HL Deb 24 July 1961 vol 233 cc851-902

4.4 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 Earl of Dundee.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair.]

Clause I agreed to.

Clause 2 [Power to abolish or reduce subsidies]:

LORD LATHAM moved to add to subsection (1): Provided that no reduction shall reduce the original subsidy by more than one quarter and provided also that no reduction of the number of years shall reduce the period during which subsidy remains to be paid to less than one half of the original period.

The noble Lord said: It may be for your Lordships' convenience that the discussion should relate to and comprehend the first three Amendments on the Marshalled List. They deal with the objections to the proposal set out in Clause 2, and they seek alternatively that the power of the Minister to reduce the subsidy should be limited and that the period for which the reduced subsidy is to operate should be limited. It is proposed also that the period before which the Minister cannot either reduce or abolish the subsidy should be raised from ten to fifteen years. This proposal to modify a contract entered into between the local housing authorities and the Minister in the manner suggested is quite unprecedented. I would not say that this is a conclusive reason why a proposal of this sort, or any proposal which is unprecedented, should not be contemplated. But it does mean, I think, that a proposal of this kind, which is unprecedented, needs very good reasons in its support before it is agreed to.

The basis of the proposal is that in the event of the tenant's income changing, then the benefit of that should inure to the Exchequer and the Minister should be in a position and be empowered to reduce the subsidy payable to the local authority. In short, it is a claim on the part of one party to a bargain to vary it, and to vary it in one way only, either by abolition or by reduction. There is no suggestion in the proposal that, if the tenant's income worsened or the other factors of expenditure in connection with housing went against the local authority, the local authority should be entitled to make a claim for an increase of subsidy. It is, as I have said, all one way. A local authority has engaged itself for 60 years to pay interest at a very high rate aft the present time—and it is interesting to observe that the rate has gone up from 3 per cent. in 1951 to 61, per cent. now. If there is a fall in the rate of interest, ought not the local authority to have the benefit of it? In any case, the present lenders are not prepared to modify their right to receive the interest which has been settled under conditions which may be quite different from those which may prevail in the future.

Accordingly, we propose in Amendment No. 3 that Clause 2, which deals with this proposal, should be deleted. If that be not carried, then we suggest that the Minister's power should accrue, not at the end of ten years but at the end of fifteen years; and that, instead of the Minister having a free hand to abolish or to reduce in such measure as he may think fit, he should be limited to the reductions specified in Amendment No. 1. The proposal in the Bill is quite indefensible. The Exchequer has entered into an arrangement and then it seeks to depart from it.

There is a curious confusion in the mind of the Minister. In his statement in another place he said that he hoped he would not find it necessary, or that it would not be necessary, ever to use this power. If the exercise of the power is dependent upon a movement upwards of the standard of living it seems to follow that the present Minister hopes there will not he any increase of the standard of living, because it is the alleged increase of the standard of living which will be taken into account as being a factor in the tenant's income which would be the justification for reducing the subsidy. It is a little Gilbertian that the Minister hopes that there will not be any upward movement of the standard of living, especially when the right honourable gentleman the Leader in another place expressed the view some little time ago (before, it is true, the last but one crisis) that the standard of living in this country ought to be doubled in 20 to 25 years.


I must apologise for interrupting the noble Lord so very early in our proceedings this afternoon. I cannot put my hand on the reference, but I remember the point in the discussions to which he is referring, and I think my right honourable friend made it clear on this particular point that he proposed to use these powers only in exceptional circumstances, like war, or as a result of war; and the hope he expressed was that we should not be faced with exceptional circumstances of that nature.


That is the first time I have heard any reference to war in this connection. It is the case that the Minister referred to the years 1914 and 1939, and it may be that he intended to refer to the conditions of war which arose, of course, in 1914 and 1939. If that is the inference to be drawn, I accept the correction made by the noble Earl. However, for the reasons I have given I beg to move Amendment No. 1.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 32, at end insert the said proviso. —(Lord Latham.)


I feel I should be frank with the noble Lord who has moved this Amendment, and tell him straight away that, in greater or lesser degree, we find all three proposed Amendments to this clause objectionable. In order of merit (if that is the correct phrase) I think we find the second Amendment the least objectionable, the first Amendment the next least, and the third Amendment, he will not be entirely surprised to hear, the most objectionable of all. Before coming on to explain why, I should like to express my gratitude to the noble Lord for his suggestion that, broadly speaking, we should consider these three Amendments together, since they all come, as it were, under the same umbrella, and I think it will save us time. Because we are considering these three Amendments together, I was wondering whether I might for a moment explain the reasons which have led the Government to frame Clause 2 as they have.

In the first place, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that there is nothing particularly new about the power which my right honourable friend is seeking, to make orders abolishing or reducing subsidies payable under the Bill in respect of new houses. The first three subsections of Clause 2 follow closely the precedent established by Section 2 of the Housing Subsidies Act, 1956, which has now become Section 2 of the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, 1958. Indeed, I would suggest to the noble Lord that this precedent must be all the more respectable from their point of view since the same theme is found in Section 16, subsection (1), of the Labour Government's Housing (Financial and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1946. So far as I know, the Labour Party did not seek to tie the Minister's hands in the way suggested by the noble Lord in this first Amendment—at least, in 1946. It is of course true, as the noble Lord has said, that subsection (4) of the clause has no direct precedent, and I will turn to that a little later.

