at the end of subsection (4) to add these well-known lines:It shall be a good defence to proceedings that the offence did not take place through any act or default of the person whom it is sought to be made liable.The other comment which I wish to make has also been made by the noble Viscount, Lord Gage. In this connection, I would point out that in subsection (2) of Clause 11, there are, by implication at all events, specific provisions whereby the person who is charged with overcrowding can take proceedings to evict those people who are causing the premises to be overcrowded. It might be desirable to import something of the nature of subsection (2) of Clause 11 into this new clause. I hope that I have said nothing derogatory to the Lord Chancellor's new clause. If I did, I should be rather like the man who spoke disrespectfully about the Equator, and I never did know what happened to the man who spoke disrespectfully about the Equator. Those are harmless comments that I wish to make.
May I ask the noble and learned Lord, when he sums up on his Amendment, to make it quite clear who will have the duty of securing alternative accommodation for the persons being evicted? It may be difficult for a private landlord, or for a local authority for that matter, to find alternative accommodation, although they would very much like to evict the people who are causing the overcrowding.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said about his experience—indeed, I feel myself a child in experience in these matters, compared with the noble Lord. I should have thought that, if the 701 local authority did not act with reasonable prudence and good sense—that is to say, if they did not make sure, before they served a notice which would have the effect of evicting some of the tenants of overcrowded premises, that there was alternative accommodation—it would clearly be a case for administrative direction by the Minister. That is what I understood from him took place before. I cannot give an assurance, but I feel sure that precisely the same result can and will be obtained under this Act as was obtained under the Act of 1936. It is a matter for the local authority, but if they require direction to act sensibly, they will surely receive that direction from the Minister.
In regard to what the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, and the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, have said, the notice which is to be given under Clause 11 is a notice served on the occupier of the premises or on any person having the control and management thereof. It is quite clear, I suggest, that either the occupier (who may well be the statutory tenant) does what I think the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, suggested—that is, allows an undue number of people to occupy the premises of which he is the statutory tenant—or the person having the control and management of the premises does. One or other of those must be the guilty party in allowing too many persons to be crowded into the premises and a notice would be served upon one or the other or both of them in due course. I see no real difficulty about that. I do not quite follow what is supposed to be the difficulty. Of course, any one of them might have some defence. He might say, "I did not cause it. I did not knowingly permit it." If he did not, he is not guilty of an offence, because the clause says:… if, after the notice has become operative, he causes or knowingly permits any room to which the notice relates to be occupiedand so on, then he is guilty. But it has to be the man who "causes or knowingly permits" it, and he has got to be either the occupier or the "person having the control and management of "the premises. It seems straightforward to me. There may be difficult and complicated cases for which the clause does not make provision. If so, there is a loophole, and the loophole may have to be filled up at some future time. But it is as clear and 702 comprehensive as the circumstances of the case permit.
We should thank the Lord Chancellor for his reply. I stand to be corrected, but I am surprised to hear that a statutory tenant who causes all the trouble comes within the definition of either an occupier or a person having the control and management of the premises. If he does so come within that definition, of course there is no trouble; but, with the greatest possible respect to the Lord Chancellor, who has forgotten more about these things than I ever knew, I should be very surprised if that was the case.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I should have thought that, if a statutory tenant was in occupation, he was an occupier within the meaning of the section. I may be wrong, but it is upon that footing that I answered the noble Lord. As at present advised, I adhere to that opinion.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clauses 12 to 14 agreed to.
§ Clause 15:
§ 15—Notwithstanding anything in paragraph (a) of subsection (2) of section fifteen of the Housing Act, 1949, or in paragraph (a) of subsection (3) of section twenty of that Act (which preclude the approval by the Minister of improvement proposals, or the approval by a local authority of an application for an improvement. grant, unless the period for which the dwellings concerned are likely to provide satisfactory housing accommodation is not less than thirty years) the Minister or a local authority, as the case may be, may approve any such proposals or application if satisfied that the said period is likely to be more than ten years and that it is expedient in all the circumstances that the proposals on application should be approved
§ (8) Sub-paragraph (ii) Oh of paragraph (c) of subsection (1) of section twenty-three of the said Act (under which the maximum rent payable for a dwelling in respect of which an improvement grant has been made under that Act is in certain cases determined by reference to a percentage of so much of the cost of improvement as is not set off by the grant) shall have effect, in relation to improvement works completed after the eleventh day of November, nineteen hundred and fifty-three, as if for the words "six per cent." there were substituted the words "eight per cent."703
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN moved to leave out subsection (1). The noble Lord said: I beg to move the next Amendment standing in my name. The purpose of the clause is to amend Section 15 of the Housing Act, 1949, so as to permit the local authority to approve improvement schemes in respect of dwellings where the expected life of the house after the improvement scheme has been carried out is not less than ten years, instead of thirty years as provided under the 1949 Act. By leaving out subsection (1) the position would be that the 1949 Act would remain as it is unamended and, therefore, the thirty-year period would remain. This Bill provides that the local authority may contribute automatically up to £400 towards the cost of improving an unsatisfactory dwelling, and that there may be spent on that dwelling £800— or even more. It seems to me that if anything like the sum of £800 is to be spent on improving a dwelling, that dwelling ought to have a life of at least thirty years. What the private person does with his own money is not a matter for this House, but what is done with public money is, of course, a most serious matter.
I ask the Committee to consider the case of a house which has no more than ten years of life in it, and upon which it is proposed to spend £800, of which £400 is public money. It seems to me an extraordinary waste of public money to contemplate such a thing. It could be argued that no sane person would want to spend £800 on a house which has a life of only ten years. But if that is so, why do the Government deliberately amend the law so as to permit of it? Why do they go out of their way under Clause 15 of the Bill to reduce the period in the life of a house from thirty to ten years? Surely it is contemplated that, in certain circumstances, people who have a house which has a life of only ten years, or thereabouts, may want to spend this sum of money and involve the local authority in half of it. The purpose of my Amendment is to secure that the existing law should remain; that a house should have before it a life of at least thirty years before these substantial sums of public money are spent on it. If it has not, then, generally speaking, it is not worth the expenditure. The public money could be much better used towards providing 704 housing accommodation than in patching up houses which have a life of only ten years. In those circumstances, I hope that this matter will be reconsidered. I know that it has been discussed in another place. I have read the discussion, but I confess that I could not follow the logic of reducing this period and thereby, as I think, increasing the likelihood of public money being wasted. But here we have an opportunity of looking at the matter again, and I hope that it will receive more favourable consideration than it did in another place. I beg to move.
