HL Deb 25 June 1959 vol 217 cc301-4

6.16 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.—(Lord Grenfell.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Punishment of attempts to obtain from prospective tenants excessive prices for furniture, fittings, etc.]:

LORD GRENFELL had given Notice of two Amendments, the first being, in subsection (2), to omit all words from "may" in paragraph (a), down to the end of paragraph (b), and to substitute: avail himself of any facilities for such entry and inspection provided on the specified date, but shall, if so required, produce some duly authenticated document showing that he is authorised as aforesaid. The noble Lord said: With the permission of the Committee, I should like to speak to these two Amendments at the same time. When I moved the Second Reading of this Bill a fortnight ago, I undertook to move an Amendment to meet certain criticisms which had been made of the Bill in another place. It had there been suggested that local authorities should not be given power in the Bill to enter premises where it was thought that furniture was being offered at unreasonably high prices as a condition of the granting, renewal or assignment of a tenancy, if the person in charge objected. If the local authority could not gain admission by agreement, it was felt that they should go through the normal procedure for getting a search warrant. This would mean, of course, that they would have to satisfy an independent authority—namely, a magistrate—that there was a prima facie case of an offence having been committed before they were given real legal authority to demand admittance.

These Amendments are designed to meet the objections, but before I deal with the provisions in detail it may assist your Lordships if I explain why local authorities must be in a position to secure entry. Under the Bill, local authorities are given power to prosecute for offences against its provisions, and this is a logical extension of their power to prosecute for offences against the provisions of the Landlord and Tenant (Rent Control) Act, 1949, which provided that the charging of excessive prices for furniture and fittings ought to be treated as a legal offence.

If local authorities are to have power to prosecute, then they must have power to gain such evidence as is necessary to decide whether a prosecution is warranted or whether it is sufficient to convince the court that an offence had been committed. If the lessee is asking £200 merely for an electric light bulb, inspection will be superfluous; but quite so transparent a case is unlikely. It is more likely that inventories may contain articles at the price which might be reasonable if they were of high quality, but not otherwise. For example, we might find carpets at £150 a piece. Reliable information about the quality, and consequently the cost, of the articles can be obtained only by having them inspected by an expert who can subsequently be called to give evidence in a court of law. It is also worth bearing in mind that in most of the cases to which this Bill applies the premises are on the market, and the lessor or tenant offering them is prepared to permit interested people to view them. In such circumstances, inspection by the local authority can hardly be regarded as a grave invasion of privacy.

The Bill provides that local authorities must give not less than twenty-four hours' notice that they will need facilities on a specified date to inspect the furniture on offer or, where the premises are unoccupied, such notice as is reasonable in the circumstances. The first Amendment gives the local authority representative power to avail himself of any facilities, provided that he shows evidence of his authority to do so if required. Subsection (3) in the second Amendment deals with the position where, although notice has been given by the local authority, their representative is refused admittance to the premises. Their next move will be to apply to a magistrate for a search warrant, and this, if granted, will authorise them to enter the premises, if need be by force.

The two new remaining subsections, subsections (4) and (5), are consequential provisions. The first provides that the local authority representative may take with him when he inspects the furniture anyone else whose presence is deemed necessary. He must leave the premises secured as he found them. Penalties are prescribed in subsection (5) for obstruction of anyone acting under the authority of a warrant: and the penalty is a fine of £20 or £50 for a subsequent offence. I beg to move the first Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 8, leave out from ("may") to end of line 18, and insert the said new words.—(Lord Grenfell.)


I intervene merely to say that this Amendment has the support of the Government. It serves to make it abundantly clear that local authorities may enter private premises to inspect furniture only with the consent of the person in charge. If that consent is refused, they must fall back on the established procedure of obtaining a search warrant from a magistrate. I think this Amendment meets the objection that power of entry should not be lightly conferred on local authorities in cases which may result in prosecutions. I hope that the Committee will agree to its incorporation in the Bill.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move the second Amendment.

Amendment moved—

Page 2, line 19, at end insert— ("(3) If it is shown to the satisfaction of a justice of the peace on sworn information in writing that a person required under the foregoing subsection to give facilities has failed to give them, the justice may by warrant under his hand empower the local authority, by any person authorised by them, to enter the premises in question, if need be by force, and inspect the furniture therein. This subsection shall, in its application to Scotland, have effect as if for any reference to a justice of the peace there were substituted a reference to the sheriff or to a magistrate or justice of the peace having jurisdiction in the place where the premises are situated. (4) A person empowered by or under the foregoing provisions of this section to enter premises may take with him such other persons as may be necessary, and, if the premises are unoccupied, shall leave them as effectively secured against trespassers as he found them. (5) A person who wilfully obstructs any person acting in pursuance of a warrant issued under subsection (3) of this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding twenty pounds, or in the case of a second or subsequent offence to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds.")—(Lord Grenfell.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

House resumed.