The motive behind the clause is perfectly simple. In housing, as in every other sphere of life, circumstances and priorities may change, possibly unexpectedly. The new subsidies, like the old ones, are due to run for 60 years. In this age of accelerating change, 60 years is a pretty long period. Since we are dealing with houses and subsidies, may I take the example (which I think my right honourable friend took in another place on Committee stage) of the typical 1939, three-bedroomed, council house? Today, an economic rent for a house of this sort would work out, I am given to understand, at around 22s. a week, inclusive of rates. It would be a very rash person, I would suggest, who would claim that the average wage-earner of to-day could not afford that sort of rent. Yet that house has already attracted subsidy for 22 years, and will continue to do so for 38 years more. It will, of course, continue to do so whatever this Bill says, because this Bill does not affect houses which have already been built.

This clause is designed to take account of this sort of change, and I cannot really see the logic of the noble Lord's argument against it. Surely, change is the essence of life, and it affects everyone, including local authorities.


It depends in which direction the change is.


I will turn to the increase argument in a moment, if I may. In their housing programmes, quite apart from subsidy, local authorities have to take account of a great variety of changing factors: the cost of materials, the availability of materials, the cost of labour, the availability of labour and, of course, changing techniques of construction. Why should they be rendered totally immune from change of one sort—a change in subsidy? Surely it is right to introduce some flexibility, especially as this may help us to do precisely what this Bill is intended to do; that is, to give help to those authorities which are most in need of it for the type of houses which most need subsidy and in the areas which most require it.


The changes in the cost of materials, and that sort of thing, were not retrospective. These are retrospective.


Again, I will come later to the retrospective point, subsection (4), and will try to deal with that argument then. I should, of course, be more ready to be persuaded by the noble Lord's argument were it not for the assurances which have been given to his friends in another place. For example, it has been made clear that this clause will in no way affect houses built before the Bill was introduced—that is to say, houses commissioned before February 16 this year. Again, my right honourable friend has made it clear that it would be his intention to operate this clause only in the event of a major shift of circumstances— as a result of a major shift of circumstances I think was the precise language used in another place. He has also made it clear that the Government have no intention at the present time of cutting down or abolishing the subsidies contained in this Bill.

I am of course glad to repeat that assurance, and to reaffirm that there is no intention on the part of the Government, as soon as they have the Bill on the Statute Book, to use the power to reduce or abolish subsidies—no intention at all. Noble Lords may possibly feel not entirely disposed to accept that assurance. In that case, I would merely point to the record, and remind your Lordships that since the identical power was taken in 1956 only the one Order has been made, and that the intention to make that Order was stated in clear terms by the Minister when the Bill was going through Parliament. Finally, I would remind noble Lords that my right honourable friend made it quite clear in another place that this clause was in no way intended to force local authorities to adopt a particular kind of rent policy, which was an argument used in another place although I know it has not been used by the noble Lord here to-day.

I should now like to turn to two arguments which the noble Lord advanced in favour of his series of Amendments. The first was that this clause provides only for decrease or abolition, or change downward, of subsidies; and he thought that it would be only fair that, if there was provision for change downwards, there should also be written into this Bill provision for change upwards. On that point, I would only, with deference, remind the noble Lord that in the 1946 Act, which was in some way a precedent for this particular provision, there was certainly no provision for a change upward in subsidies. I should not have thought that that was unexpected. Surely, whilst it is perfectly normal to vary a change downward by order, it would be very odd to make a change upward and increase an expenditure by order in a Bill of this nature. Surely It would be right and proper, in that event, to do so by full-blooded legislation.

Secondly, the noble Lord made a good deal of play about this being, as it were. in the nature of a breach of contract. Again, I find that argument rather hard to follow. There can be no question of breaking a contract if full warning is given of one's intention beforehand. This Bill contains very adequate warning of the Government's intentions in this respect.


Surely that is a new legal maxim, is it not; that you can vary a contract if you give notice?


In this respect the variation is in the contract, in so far as the contract argument applies to this Bill. It is written into the terms of the Bill, and only in one case, subsection (4), is there any question of retrospective variation. In all other cases the local authorities will receive full warning before they undertake any commitment whatsoever.

I would agree that, at first blush, the ceilings on reductions proposed by the noble Lords in the first Amendment may appear not unreasonable. But, in fact, to accept these ceilings would be to introduce the very inflexibility which we are anxious to avoid. In 1991–30 years from now—we shall be only halfway through the subsidy period foreseen in this Bill of 60 years. Who can say whether certain local authorities in certain areas, and in respect of certain types of housing, will require then the precise subsidies foreseen in this Bill? Possibly they may do. On the other hand, in this era of change I should have thought it at least conceivable that they would not. In the circumstances, it seems to us absurd to tie the hand of future administrations by the purely arbitrary percentages suggested by the noble Lords.

As regards the noble Lords' fifteen-year Amendment to sub-section (4), I should like to say this. This sub-section does, of course, introduce a new principle—that is to say, the power after ten years to abolish or vary subsidies already granted. My right honourable friend has been absolutely frank about that in explaining the Bill at all stages in another place, and I hope that I was equally frank on that score on Second Reading here. But the reasons for that are made very clear in Paragraph 38 of the White Paper (Cmnd. 1290). I cannot refer to them in detail now, but I would merely repeat that this is a purely precautionary provision designed to prevent the present ludicrous situation whereby we may well continue to pay subsidies on houses built nearly 50 years ago which make a profit for the local authority concerned. It is designed to make it possible, in this era of change, to ensure that subsidies go where they are most needed; but—and I should like to re-emphasise this—it is designed only to take account of exceptional changes in circumstances.