Page 13, line 32, leave out subsection (1).—(Lord Silkin.)
§ LORD WOLVERTON
I hope that the Government will not give way on this Amendment, because I think this matter is important. As was stated on Second Reading, under the 1949 Act, unfortunately, only about 3,000 grants were made. One of the reasons for that was that it was thought (in my view rightly) that the terms were much too onerous; and, as Lord Silkin rightly said, before improvements qualified for the grant, the house had to stand for another thirty years. The Minister has now met that point and has come down as low as ten years. I did not think that he would come down lower than twenty, but he has come down to ten years. On that point, the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, made an important pronouncement on Second Reading. He said (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 187, col. 286):The discretion is still vested in the local authority. It is extremely unlikely that they will make any substantial grant if the house is to last for only ten years.I do not think they would; but as was stated on Second Reading, because it is entirely permissive, they can make a grant of up to 50 per cent. Anyway, I think that thirty years was too long a period, and if we desire to get increased modernisation, which we all want to see working well, I think the period should be brought down. As it is entirely permissive, I think the local authority would not give a grant of as much as 50 per cent. for a house which was to last for ten years only. With those few words I offer my objection to the Amendment.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
This is another of those rather difficult problems 705 that arise. On the one hand, I think it is quite clear that greater flexibility is required than is provided by the Act of 1949. On the other hand, it is quite clear that we want to avoid, so far as possible the waste of public money. We have to find a happy medium between those two extremes. The experience of the law in force in Scotland since 1950, which is substantially in the terms of the Bill now before the Committee, has shown that there is no danger of grants being made or money being wasted where a grant ought not to have been made. It may be that the Scots are more careful of their revenues than we are—I say that in the presence of some noble Lords who may be disposed to agree with me. But there is undoubtedly a case for considering the Amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has put forward, and though I could not for a moment agree that the thirty years should be retained, it may be possible to agree on a somewhat shorter period.
The Committee will appreciate—I am sorry if I have to repeat myself—that in all these things we must rely upon sensible administration by local authorities. While it is conceivable that in the case of a house with an eleven-year life they might be prepared to make some small grant, I cannot conceive that, unless the circumstances were wholly exceptional, they would make any substantial grant. After all, setting a limit of that kind does not mean that the local authority are always going to act upon it. If I might put the converse case, which may appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, I dare say that both he and I have a weighing machine which weighs up to twenty stone, but we do not seriously apprehend that we shall reach that weight—at least I hope not. So setting a ten-year limit does not mean that it is seriously expected that there will be a grant made to houses that have only that term of life. But I see the real apprehension which is in people's minds, that there is a possible waste of money. My right honourable friend will reconsider this matter, and it may be that upon Report we shall be able to agree to some compromise. But I do not for a moment hold out the hope that the old thirty years' period will be retained, because all experience has shown that greater flexibility is required. On that footing, 706 I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his Amendment.
§ LORD SILKIN
I certainly will do that if the matter is to be reconsidered. I would only ask that the noble and learned Lord should let me know beforehand, so that if the result of the reconsideration is not satisfactory we can look at the matter again. With regard to the weighing machine, I agree with the noble and learned Lord: I hope for his sake, as well as for mine, that we never reach the peak figure. But what the Government are doing here is deliberately taking a weighing machine weighing up to fifteen stone and altering it to weigh up to twenty stone, which would make one rather apprehensive. If, originally, the period had been ten years, we should perhaps not have said anything about it; but for the Government to go out of their way to alter the period from thirty years to ten years, seems to be encouraging local authorities to do the thing that the noble and learned Lord says they never will do. They will say, "Why did you alter the period from thirty years to ten years if you did not intend us to act on it?" However, as the noble and learned Lord says the matter is to be reconsidered, I will withdraw my Amendment to-day.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 6.10 p.m.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR moved, in subsection (2), to leave out "a period equal to the period," and to insert:
whichever is the shorter of the following two periods, that is to say—
§ The noble and lea rued Lord said: think this is little more than a drafting Amendment and I need not elaborate it. Noble Lords will remember that subsection (1) permits an Improvement grant to be made in respect of a house which, when improved, will provide satisfactory accommodation for more than ten years. Under the Act of 1949 no grant can be made unless an improved house is likely to have a life of at least thirty years, and therefore an applicant for a grant must have a freehold interest in the land affected or a leasehold interest for not less than thirty years. The purpose of the subsection is to ensure that the leasehold interest is held for at least a period in 707 which the improved house will provide satisfactory housing accommodation. As drafted, however, it would deny a grant to an applicant who held a leasehold interest for thirty years or less if, by chance, the house would provide satisfactory accommodation for a longer period; and this Amendment remedies that defect. I beg to move.
Page 14, line 4, leave out ("a period equal to the period") and insert the said words.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ LORD WOLVERTON moved, in subsection (8), to leave out "eight" and insert "nine" [per cent.]. The noble Lord said: This Amendment, which stands in the name of myself and my noble friend Lord Broughshane, was discussed by your Lordships at some length on Second Reading, and in view of the fact that the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, has just said that there may be a compromise between thirty and ten years, we may then be able to rule out the ten years. The point I tried to make and my noble friend made on Second Reading is that, while we welcome very much the modest increase from 6 per cent. to 8 per cent. in the amount that a landlord will be able to charge in respect of an improvement which he makes, we do not think it is quite enough. The 6 per cent. allowed under the 1949 Act was really quite inadequate. By the time a landlord borrowed money and made a cumulative sinking fund for repayment over twenty-five years, and was responsible for maintenance, 6 per cent. was inadequate; and that is one of the reasons why the 1949 Act did not work better than it did. The Minister has seen its faults and has raised the amount to 8 per cent., but we do not think 8 per cent. is quite enough and should like to see it made 9 per cent.
§ My reasons are that on long-term borrowing I think it would be right to say a landlord would not be able to borrow over twenty years on mortgage at less than 5 per cent., and would have to provide a cumulative sinking fund of at least 2½ per cent. (making a total of 7½ per cent.), to be paid back over the twenty years. Then a landlord is obliged to maintain improvements. Therefore I think he should have at least 1 per cent. 708 or 1½ per cent., as I suggested in the Second Reading debate, increasing the figure to 9 per cent. or 10 per cent. With my noble friend Lord Broughshane, I put down this Amendment to say that an amount of at least 9 per cent. should be allowed. I think one could justify a larger figure, because if we do not get the economics of the problem right I am afraid we shall not get these improvements made which we all so badly want. I am fully aware that for every 1 per cent. by which the figure is increased an increased rent must be asked of the tenant. The Stockton test film, which many of us had the privilege of seeing, showed, however, that the tenants willingly paid and said they would have paid a little more. That test was on 6 per cent., which was, of course, not adequate. That improvement resulted in an increase in the rent of a rent-controlled house of about 4s. a week. This is a small Amendment but I think it is important. I hope Her Majesty's Government will see fit to accept this Amendment, increasing the percentage which a landlord can charge on an improvement from 8 per cent. to 9 per cent. I beg to move.
Page 15, line 30, leave out ("eight") and insert ("nine").—(Lord Wolverton.)
I beg to support this Amendment. If it is agreed that the landlord will be dealing here with equipment, with a life of no more than twenty years, the question becomes, if not a matter of simple arithmetic, a simple matter relating to arithmetic. My calculations, made on slightly different lines from those of my noble friend Lord Wolverton, are I think accurate. Eight per cent., with amortisation over a twenty-year period at 2 per cent. net, and taking income tax at 9s. in the pound, gives an annual income to the owner of the property of 10s. 6d. per cent. A figure of 9 per cent. calculated on the same basis would, I think, give a yield or income to the owner of £1 10s. 5d.. or, shall we say, 1½ per cent. Even at 9 per cent., the return to the landlord is not a very generous one, and I express grave doubts whether it is one which any ordinary prudent investor would be willing to accept, bearing in mind—and I think the comparison is a fair one—that the yield obtainable on Government securities of twenty years maturity is 709 something in the neighbourhood of 3½ per cent. So that even at 9 per cent. the owner placed in this position is receiving an income of something considerably less than half what he could obtain by investing money in Government securities.
§ LORD MANCROFT
I think the noble Lords, Lord Wolverton and Lord Broughshane, are labouring under a slight misapprehension as to what the actual effect of their Amendment will be. The Housing Act, 1949, limits the rent increases for a house improved with the aid of a grant, in cases where local authorities are not required to fix a rent, to 6 per cent. of the cost borne by the owner. Under the Rent Acts he will be entitled to 8 per cent. of his cost. Now subsection (8) of the Bill that we are discussing raises this limit from 6 per cent. to 8 per cent. so far as rent-controlled houses are concerned; therefore the limit has ceased to have any effect and the section of the Housing Act, 1949, which I have just referred to, is accordingly repealed in relation to these houses by Clause 36, subsection (5) of the Bill. I think my noble friends Lord Wolverton and Lord Broughshane perhaps do not realise that the subsection we are referring to has effect only in non-rent-controlled dwelling houses. So far as these houses are concerned, the answer to the argument they put forward is that since the owner of a rent-controlled house improved with the aid of a grant can obtain only 8 per cent. of the cost borne by him, there is no reason why the owner of non-rent-controlled houses improved with the aid of public money should be allowed to charge more. That, of course, was not the point to which the noble Lords were in fact directing their argument, but it is the effect of their Amendment, and I would ask them to consider it in that light.
When they raise the question of 8 per cent. as opposed to 9 per cent. from the point of view of an overall increase, I am afraid I must tell them that my right honourable friend the Minister has gone into these figures very carefully indeed and has come to the conclusion that it would not be justifiable to put the figure over and above the figure of 8 per cent. I will, of course, look carefully again at the remarks and calculations which Lord Broughshane fired at me a little 710 too quickly for my non-mathematical brain to absorb. But I will do that merely to satisfy myself that I understand them, and the noble Lord must not be encouraged to think that my right honourable friend is likely to agree with him. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for pointing out that I think they have misconstrued this clause, I believe that the effect of their Amendment would be something which would be likely to surprise them. I hope that now that I have given that explanation the noble Lord will agree to withdraw the Amendment.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
If I understand the new provision rightly (the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft will correct me if I am wrong, but it is difficult for a layman to understand these matters), there are here three categories. If a landlord himself does the whole of the improvements to a rent-restricted house, then, under the 1949 Act, he is allowed to charge 6 per cent. Under this Bill he is to be allowed to charge 8 per cent. If, on the other hand, he asks for a grant, and gets a 50 per cent. grant in respect of a rent-restricted house, then the local authority, when they make that grant, have the right to fix the new rent. In doing so, they have to take into consideration the age and character of the house and the amount of money spent on it. Of course they must have some yardstick. The amount of money spent on the house gives them a basis to go on when they fix the extra rent to be charged. If I understand Lord Mancroft correctly that is what is in this Bill.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
Then one thing has a reflection on the other. I am certain of that. The local authority would take as their yardstick the amount spent by a man who tries to do all the repairs he can without asking for State aid. We are riot concerned with the third category, in which come the tied cottages, the rents of which cannot be increased. The landlord can only hope for the 50 per cent. grant. As I say, these cottages come in a different category, and the amount the landlord can deduct from a man's wages, under the Agricultural Wages Board arrangement, is something with which we are not concerned here. I am considering the other two cases—that of the man who tries to do all the Improvements himself and that of the man who applies 711 for a 50 per cent. grant. I hope that the Minister will look into this again. I think we have made a case that 8 per cent. is not sufficient, and we should like to have it raised to 9 per cent.
Lord Man-croft said that he found my mathematics incomprehensible. May I say that I find it a little difficult to follow some of his explanations, not because they were not clear but because I am a little unfamiliar with some of the matters with which he dealt. May I just refer to a section of the White Paper and read from it one short passage bearing on this point. It says:There must be also an adequate return on the money invested. Experience has proved that 6 per cent. is not enough to enable owners to undertake this sort of work. The Government intend to raise the 6 per cent. to 8 per cent.My only point is that, in my view, 8 per cent. will still provide an insufficient incentive for this work to be undertaken.