It would seem to the Government that in proposing this new principle, by imposing on themselves a ten-year veto, they have given the local authorities very adequate warning of their intentions. So I cannot understand (and I do not think the noble Lord explained to us) why noble Lords 'opposite have suggested fifteen years. They may query the magic of the figure "ten", but what is the mystique of the figure "fifteen"?


None at all, except mitigation of the punishment.


I should have thought that "ten" was a good round number, and that we might well stick to it.

I would suggest to your Lordships that there are certain fundamental safeguards built into this Bill to which it is worth paying attention. In the first place, there is the assurance that this machinery will operate only in the event of a major shift in economic circumstance. That applies not only to subsection (4); it applies also to the first three subsections. Secondly, there is the safeguard written into the clause that, before laying a draft order, my right honourable friend will consult with the appropriate organisations, associations of local authorities, and with any local authority—the L.C.C. is, of course, the obvious example—with whom consultations appear to him to be desirable. The noble Lords opposite know this very well, and know that such consultations are not merely formal and platonic. Finally, any order made under this clause will have to be approved by Parliament under the Affirmative Resolution procedure. In the circumstances, and given these safeguards, I suggest that your Lordships should leave the present clause to stand unamended.

4.28 p.m.


The noble Earl has made great play of the fact that provisions of this kind were first incorporated into the Housing Act of 1946 by the Labour Government. I am not one of those who claim that everything the Labour Government did in the years between 1945 and 1951 was perfect. We made our mistakes, and we are not suggesting that, in all respects, everything we did should be emulated by the present Government, particularly all our mistakes. The noble Lords opposite are very quick to point out, when it suits them, the things we did which were wrong; and when it suits them as an argument, they instance the very thing which we did. I myself think that it was equally unfair, and equally open to criticism, in the 1946 Act as it is to-day, to say: "In certain circumstances we will withdraw the subsidy, in the event of a major shift in circumstances; but in the event of a major shift in circumstances which involves a heavier burden on the local authorities, we will not increase the subsidy". That seems to me utterly wrong, and the noble Earl really cannot justify it on the score that we did the same thing. If we did it, we were wrong.

The Committee will realise that a major shift in circumstances (whatever that may mean) can operate in two ways. It can operate to make the burden of the local authorities lighter; and if you want to incorporate such a provision in a Bill, you can perhaps justify it on the ground that they are no longer making a deficit on their housing operations, or on a particular housing operation. But surely it may operate the other way; and, indeed, there are certain reasons why it is just as likely to operate the other way. For instance, local authorities to-day are going to commit themselves, in raising the money they need for housing, to a very high rate of interest. It is by no means certain—we talk of raising the standard of living over the next twenty years—that we shall be in an economic position to do that. It is conceivable that wages may come down; that present rents may not be maintainable. I should not like to give a guarantee that they will be, and if existing rents were not maintainable, then there would be a justification for increasing the subsidy rather than decreasing it.

If the noble Earl says that there is not the remotest likelihood of such a thing happening and that the whole tendency is for rents and earnings to go up, then there can be no harm in putting such a provision in the Bill and making it reciprocal. The very fact that the Government have not seen fit to make it a two-way provision gives rise to a certain amount of suspicion.

The noble Earl said that there were written-in safeguards. Where is the written-in safeguard?—that this provision will operate only in event of a major shift in circumstances. That is merely a statement by the Minister in the course of the passage of the Bill; it has no validity whatever and, if I may say so, no specific meaning. What is a "major shift of circumstances?" If it had been defined in the Bill, that would have been something, but as it is, it is merely a point of view.

The other built-in safeguard, we are told, is that there will be consultation with local authorities. I do not suggest that these consultations are necessarily perfunctory. I have taken part in many both ways, and I am sure that the Minister really listens to what the local authorities have to say and takes it into account. But once the Minister makes a proposal that subsidies are to be reduced or ended, he has pretty well made up his mind, and it will take a great deal to shift him from that point of view. The discussions may be prolonged, but in the end the subsidies will be cut or abolished. Furthermore, while I have every respect for delegated legislation, the noble Lord knows as well as I do what kind of safeguard the need to pass a Resolution in both Houses really is. In your Lordships' House it is a formality: we do not vote on a Resolution of that kind. And in the House of Commons, invariably the Whips are put on and it becomes a matter of confidence for the Government and not one on which the House has a free voice. I do not say that that is necessarily bad. It is one of the features of our present form of government and we have to accept it. But the fact remains that we cannot persuade local authorities that this is a built-in safeguard. It is not a safeguard. Once the Minister has made up his mind on the subsidies, they will go or be reduced.

I do not know that the noble Earl is really in a position to give us these Amendments, whatever arguments we put forward. I suppose that my noble friend and I are talking for the Record as much as for anything else; but I feel strongly that this is an injustice. Even if a case could be made out (and I do not think that the noble Earl has completely made out a case) for modifying the subsidy after a short period, or for abolishing it, the injustice arises that it is not reciprocal. In the event of the major shift of circumstances affecting the local authorities detrimentally, there is no provision for increasing the subsidy.