§ LORD MANCROFT
We seem to be carrying on this debate in a haze of mutual incomprehensibility. The point I make is that the arguments which the two noble Lords have been adducing, quite irrespective of their merits, are not effective on the Amendment which has been put down—they relate to quite a different point. Perhaps the noble Lords will be kind enough to look at what I have been trying to say. If, in fact, I have been talking nonsense, then I must try to talk more clearly in the future. With regard to what Lord Wolverton said about 9 per cent., I can only repeat what I have already said, to the effect that I cannot hold out any hope that my right honourable friend, having regard to the arguments which I have so far heard this afternoon, will reconsider the point. I think that if the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, looks again at the Amendment he will see that he has not really been addressing himself to the actual effect of his Amendment.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment, but I should like to look at the matter again and also to study what Lord Mancroft has said. Then, if I am not satisfied. I may return to this topic again at the Report stage.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 15, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 16 and 17 agreed to.712
§ Clause 18:
§ Extension of period of use of open spaces for temporary housing accommodation
§ 18.—(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, an authorisation in force at the commencement of this Act under section one of the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act, 1945 (which enables the Minister to authorise the use of open spaces during a limited period for temporary housing accommodation) may, notwithstanding anything in subsection (3) of that section, be extended by order of the Minister so as to determine (unless previously revoked) on any date not later than the end of the year nineteen hundred and sixty-five.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ LORD DOUGLAS OF BARLOCH moved, in subsection (1), to leave out "sixty-five" and insert "sixty." The noble Lord said: Some of those who are present this evening may remember, as I do, the occasion when we inspected prototypes of prefabricated bungalows in the precincts of the Tate Gallery. I do not think, despite the neighbourhood in which they were shown, that any of us regarded those box-like structures as being works of art; they would not be acceptable, I should have thought, even to those who are devotees of cubism. But the exhibit, of course, was very skilfully arranged, and the maximum use was made of the space. Therefore, I thought then, and I think now, that it was a useful contribution to the housing effort at a time when traditional building could not get under way. It was said at that time that these prefabricated bungalows were to have a life of only ten years. The ten years have now gone by, and it is proposed in this clause to extend for another ten years the life of those bungalows which have been built upon public open spaces. I am not surprised that these bungalows are still in use. I never believed for a moment that they would all be taken down at the expiration of ten years; and I should not advocate it. But the case of those which have been erected upon public open spaces—and they can be seen in quite a number of London parks, for example—is a very different story.
§ Parliament has for a great many years been extremely jealous of any encroachment whatsoever upon commons and open spaces. It has been public policy to try to preserve all those that are left, and, if possible, to extend them. It is very unfortunate that it should be proposed that these unsightly, even if useful, 713 structures should have their life extended for another ten years, occupying parks and pleasure grounds which ought to be available to the public generally. The purpose of my Amendment therefore, is to reduce the period for which their life may be prolonged from the ten years which is proposed by the Government to five years. In the present state of affairs, when houses are being provided, when the pressure upon housing accommodation has become distinctly less than it was at the close of the war, I think it not unreasonable to suggest that the temporary dwellings, the prefabricated bungalows, which have been erected upon public open spaces should not be allowed to remain later than the year 1960. I beg to move.
Page 16, line 22, leave out ("sixty-five") and insert ("sixty").—(Lord Douglas of Barloch.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I agree with the noble Lord that this is an unfortunate clause. It is an unfortunate necessity. Under the Act which we ate considering here, the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act, 1945, authorisations granted by the Minister will expire at various dates from July, 1955, to June, 1957,—that is to say, ten years from the date of each authorisation. We propose by subsections (1) and (2) to empower the Minister to grant one extension of each authorisation to the end of 1965, provided (and I think that to some extent this will assist the noble Lord) that a public local inquiry has been held in any case in which the extension exceeds five years. The Government share the anxiety of the sponsors of this Amendment to see that land used for the purpose of temporary accommodation should be restored to its proper use. I know that my right honourable friend, and I am sure any Minister who succeeds him, will consider very jealously any application for the extension of an authorisation.
It is clear—and again we have to be realistic and face it—that in some cases it will be impracticable for the local authority to rehouse the families from these temporary houses in time for their removal by the end of 1960. It may be unfortunate, but these houses have to be used until we are in a position to rehouse these families. In one case we know of, it would mean devoting nearly 714 a quarter of the local authority's house-building programme to this purpose, in an area where there are a number of requisitioned families to be rehoused and where other housing needs—for example, rehousing from slums—are also pressing. I think it is significant that at the present moment a large local authority—Manchester County Borough—have a local Bill before your Lordships' House to enable them to continue to use their open spaces for temporary housing purposes for such period as they think fit. That great local authority is not satisfied with the extension provided by this Bill. What happens to the local Bill is not for me to say, but at any rate it shows that this authority—and it is also the case with other authorities—know that they will need longer time. It is for that reason that the Bill enables a longer time to be given, subject to the conditions which appear in the clause. I end as I began, by saying that it is an unfortunate necessity which imposes this clause upon us. I am afraid that I must resist the Amendment.
§ LORD SILKIN
I am sorry that the noble and learned Lord does not see his way to accept this Amendment. I think I understand the reasons. There is a dilemma here. There is always a dilemma between doing the right thing and doing the expedient thing.
§ LORD SILKIN
There is frequently such a dilemma. The noble and learned Lord will remember the precedent of 1914, although I am not suggesting that this is as bad as that situation. I was a Member of another place when the original Bill went through, and I ventured to express doubts whether these houses would, in fact, be removed at the end of ten years. I even used some of the arguments which the noble and learned Lord has now put forward, and said that that was exactly what would be said in ten years' time. I was then assured most solemnly—I suggest that the noble and learned Lord should look at the Report of that debate—that these open spaces would be returned to the public at the end of ten years, whatever happened. Here we are, under the plea of urgent 715 necessity, continuing their use. I appreciate the difficulty. Let me concede that the Amendment says merely that this situation should go on for another few years and does not ask for it to be stopped at once. It is a matter of degree. I would plead that we put an end to housing on public open spaces at the earliest possible moment. The noble and learned Lord has pointed to exceptional and outstanding cases, which I concede there may be; but there are a large number of other cases which are not special, with which we could deal immediately or in a few years' time, and I would plead that, wherever it is at all possible, we should restore public open spaces to the uses for which they were intended.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Nobody is more anxious for that than my right honourable friend, I can assure the noble Lord.
§ LORD SILKIN
So long as we can have that assurance, I suggest to my noble friend Lord Douglas of Barloch that, having raised the matter, this is not a case where we can carry it any further.