For these reasons, I think that the Bill needs amendment. I do not stand by every word of our Amendment. Looking at it again, I think that it has imperfections but I believe that in principle we are right in requiring further modifications to tone down the hardship that may arise if Clause 2 is carried. The noble Earl asked: why fifteen years rather than ten? In framing this Amendment we were in some difficulty on the question of privilege. We wanted to raise the issue, and, of course, we are prepared to negotiate with the noble Earl, if he is prepared to negotiate about the exact number of years. We thought that this was a round figure on which to base an argument, but not necessarily the right number of years. I think that the right number is sixty. It is for this reason alone that we put down a period which we thought might avoid the question of privilege.

I am convinced that we are right. And it is a great pity that this Bill has to be rushed at this stage of the Session, because I realise that the noble Earl may say, even if I have convinced him, that it would be difficult to send the Bill back to the House of Commons for these Amendments to be approved and the Bill passed before the end of the Session.


The noble Earl rested his case on which he described as a major change of circumstances. And the White Paper published by the Minister, and the statements by the Minister and by the Home Secretary in Committee, rested the case on a major change of circumstances—but on a major change of one circumstance and one circumstance only; namely, the rent-paying capacity of council tenants, based upon a change in their incomes. That is the only circumstance brought forward in the protracted discussions which took place in Committee in another place. Apropos of why we suggested fifteen years and not ten, it is interesting to note that during the last nine years, between October, 1951, and October, 1960, the adult weekly earnings of adult males increased by 74 per cent. The housing statistics published by the Institute of Municipal Treasurers and Accountants show that between March, 1951, and March, 1960, the average rent charged by the London County Council for a three-bedroomed post-war house rose by 140 per cent.—that is, double the increase in average weekly male earnings. During the same period, the average rent charged by Liverpool for a similar house rose by 72 per cent.—almost exactly the same as the rise in average male earnings.


Could the noble Lord give us these figures in money? Percentages are sometimes rather meaningless.


I do not have with me the monetary expression of this arithmetical statement, but I think that perhaps it is illuminating. In Birmingham, the increase in the average rent for similar council accommodation was 70 per cent.—again almost the same as the rise in average male earnings.

It is because the proposal in the Bill rests entirely on this one element that it is so objectionable. If, from our efforts to increase the standard of living, earnings are increasing, it undoes the improvement in the standard of living if the increased wages are promptly taken by the Exchequer by way of a reduction in housing subsidy, leaving local authorities to increase the rents. That is the intention. It is really to have a lever for making rents relate to earnings. As I have said, that is one of the objectionable features of this proposal.


I feel that your Lordships will not wish me to detain you long at this preliminary stage of our discussion this afternoon. First of all, I would say that I entirely accept the qualification which the noble Lord placed on the words "major change of circumstance". What he said in that respect as to the arguments advanced in another place was quite correct. But I would remind him that I was not resting my argument entirely on that. I was resting it, in the main, on the fact that in the era of change in which we live it would be ludicrous for a Government in 1961 to tie their successors in the year 2021 in respect of the precise subsidies to be paid by local authorities on the various groups of housing which they subsidise. That was the main burden of my argument. I quite accept what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said about the fifteen years' provision. I would agree that one could argue for ten or for fifteen years, but ten years seems to the Government to be a perfectly reasonable warning period. However, I am glad to hear that fifteen years was not just drawn out of the lucky dip at the local jumble sale.

Then there is the argument, on which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, dwelt at considerable length, that this clause would be more acceptable if it provided for increases as well as for decreases. I should be the first to concede that one could conceive of circumstances where it would be necessary to increase subsidies. But my case there is that if that is necessary, then it should be done not by order but by full-blooded legislation. Surely the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, gave me that argument when he stressed the fact that, from his point of view, the order-making procedure was entirely perfunctory, at least so far as this House is concerned. Surely, if the Exchequer is going to be asked to bear additional expenditure, we should not adopt a perfunctory procedure. I would merely point out, finally, that this Bill itself contains provisions for increases of subsidy. Therefore the Government are not nearly so cheeseparing as noble Lords would seem to suggest they are.

On Question, Amendment negatived.


I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 4, line 16. leave out ("ten") and insert ("fifteen").—(Lord Latham.)

On Question, Amendment negatived.


I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Leave out Clause 2.—(Lord Latham.)

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clauses 3 to 11, agreed to.

LORD LATHAM moved, after Clause 11 to insert.the following new clause:

Acquisition of houses in multiple occupation

".—(1) A local authority shall have power to acquire any house which is let in lodgings or occupied by members of more than one family in order to secure in respect of the house—

  1. (a) proper standards of management, and
  2. (b) the limiting of the number of persons in occupation.

(2) For the purpose of this section a local authority may acquire a house by agreement or may be authorised by the Minister to purchase it compulsorily: and the Second Schedule to the principal Act shall apply to a compulsory purchase under this section as if it were a compulsory purchase under Part V of that Act."

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this Amendment is to give additional power to the local authority to see that the provisions of Part II of the Bill are carried out not only by the co-operative landlords, if such there be, but also by the recalcitrant landlord who is concerned with the property only from the point of view of extorting the maximum possible rent which he can from the maximum number of persons permitted to occupy the premises. We take the view that the powers contained in Part II, excellent though they may be, will not be adequate to deal with this terrifying problem of the multiple occupation of large and old houses.

In the White Paper of 1953, entitled HousesThe Next Step, the publication of which, as the noble Earl will know, preceded the Housing (Repairs and Rents) Act, 1954, it was said: Landlords will be required to ensure that the houses for which they are responsible are fit for human habitation where they can be done at reasonable cost. If a landlord fails to do this the local authority will be expected to do it for him at his expense. Why should the local authority be required to do it for 'him on property which he has, and which he can the next morning allow to fall into a state of decay and dilapidation, with the result that a little later on the local authority may have to take action again? That action may include reducing the number of persons in the old house, which casts a rehousing obligation—whether it is legal or not, there is a moral obligation—upon the local authority to provide housing for the persons who are taken out of the house because they are regarded as being in excess of the total number prescribed and permitted.

In introducing the 1954 Bill, the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry, Mr. Marples, said in the Second Reading debate [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 521, col. 805]: In some cases the landlord may not have the money to carry out the work. Whatever happens to such a house it must still be brought up to the lower standard, that of fitness for human habitation. If the landlord cannot do it, there are powers under Section 10 of the 1936 Housing Act for the local authority to do the work and to recover the cost from the owner. Recovery of these expenses is slow, so in Clause 10 we do what we can to speed up the procedure. Yet, seven years later, in the White Paper of 1961, the Government admit that one of the most acute housing problems still left is the multiple occupation of old, decrepit and deteriorating houses.

My submission is that the only way to deal with an impecunious, recalcitrant or extortionist landlord is for the local authority to have power to acquire the house or houses in question. I submit that what I have said in regard to the progress of events and the hopes which have been dashed goes to show that unless the local authority have this power, a kind of default power, then the proposals and provisions of parts of Part II of the Bill will be largely of no effective use. When the local authorities step in to do the work of landlords they should be able to become the landlords themselves. Why should incompetent private landlords be left to benefit from higher rents due to the initiative of local authorities in attacking these squalid living conditions? If it is proper, as indeed it is, that local authorities should have the power to clear in order to remove the slums, they should have power to acquire these properties which are rapidly becoming slums and are, indeed, many of them, already very much worse than some of the slums. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— After Clause 11 insert the said new clause.—(Lord Latham.)

4.50 p.m.


I should like, first of all, to make it clear that, judging by our Second Reading debate, I do not think there is any disagreement between us as to what we are aiming at here. As was pointed out during the Second Reading debate, Part II of the Bill is designed to strike, and to strike hard, at the evils where they exist—and they exist far too often—in houses in multiple occupation. I was glad to hear the noble Lord who has just moved his Amendment describe the provisions of Part II of this Bill as excellent, so far as they go.

We all recognise—and I will not go into the history of this—that we are faced here with a grave and growing problem; and we are all anxious that this Bill, when it leaves this House, should give the Government, the courts and the local authorities all the power they need or should properly have to deal with this problem. The ma in reason for my suggesting to your Lordships that you should resist this Amendment is that we feel that the Bill without this new clause confers sufficient and appropriate powers on all concerned. In our view, the new clause proposed by the noble Lord is neither necessary nor desirable.

Before I come to the substance of my argument, may I touch on a technical objection to the noble Lord's Amendment? I think the last part of his subsection (2) refers to the Second Schedule to the principal Act. I think that is a slip, and it should refer to the Seventh Schedule to the Act.


That may well be so. I am obliged to the noble Earl.


I am not resting very heavily on this technicality. I suggest that this new provision suggested by the noble Lord is not necessary, since local authorities already have adequate powers of acquisition for acquiring property, under Part V of the Housing Act, 1957, by compulsory purchase or by agreement. This enables them, wherever necessary, to buy houses in order to carry out works of alteration, repair or improvement. These powers are contained in Sections 92, 96 (b) and 97 of the 1957 Act. It follows from this that local authorities need no extra power in order to take over houses in multiple occupation in order to carry out any work of the kind specified in subsection (1) of Clause 15 of the present Bill—an important provision which enables houses to be altered and improved to make them fitter for multiple occupation.

I assume, therefore (and it is confirmed by what the noble Lord has said), that the main purpose of the clause he is suggesting is to reinforce the new powers of control provided in Clauses 12 and 18 of the Bill by giving the local authorities a reserve power of acquisition, either to ensure the satisfactory management of a house in multiple occupation or to effect a reduction in the number of its occupants, because the existing powers of acquisition in the 1957 Act would not cover either of these two contingencies in isolation. In practice, however, I would suggest to the noble Lord that it would be a very rare case indeed in which one would not find that, where there was rank bad management or gross overcrowding in a house, there were also material defects in the house which would make it an appropriate one for acquisition by the local authority under the 1957 Act.

I can assure your Lordships that I am advised that the existing powers should prove quite sufficient to meet any situation in which acquisition would really be the sensible course. It was suggested in another place on one Amendment that local authorities might think that the provisions of the 1957 Act would not bite on houses in multiple occupation—those covered by this Bill. But I understand that in fact these powers do bite. In order to make assurance doubly sure, I will repeat for noble Lords what was said in another place: that the circular to local authorities which will go out with this Bill will include a specific reminder to them that they have these powers under the 1957 Act to acquire property in need of alteration, repair or improvement, should it be necessary to do so.

I have explained why I think the proposed new clause is unnecessary, and I should now like briefly to say why I think it is not desirable. In the first place, it is so worded that it could cover houses which are perfectly well managed at present and not over-crowded. On reflection, I do not think your Lordships would feel that this was right. It also talks about securing proper standards of management. It says nothing about failure of management in the past or the present. I would suggest that in Part II of this Bill, where we are in any event exploring somewhat new territory, it would be wiser if we were to empower local authorities to put right only what they know is wrong, rather than what they suspect could go wrong.