§ LORD DOUGLAS OF BARLOCH
I accept without hesitation the statement made by the noble and learned Lord, that there are cases in which there may be exceptional difficulties and hardships involved in terminating the use of open spaces for temporary accommodation as early as 1960. From what he has said I gather that this clause has been drafted with the intention of being able to meet these exceptional cases, and not in the spirit of authorising any prolonged use of public open spaces for this purpose. If that is indeed the intention of the Government and the Minister, that it is only in exceptional cases that such large extensions are going to be granted, then I would ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 18 agreed to.
§ Clauses 19 and 20 agreed to.716
§ Clause 21:
§ Interpretation and construction of Part I.
§ (2) Any reference in this Part of this Act (except in section five) to a demolition order under Part II of the principal Act shall be construed as including a reference to a closing order made in lieu of or in substitution for a demolition order by virtue of section ten or section eleven of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1953.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT GAGE moved, in subsection (2) to omit ("except in section five"). The noble Viscount said: This is a small technical Amendment which I move for the purpose of getting some information. Under Clause 5 a local authority can suspend a demolition order if the owner satisfies them that he can put a house under such an order into a satisfactory state of repair. One feels that in a repairs Bill of this sort that is a useful provision, but apparently, under this clause, if the local authority make a closing order, instead of a demolition order, that facility is withdrawn. I have no doubt that there is a good explanation, but it would appear prima facie that the more stringent order can be withdrawn and the less stringent order cannot be. It is still more mystifying to a layman when a local authority have power to substitute a demolition order for a closing order. Perhaps the noble Lord can explain why there is this differentiation. I beg to move.
Page 17, line 24, leave out from ("Act") to ("to") in line 25.—(Viscount Gage.)
§ LORD MANCROFT
I confess that this particular subsection is not one the clarity of which leaps instantaneously to the eye, but I think I can explain it to the satisfaction of the noble Viscount, Lord Gage. The point is this. The Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1953, which passed through your Lordships' House last year, enables a local authority, instead of making a demolition order on an unfit house, to make a closing order, under which the house is not demolished but closed—or at least closed for human habitation. The purpose of that is to retain unfit houses needed for the support of adjoining property. Having myself lived for the last thirteen years in a house which 717 has been deprived of the support of an adjoining property by a bomb, I can heartily endorse the necessity of having an adjoining house, if it is possible to get one. But because these houses are really in the same class as houses dealt with by demolition order—and escape that fate only by accident—subsection (2) provides that the relevant clauses in the Bill should apply to them also. This means, for example, that the local authority may purchase them for use as temporary accommodation under Clause 3.
Clause 5, however, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, has just referred, has no relevance to these houses. Clause 5 makes possible the saving from demolition of a house subject to an operative demolition order where at the last moment new proposals are submitted for making it fit. As the law stands, there is no power to quash the order: the house must come down. A house subject to a closing order is in an entirely different position. It is simply closed indefinitely. If the owner decides to make it fit, he can get the order removed at any time under the existing law. If the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, will be good enough to look at Clause 5 again, in the light of what I have said, I hope he will agree with me that the application of Clause 5 to closing orders is quite unnecessary. In the light of that explanation, I hope he will be able to see his way to withdraw the Amendment.
If an owner can submit plans for restoration of a house under a closing order, and thereby get a closing order removed, well and good. Otherwise, it would seem that the only course open to him would be the somewhat elaborate one of getting the local authority to turn the closing order into a demolition order and to have that demolition order suspended. If the whole of that is unnecessary, and the owner of a house under a particular closure can submit plans and get the restriction removed, then I am quite satisfied.
§ LORD SILKIN
The explanation given by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, was completely clear, but he might have been explaining anything else. It did not seem to me to have any clear relationship to the particular subsection about which we are talking. I am not blaming the noble 718 Lord; he gave a perfectly clear explanation. But the fact is that, unless one had a clear explanation, one could never imagine that that is what this subsection means. Since the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, will not always be available when this clause is being interpreted by other people, I wonder whether it would not be possible to look at the clause again, purely from the point of view of drafting. I am satisfied with the explanation of the noble Lord, and I have no desire to alter the sense of the clause; but it is like one of those Observer crossword puzzles which I have never been able to solve. If this clause could be looked at again, and made a little clearer, it would be of advantage.
§ LORD MANCROFT
The noble Lord has been in Parliament long enough to know that the Interpretation clause of a Bill is often by far the most difficult to understand. However. I will certainly look at the clause again, in the light of what he has said. But I must warn him that, when I first came to deal with the Amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, I looked at it carefully, and took advice; and I had the same query in my mind as that which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has just laid before the Committee. It is a difficult matter, and I would defy the noble Lord to put it more clearly.
§ LORD MANCROFT
The noble Lord says, "I am not a draftsman." Nor am I. I can assure the noble Lord that the draftsman has done best. However, I will see that the point is put before the draftsman. He can try his hand at it again, but I do not think he will make much improvement.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 21 agreed to.
§ Clause 22:
§ Repairs increase for dwelling-house in good repair
§ 22.—(1) Where a dwelling-house is let under a controlled tenancy or occupied by a statutory tenant, and the landlord is responsible, wholly or in part, for the repair of the dwelling house, then, subject to the provisions of this Part of this Act,—
- (a) if and so long as the following conditions (hereinafter referred to as "the condi
719 tions justifying an increase of rent") are fulfilled, that is to say—
- (i) that the dwelling-house is in good repair; and
- (ii) that it is reasonably suitable for occupation having regard to the matters specified in paragraphs (b) to (h) of subsection (1) of section nine of this Act; and
- (b) if in accordance with the Second Schedule to this Act the landlord has produced satisfactory evidence that work of repair to the value specified in that Schedule has been carried out on the dwelling-house during the period so specified,
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ LORD MESTON moved, in subsection (1) to leave out the word "and" in paragraph (a) and the whole of paragraph (b). The noble Lord said: As I said on the Second Reading of the Bill, I think that Daniel in the lion's den had a better chance of making an after-dinner speech than I have of getting the Government to accept this Amendment. However, in my submission it is sufficient, in order to enable a landlord to qualify for a repairs increase, that the house should be in good repair and reasonably suitable for occupation. To go further, and make the landlord prove that he has spent so much on the house by way of repair in a specified period or periods of time, is quite irrelevant; and, moreover, it will, in practice, be the means of disqualifying thousands, and possibly hundreds of thousands, of good landlords from obtaining a repairs increase. That is serious enough from the point of view of the landlord; but it is much more serious from the point of view of conserving and maintaining these houses which are required to make some substantial contribution to the housing needs of the country for the next fifteen, twenty or twenty-five years.