My basic objection is to extending the existing powers of acquisition of local authorities simply as a reserve weapon of enforcement. Part II of the Bill, as your Lordships know, introduces strong new powers which are backed by pretty heavy penalties. To add to these powers of enforcement even before they are tested in practice—and they have not, of course, been tested—by extending the powers of acquisition would, I suggest, cast doubt on the adequacies of the whole new and carefully thought out enforcement procedure. It would also, as it were, encourage local authorities to by-pass this carefully elaborated enforcement procedure. I would emphasise again, in conclusion, that the Government are completely at one with the noble Lord who has moved this Amendment in wishing to make Part II of this Bill really effective. Nevertheless, I must repeat to your Lordships that we feel the new suggested clause is neither necessary nor really desirable.

4.58 p.m.


I will make two observations. One is that the noble Earl himself recognised that there might be circumstances in which the acquisition by the local authority might be the only effective way of dealing with property. I think he said that they were remote and not very likely to happen, because it was improbable that a house which fell within this Part of the Bill would not have certain defects which would in any case enable the local authority to acquire. But there will be a residual number of cases in which it could be desirable for the local authority to acquire but which are not covered by earlier legislation. That is what we have in mind, and it may be that for that purpose the language of the Amendment is not quite explicit enough.

The other point was that the noble Earl thought this might be a method of by-passing the powers which are being conferred under this Bill. With respect, I think the noble Earl is wrong. After all, a compulsory purchase order has to be confirmed by the Minister, and the owner would have the right to object. He would have the right to be heard at a public inquiry, and the Minister would eventually have to decide whether or not the local authority had been justified in making the order. So I think that there is ample safeguard against a local authority acting arbitrarily. Therefore, when the noble Earl says that this is not desirable I think he is mistaken. It might be desirable in a certain, if you like, limited number of circumstances; but in such circumstances it would be desirable and, as I say, I think there is sufficient safeguard against an authority acting arbitrarily. I do not know whether what I have said may induce the noble Earl to go back and reconsider the matter, but this is intended to be only a residual right and not one which the local authority would act on in the first instance, without exhausting the other rights which are conferred upon them under this Bill.


I should wish to go as far as possible to meet the two noble Lards opposite, for whose knowledge and sincerity in these matters we all have a high regard. But the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, wild perhaps not be surprised to hear that, before we reached our Committee stage this afternoon, I had looked rather carefully into the possibilities and the extent to which on this I might be able to meet the noble Lord. I think it would be unfrank of me to promise to reconsider between now and the Report stage some such formula if I really did not feel that we should be able to offer anything substantial at that stage, and I do not think that we should.

May I add just two comments on What the noble Lord has just said? He referred to the residual problem and said that although it might be a very small residual problem it was nevertheless one which we should take care of by the method proposed in the Amendment. I agree that the residual problem is likely to be very small—how small I do not think any of us know. I think that one in a thousand was a figure mentioned in another place, but it might be two or three or one-half in a thousand. In any case I think it would be very small indeed. I would suggest to the noble Lords that to deal with that residual problem there are already very strong enforcement powers written into Part II of the Bill.

The noble Lord also referred to my argument that possibly this procedure might encourage local authorities to bypass the enforcement provisions of the Bill and suggested that the Minister could act as a long-stop against that possibility. That may well be so, but it was not, of course, the only argument which I advanced on the grounds of undesirability. pointed out two defects which I think were rather more than drafting defects, and also that I feel it unwise to embark on this extension of the area of compulsory or voluntary acquisition until we have at least tested the adequacy of the enforcement procedures provided for in Part II of the Bill.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Clause 12 agreed to.

Clause 13:

Regulations prescribing management code

13.(2) For the purposes of the foregoing subsection and regulations made under this section, the person managing a house which, or a part of which, is let in lodgings or which is occupied by members of more than one family shall be defined as—

  1. (a) the person who is an owner or a lessee of the house and who, directly or through an agent or trustee, receives rents or other payments from persons who are tenants of parts of the house, or who are lodgers, and
  2. (b) where those rents or other payments are received through another person as his agent or trustee, that other person,
but the foregoing definition may be varied or replaced by regulations under this section.

5.3 p.m.

LORD BROUGHSHANE moved, in subsection (2), to omit: but the foregoing definition may be varied or replaced by regulations under this section

The noble Lord said: With your Lordships' permission I will discuss Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 at the same time, as they deal virtually with the same point. These Amendments are put forward solely as a matter of inquiry. They are moved in the hope that they will elicit from the noble Earl who will reply some statement as to the intention behind the provisions which my Amendments presumably seek to strike out. Subsection (2) of Clause 13 and paragraph 3 (c) of the same clause which these Amendments propose to strike out give the Minister both unlimited power to extend the scope of these two subsections and to bring those persons referred to within the orbit of Part II of the Bill, including the penalty section; that is to say almost anyone connected in any way with the property. For instance a ground landlord could have a duty imposed upon him under subsection (3) (c) in such a way that it would be almost impossible for him to discharge. Perhaps the noble Earl when he replies for the Government could particularise as to persons he has in mind to whom this subsection might apply. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 14, leave out lines 34 and 35.—(Lord Broughshane.)


In support of what my noble friend Lord Broughshane has said, may I say that I think this is another example of the case to which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has already drawn attention this afternoon, and that is legislation by regulation. I see that this regulation is subject only to annulment; that is, to a Negative Resolution. In these circumstances I do not think your Lordships, unless you are very vigilant, will have an opportunity of discussing these regulations when they eventually come before the House, and certainly we shall have no opportunity to amend them. Therefore I think it is important for my noble friend Earl Jellicoe to give some indication of what he intends to put in them.


I hope to be able to allay my noble friends' anxieties about this clause of the Bill. As was pointed out during our Second Reading debate and as has already been mentioned this afternoon, this part of the Bill breaks new ground, and for that very reason we have been particularly anxious to get it as right as possible. I can assure my noble friends straight away that we have taken the best legal advice open to us to ensure on the one hand that this particular part of the Bill bites on the persons on whom we want it to bite, and, on the other hand, that it bites fairly and justly. I hope that my noble friend Lord Broughshane will also accept my assurance that there is really nothing sinister in the provision that he seeks to delete by his Amendment which would enable the definition given in the preceding two sub-paragraphs to he varied or amended.

That provision is there, for one reason, and for one reason only. As all your Lordships know, there are a handful of bad and unscrupulous landlords engaged in this line of business and drawing considerable profits from it. They are very "artful dodgers" indeed. We honestly believe the definition has been drafted widely enough and carefully enough so as not to give the unscrupulous landlord some unexpected loophole, but we have met with some rebuffs in the past in this section, and "artful dodgers" have proved themselves even wilier than the wiliest Parliamentary draftsmen. The reserve power is something solely designed to block any loophole we may not have foreseen. Of course we should introduce supplementary legislation if we had to, but to wait for that would mean letting three or four years slip by and improving the conditions in some of the more horrid of these houses would be delayed still further.

As regards Lord Broughshane's fears about paragraph (c) subsection (3) of the clause, I rather feel that this subsection may suggest to him something more formidable than is intended. I can give him positive assurance that the Government have no intention of using the power under paragraph (c) for anything other than minor purposes ancillary to the general object of ensuring that decent standards of management are observed in houses which have been allowed to sink into a condition which calls for the application of remedies. Perhaps, by illustration, I could explain the minor duties we have in mind. The duties in mind under paragraph (c) for "persons who have an estate in the house", which I think is the wording of the clause, are limited to the possible supply of information about changes in the effective control of the house. As for persons who "live in a house"—again the wording of the clause—this is the sort of thing we envisage: the regulations might require the manager to make satisfactory arrangements for the storage of refuse and litter. By the same token they might also, quite reasonably, require the occupants to make proper use of the facilities provided. Those are the sort of really rather minor purposes we have in mind and we think them to be sensible and practicable.

Finally, I should like to recall, so that it should be on record in your Lordships' House, certain safeguards which apply to this clause. Since the duties which we have in mind are no more than I have described, pretty minor ones, my noble friend may ask me why the purposes of paragraph (c) of subsection (3) could not have been rather more closely defined so as to allay from the beginning the anxieties to which they have given rise and which he has ventilated. The regulations to be made under Clause 13 will, however, he on new territory, and while my right honourable friend has no desire at all that the powers of subsection (3) paragraph (c) should be unduly wide, he feels it is necessary to make sure that these ancillary powers are so drawn that they do allow a reasonable field for manœuvre. I hope my noble friend will be content with this explanation and not seek to press his Amendment on this score, and, if so, I am ready, for my part, to undertake—though, as he will appreciate, I cannot give any definite promise at this stage—to have the wording of subsection (3) paragraph (c) looked at carefully again to see whether it cannot be improved upon and contracted. I do not know whether it is possible, but we will have a look at it.


I quite see from my noble friend's reply what Her Majesty's Government intend to do, and that all seems very satisfactory. The only thing that worries me a little is that with this wording—which is very wide word- ing, particularly the word "duties"—he can commit only the present Government. He cannot commit any future Minister. It seems to me, with that in mind, that this wording is really a little loose and too wide.


I quite agree, if I may say so at this time, that this is too wide, and I would ask the noble Earl to see whether it can be mane better. It seems to me strange that we should, in this clause, pass regulations and then say, the foregoing definition may be varied or replaced by regulations under this section. We say there are certain things laid down, but we give the Minister power to vary them or to have different ones. I am certain the present Minister realises the difficulty and appreciates the particular job that has to be done in regard to this particular evil. I agree with the noble Earl that some of these people may be very wily and may be sharks who are making too much money, but at the same time I do not think we want to have legislation that imposes duties on people who are not sharks and who are perhaps treating their tenants in a perfectly normal way. Nor do we wish to give power to any Minister to change practically the whole clause if he sees fit. I hope at the Report stage it may be found possible to make it more definite and more clear.


In answer to my two noble friends, may I say that I thought I had shown myself, in reply to my noble friend, Lord Broughshane, aware of this difficulty, and I had said that we will look at the position between now and Report stage to see whether the wording can possibly be contracted without losing its effect. I am glad to repeat that assurance to my noble friend, Lord Derwent. In answer to my noble friend, Lady Horsbrugh, all I can do is to repeat or emphasise the two additional safeguards which there are here. First, I would point out that subsection (5) makes it clear that the regulations will be subject to annulment if either House were to resolve accordingly. My noble friend, Lord Colville of Culross, echoing the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, threw some doubt upon the effectiveness of this particular safeguard. Be that as it may, in that event I would recall to my noble friend that my right honourable friend has not only given a specific undertaking in another place that he will consult the local authorities' associations on the regulations at the drafting stage but he has also promised to give other interested organisations, including the representative professional bodies and organisations representing property owners, a full opportunity of commenting on the regulations in draft.