§ There is no doubt that it is the intention of the Government to link the permitted increase of rent with the amount of money that the landlord actually spends upon repairs. If this Amendment is accepted, that link will still be effective—for this reason. If the house at any time falls into disrepair, the tenant can obtain a certificate of disrepair from the 720 local authority. The landlord will, in practice, have to spend the increased rent in keeping the house in repair. Many of your Lordships are landlords of controlled properties, controlled by the Rent Acts. If you vote against it—because I intend to put this matter to the opinion of the Committee—I hope that you will spend the remaining years of your lives in looking up the bills of all the money you have spent upon your controlled properties. In my submission, subsection (1) (b) ought to be eradicated from the Bill altogether. I beg to move.
Page 18, leave out lines 16 to 21.—(Lord Meston.)
§ VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER
I must ask your Lordships to resist this Amendment. I have taken some part for a great number of years in this question of rent restriction, and I have never thought it right to propose on any occasion that the landlord should receive something unless he has actually spent money on the property. It is obvious that, if any increase is to be granted, not only must he have spent money, as I suggest, but it must be capable of proof that he has spent the money, otherwise he would be getting an increase without any corresponding return, not only to the tenant but to the community in the preservation of property. I do not dispute that on the value of money you could argue a case by which the landlord is entitled, as he was under the 1920 Act, to an increase to cover the fall in his own money. But I have never suggested that. The principle of this Bill, although difficult to operate and always capable of imposing hardship in certain cases, is sound.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I gather that the noble Lord, Lord Meston, from his picturesque simile did not expect an entirely favourable answer. He is justified in his expectation. The fact is that it is a condition of an increase in rent that the house should be in good repair, and it is essential at the same time that the expenditure by the landlord should be linked with the demand for increased rents. Indeed, it is an absolutely essential safeguard for the tenant. I will take a single example—one of many. The property might be put in good repair by the tenant himself, and if that were so, all that would be necessary would be for the 721 landlord to come along and say that the house was in good repair; and nobody could deny it. Of course, it might well be that a landlord who might risk claiming that the house was in good repair if he had not got to prove expenditure, would hesitate to do so if he had to give that proof.
As my noble friend Lord Buckmaster has said, running through the Bill is the idea that the increase of rent must be linked up in the mind of the tenant with the fact that the property is in good repair, and that the landlord has paid for that repair. Accordingly, the noble Lord will not think me discourteous if I do not answer at greater length, for what he has said conflicts with the whole principle of the Bill.
I thank the noble and learned Lord for his reply. I may be one against a thousand, but I must take the chance. I do not withdraw my Amendment.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
In order to save trouble and time on the next occasion, may I say now that I shall not move my Amendment No. 29, which is consequential, and the Amendment to the Second Schedule, No. 50, which would have been a lovely Amendment. They both fall as a result of the Lord Chancellor's onslaught.
§ 6.56 p.m.
THE EARL OF LISTOWEL moved, in subsection (1) to add to paragraph (a):
(iii) that the landlord has obtained from the local authority and served upon the tenant a certificate that the conditions (i) and above mentioned are fulfilled; and".
§ The noble Earl said: This is an Amendment to which we attach considerable importance, because it raises, I think your Lordships will agree, an issue of equity as between the landlord and his tenant. This is a matter which has already occupied a good deal of attention, and rightly so, in another place, but there is still, I fear, a lack of agreement between the Bill and its critics. Clause 22 lays down the conditions which the landlord must fulfil before he can claim an increase in rent. The first condition is that the house must be in a good state of repair. The second is that it must be fit for human habitation, and the definition of fitness for human habitation is laid down in Clause 9. We hold 722 the view—and this is where the difference in principle appears—that it should be the responsibility of the landlord to prove that he has fulfilled these conditions before he receives his increase in rent. We think it thoroughly unfair and inequitable that the onus of proof should be placed, as the Bill places it, on the tenant. The view we put forward is shared by the T.U.C. which, of course, understands the problems of these wage-earning families and the real difficulty that they will be in if they have to set in motion the complicated procedure under the Bill against a landlord who has neglected his property.
§ What we maintain is that the landlord should show, by himself going to a local authority and getting a certificate of repair, that he has kept his property in good order. If that is accepted, then, of course, the tenant would not be under the obligation to go to a local authority for a certificate of disrepair or to take legal proceedings—a costly matter—against a landlord, which is the procedure laid down in the Bill. I should have thought that most unbiased people would agree that the procedure of placing the responsibility of proof on the landlord is right and equitable in principle. Indeed, I studied the proceedings in another place, and I do not think that the Minister or any of his supporters took the view that this was wrong in principle.
§ The objection expressed by the Minister—and I hope the noble and learned Lord will correct me if I do not follow the argument used by his noble friend as accurately as I should wish to do—and an objection which was also made by the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, on Second Reading, was essentially an administrative objection. What has been said is that the duty of inspecting these rent-restricted houses would place what the noble and learned Lord describes in his Second Reading speech as an intolerable burden on local authorities. I am sure that due consideration will be given to administrative difficulties in any legislation which may come before your Lordships' House, but it is, after all, not at all desirable that something which is right in principle should be sacrificed to administrative convenience. I should have thought that everything possible should be done to avoid a situation of this kind. At least 723 the Government might have ascertained from local authorities what the extra cost of inspection should be, and whether it would mean an increase in their staff.
§ If the Government are really convinced, as they appear to be—because this Amendment has already been resisted in another place—that the administrative difficulty is insuperable, then there is, I think, a middle course which I would beg the noble and learned Lord to consider. This is a suggestion which I make without having consulted my colleagues or, indeed, anyone who has put forward this view before, but it seems to me to be a suggestion that is worth consideration. In many cases, tenants will agree that an increase in rent is reasonable. I myself live in a rent-restricted flat in London, and some time ago my landlord pointed out to me that the rent I was paying him was not covering his cost of maintenance. I readily agreed to pay a voluntary increase in the end because it seemed the reasonable thing to do. Most of the other tenants in the block of flats did the same thing. I have no doubt that there will be people all over the country who will take the view that their landlord has kept his property in a good state of repair, and that in asking for a rent increase he is doing something which is perfectly reasonable.
§ In cases of that kind there is no need for a certificate of repair to be sought. If the cases in which such a certificate were sought were limited to those where there was disagreement between a landlord and his tenant, then surely the whole administrative task would be lightened. There would not be the number of houses to be inspected which otherwise would fall as a task to the local housing authorities. I do not think it is at all an ideal solution because, obviously, tenants do not like to get on the wrong side of their landlords. This is not the solution which I myself should wish to see, but it is a second best which I hope the noble and learned Lord will be willing to consider and, perhaps, ask his colleague the Minister of Health to give his attention to. I very much hope that this Amendment, which places on the landlord the onus of proving that he has kept his property in good repair, will be acceptable, because it seems to me to be right as a matter of fairness and equity in the relationship between a landlord and his tenant. If it 724 cannot be accepted, then I hope the noble and learned Lord will hold out some hope that there may be a via media, and it may be possible for him to give some concession at the next stage in the Bill. I beg to move.
Page 18, line 16, at end insert the said paragraph.—(The Earl of Listowel.)
§ 7.3 p.m.
I hope that noble Lords on the Government Bench will be a little chary about accepting those suggestions. I have this afternoon listened to a number of suggestions from the Benches opposite, all of which seem to me to desire to place further obligations on the local authorities. It is quite easy to pass Bills and Amendments in this House but, of course, they do not always become effective. It struck me that most noble Lords opposite come from the larger towns and have had experience in London, Manchester and so forth: but when one thinks of the small boroughs and urban districts, in which, perhaps, if they engage another sanitary inspector it will probably cost them a 4d. rate, I do not think that that kind of thing will be popular. I think the same idea must have crossed the mind of the noble Earl. Lord Listowel, because although he said he preferred it, he talked as if he realised that it might be burdensome, as I think it would be. The other suggestion he made, which is quite different from the one on the Paper, seemed to me to be worthy of consideration, because I would agree that the idea of the county court procedure would fill the minds of some tenants with apprehension. Nevertheless, I profoundly hope that the Government will resist the original Amendment put down, which would impose a great burden on the local authorities.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
It is quite true that on the Second Reading of this Bill I referred specifically to this provision and said it was one which caused us a great deal of anxiety and one to which we had given much consideration. The result of having given it much consideration is that the more we consider it, the more it appears to us to be right to adhere to the provisions of the Bill in their present form. On the one hand, one must weigh the factor upon which noble Lords opposite have relied: an apprehension, which may or may not 725 be legitimate, that landlords will seek to abuse their powers if the burden is not put upon them of obtaining a certificate. On the other hand, one must put into the scale these considerations: first of all, that there are multitudes of Lord Listowel's fellow citizens who will take just the same view as he has taken and realise that, if an increase of rent is demanded and is accompanied by proof of the increased cost of repair, and repair done, it is fair and decent that an increased rent should be paid. I am sure that that applies to multitudes of people, because the noble Earl would not arrogate to himself a higher standard than the majority of his fellow citizens enjoy. If that is so, what a work of superfluity this Amendment would entail! It puts upon the landlord and the local authority the duty of obtaining and granting a certificate of good repair. That is a factor which has weighed with us.
Combined with that, there is this consideration: that the tenant is adequately safeguarded. Your Lordships remember what are the safeguards in the Bill as it stands. The tenant has to see that the house is in good repair; he has the proof of expenditure made; he has six weeks' notice; he will—I think I have told your Lordships this already; indeed, it appears from the provisions of the clause—receive a notice from the Minister of just what his rights are. In the circumstances, it seems to us to put an unwarrantable and, I say, intolerable burden upon local authorities that in every case—and there are hundreds of thousands of them; millions, I suppose—in which an increase of rent is validly demanded, there is a duty upon the local authorities to give a certificate of fitness. How many sanitary inspectors will be required for that purpose? Sanitary inspectors are already overburdened with other duties which are imposed upon them to-day.
Those are the factors which have weighed with us, and we have come to the conclusion that it is right that the burden should not be put upon the landlord of producing a certificate of fitness from the local authority; but, on the other hand, if the tenant disputes that the property is in repair or that the money has been spent, then he should have the remedies which are available to him under the Bill. In these days, although one hears a lot about the "grasping landlord," and so on, with all the provisions 726 there are—tenants' leagues and I know not what—I think there will be little difficulty for the tenant who thinks his landlord has abused his rights saying so and getting the matter remedied. Finally, may I remind your Lordships that Clause 25 (1) of the Bill provides that if a certificate of disrepair is granted it has retrospective effect from the date the tenant applied for it. Therefore he has ample time, and I would venture to ask your Lordships, upon consideration of all those factors, which we indeed have weighed anxiously and seriously, not to press this Amendment.
With regard to the suggestion that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, made, I can only say that it has come upon me as something which is quite new. Of course, any suggestion that comes from the noble Earl will be fully considered. I can say that and no more.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
The noble and learned Lord has, as I expected, dealt with this matter entirely on the question of administrative convenience; otherwise there is no answer to this Amendment—all equity, all justice, and everything else, are in favour of it. I recognise that one has to consider the question of administration, but may I say to Lord Gage, when he talks of a local authority as being something watch is quite separate and distinct from the general public, that we have not thought of the effect on the local authority. The local authority are the servants of the public; their duty is to do what the public want. If the public want certificates, and if they want the local authority to issue certificates to landlords, well, if it does cost a fourpenny rate (I would challenge the noble Viscount's calculation) it is for the public to judge.
Perhaps I might interrupt the noble Lord to say that it may be that I am suffering from having recently been subjected to public opinion, which strongly objected to the amount of money that my particular council has been spending. We have had a considerable economy crusade in my area. I may be suffering from that.
I do not want to be drawn into a controversial retort; I will merely suggest that it does not surprise me, knowing where the noble Viscount 727 comes from, that that should be the view. But if the noble Viscount happened to come from one of many other parts of the country there would of course be a different view about expenditure on behalf of the tenants. Naturally, if the bulk of the people resident in a certain area are landlords, they would not be likely to be concerned with this.
§ LORD SILKIN
However, I think the administrative difficulties have been much exaggerated. I do not know whether the noble and learned Lord has had any advice as to the number of cases that will be affected at first. I take it that the purpose of this Bill is to encourage landlords to carry out repairs. Whether or not it will in fact do so is an open question. My own view (and I imagine that here I shall have a good deal of support from noble Lords opposite) is that it will not—certainly not in its present form, because some of the Amendments can be justified only on the basis that, as the Bill stands, it does not provide a sufficient inducement or incentive. Has the noble and learned Lord any information as to the number of landlords who will qualify at the present time for the increase? My view is that the number will not be great, and that those that will come along in the future will come along in such numbers as will make it possible for the local authority to handle the thing without any administrative difficulties. If I am right—and I do not think anyone is in a position to say that I am wrong until they have investigated the matter—then the only argument against this goes by the board. My view is that the local authorities can handle this situation.
Let us look at the situation. If, in fact, the noble and learned Lord is right—of course I absolutely agree with him that most citizen are decent people, like my noble friend Lord Listowel—when he says that, if a case is made to them which is reasonable, most people will respond, then there will be no need for the landlord to go to the local authority for a certificate. If people pay a voluntary increase and if the tenants are satisfied, there is no need to do that.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
One could not accept that for a moment. If it is made a statutory condition of a lawful demand for an increase of rent that the landlord should get a certificate of fitness, no landlord in his senses would abstain from getting that certificate.
§ LORD SILKIN
Well, is it not the same thing now? Various tenants are being asked to make a voluntary contribution towards increased costs which is not enforceable. All that the noble and learned Lord is saying is that this increase would not be enforceable by law. The landlord is not committing any breach of the law if he does not get a certificate. The only penalty for not getting it is that if the tenant refuses to pay the increase the landlord could not demand it. But the noble and learned Lord himself is saying that most tenants will pay. Therefore, if they do pay, and if they are satisfied that the repairs are being done, that will reduce the number of cases where a certificate is applied for. And encouraged by the noble and learned Lord to respond, as they will do in many cases, where they are satisfied that the repairs are being done, and that the house is in good condition, even though the increase is not legally enforceable. I imagine that many tenants will be prepared to pay; and if the landlord is willing to rest at that, that will reduce the demand for certificates. But the case for placing the onus on the landlord still remains. The landlord is asking for an increase in rent, and he is asked to produce proof.
In many cases tenants are helpless against a landlord. The landlord is always in a very strong position. Many tenants are ignorant, and in spite of everything that has been said, unfortunately they do not know their rights. Let me give an example—the Town and Country Planning Act, under which people were invited to put in claims for loss of development value on their land. Every possible step was taken to ensure that landowners were made acquainted with their rights—by speech, by wireless, almost by circular. They were told that they had to put in their claims by June 30. In spite of that, it is now alleged that many people did not put in claims because they did not know. To me it sounds inconceivable, but the fact is that that is now being alleged; and I imagine that, when the Town and Country 729 Planning Bill comes before this House, noble Lords will make the plea that a good many people did not know of their right to put in a claim for loss of development value. So it happens that even people who are not necessarily ignorant are not aware of their rights; and it is much more likely that tenants, rather than landlords, will be unaware of their rights. Therefore, prima facie, I think it is clear that, but for the administrative point, the onus should be on the landlord to get the certificate. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will not turn a completely deaf ear to this proposal, but will give us some encouragement that the matter will be looked at again, if only from the point of view of the compromise put forward by my noble friend Lord Listowel.
§ VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER
I fully appreciate the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, but I think there are two points which have escaped the noble Lord and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. In this matter of a voluntary agreement, if it is to be accepted as dispensing with the necessity for a certificate it would seem to me that a prior condition would be the legalisation of such an agreement. It is not now a breach of law but it is something not permitted by the Rent Restrictions Act, and to make it a condition that such an agreement dispensed with the need for a certificate of disrepair would, to my mind, involve one in a major revision of the Rent Restrictions Acts. The other point made by the noble Lord is that a landlord is in a very strong position. There are noble Lords opposite who are landlords of rent-restricted properties, and they must ask themselves frankly whether they have ever found themselves in a very strong position. I am bound to say that the person in the strongest position must always be the tenant of a rent-restricted house. I consider myself unwise in not having put myself in that situation, and I have suggested to noble Lords on this side that they might offer me a rent-restricted property at a suitable rent in which I would undertake to behave myself. I cannot accept that the landlord of a rent-restricted property is at any time in a very strong position, unless he is an extremely bad type of man who tries to intimidate the tenant.
§ LORD WILMOT OF SELMESTON
I cannot help feeling that some protection for the tenant ought to be devised here. It appears to me, unless I have read the Bill wrongly, that the landlord has only to ask for the rent when he claims that he has done the repairs, but he does not have to make a statutory declaration. Nor are there any penalties attached to improperly demanding rent.
§ VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER
There are penalties for inaccurate statements, and the noble and learned Lord has I think put down an Amendment making it a summary offence.
§ LORD WILMOT OF SELMESTON
I naturally accept what the noble and learned Lord says, but these tenants are likely to be poor people unused to this sort of procedure, and you put upon them the onus of going to a county court and bringing a case. I think everyone would feel that something better than that is required, because it would lead inevitably, in same cases, to improper demands. I beg the noble and learned Lord between now and the next stage to try and think of some way whereby the landlord will have to do something to give proof that he has done what he is required to do in order to justify the increased rent.
§ VISCOUNT BUCKMASTER
I believe the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, is under a misapprehension. The tenant does not have to go to the county court unless there is a misstatement of figures, and that is a very grave thing. No one disputes that there are some bad landlords and it is a matter for regret that there should be. But the tenant does not have to go to the county court on a question of repairs but merely on a question of the factual statement of money spent on the property, and I cannot believe that many landlords will falsify figures, particularly in view of the Amendment which I believe the noble and learned Lord has put down.
§ Tint EARL OF LISTOWEL
I thank the noble Lord opposite for his willingness to examine the compromise suggestion which I put forward towards the end of my remarks. I should like to say now that if we are so unfortunate as to, lose this Amendment, I propose to submit another Amendment at the next stage 731 of the Bill which will incorporate the suggestion I have made. By that time I have no doubt the noble and learned Lord will have had an opportunity of consulting with his right honourable friend and will be able to give the reply of the Government to our point. As to the Amendment itself it is clearly a question of striking a balance of advantage. The disadvantage has been very clearly stated by the noble and learned Lord—the administrative inconvenience to local authorities. Everyone admits it would be an administrative inconvenience and that it might mean an increase in staff and an increase in costs to certain local authorities. On the other side of the balance is the injustice to certain tenants. Let us
§ House resumed.