In addition, he promised at the Committee stage in another place to send a copy of the regulations in draft to any interested Member of Parliament. I can assure my noble friends who are concerned about this matter that this offer naturally extends to any Members of your Lordships' House who would wish to see and comment on these regulations at the draft stage. I therefore suggest to my noble friends that their fears about the two subsections are possibly exaggerated, and even if they were not, the assurances which I have given afford them fairly considerable safeguards.


I should like to thank the noble Earl for his explanation of the intentions behind these two subsections and I note his undertaking to look into the wording of the parts covered by my two proposed Amendments. I would repeat the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent. These undertakings to which he referred are passing affairs. The present Minister is in no position to bind anybody who may come after him in another Government. However, in view of those circumstances I thank the noble Earl, I note his undertaking and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.17 p.m.

VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS moved, in subsection (4) to leave out "knowingly". The noble Viscount said: I am well aware of the problem that Part II of this Bill sets out to deal with, and subsection (4) of Clause 13, with which your Lordships are now dealing, is, of course, the real "teeth" of the whole enforcement procedure. Nevertheless, I noted just now that my noble friend Lord Jellicoe said that, although he wanted the bite to be firm, he none the less wanted it to be just and fair. But I am not altogether satisfied that the wording of this subsection will, in fact, achieve the justice and fairness that he so desires.

The word, "knowingly" which is the subject of this Amendment is, of course, in my attempted Amendment of this clause replaced by the defence that is set out in Amendment No. 8, and I have done it in this way because I foresee this situation arising. There may be a landlord, be he the most wily and most deplorable there is, or be he an innocent and entirely fair and just one, who will know that he is contravening the regulations, but will, none the less, have some extremely good reason why he has not been able to do anything about it. When he comes to be prosecuted for this offence he will not be able to put any defence at all in the court. Provided that he knows about it, as the clause stands he is bound to be convicted. So we have the ludicrous situation where an innocent man, or a man only technically guilty, will be prosecuted for this offence and the court can protect him only by convicting, him, and then not punishing him at all. I think this is a farcical situation which should, if possible, be put right. I understand that there are grave difficulties here, in that any relaxation may result in the wily landlord who exploits the multiple ownership house evading the net, and I have put forward this Amendment as a suggestion. Although I have no doubt that my noble friend will, in his usual kind and apologetic way, point out the errors of drafting, none the less beg, to move.

Amendment moved— Page 15. line 13, leave out ("knowingly").—(Viscount Colville of Culross.)


My noble friend has been lucid and persuasive, as we expected him to be. I must confess that this particular part of the Bill has rather troubled me at times. We all wish to catch the guilty landlord but 'we do not wish to catch an innocent one; and, even with the guilty one, we want to be certain, as my noble friend said, that our bite is not only firm but also fair.

My noble friend has explained in what way he feels that the present clause might work unfairly. There is a real risk, as I understand his view, that the present drafting of the Bill will bear hardly upon the person who, through circumstances quite beyond his control, contravenes, or fails to comply with, the regulations. However, I am advised—and here I am putting myself into the trap which no doubt my noble friend has set for me—that the more or less innocent offender would be worse off under my noble friend's Amendment than he is under the Bill as drafted. His Amendment makes the offence absolute, with a proviso. In certain circumstances, all the local authority therefore has to show under his amended clause, is that there has been a contravention or failure to comply with the regulations. Thus, should the accused person fail, perhaps again through circumstances beyond his control, to put in an appearance in order to give his explanation to the court, the chances are that the court will feel obliged to convict him.

I suggest to my noble friend, with the deference that an amateur in this field should show towards an expert, that this is a serious objection to his Amendment at least as drafted. Apart from this, I rather wonder whether the danger he feels is not more apparent than real. We all know that the powers in this Bill are designed to catch the notoriously unscrupulous people. The local authorities know these people only too well. It is therefore in the highest degree unlikely that they would decide to prosecute a person who had unavoidably, though not in ignorance, contravened the regulation. Moreover, should a local authority nevertheless embark on such an ill-judged prosecution the courts would, I suggest, provide the accused person with adequate protection.

My noble friend has, I think, argued that even in these circumstances the courts would be obliged to convict, even though they inflicted no penalty. Of course, if they convict he is then liable for the increased penalties on a second conviction. I am advised that my noble friend's fears on this score are groundless. The wing of subsection (1) of Clause 13, of course, covers all the other subsections in this clause. Under this subsection the Minister is empowered by regulation to make provision—and here I quote For the purpose of ensuring that the person managing a house — observes proper standards of management"; and the regulations may require the person managing the house to ensure the repair, maintenance … of the house. I can give my noble friend a categorical assurance that the regulations which my right honourable friend will promulgate under Clause 13 (1) will make it crystal clear, if ever that is possible in regulations, that the duty of the manager has been discharged if he has taken all steps within his power to comply with the regulations. There will therefore be no question of a conviction as a result of a manager, being thwarted in his intentions, not complying with the regulations through reasons quite outside his control.

Not only can I give my noble friend this assurance but I can also add the additional assurance which I have just given to our mutual noble friend Lord Broughshane. I told the noble Lord that not only would the regulations come before the House under the well-known Negative Resolution procedure, but that my right honourable friend would take steps to ensure that noble Lords who are interested in this matter would themselves be able to see and comment on these draft regulations. I hope that in those circumstances, and given those assurances, my noble friend will possibly see his way not to press his Amendment.


I am most grateful for the assurance given by my noble friend. This seems an extremely technical method of protecting the innocent citizen, and I had hoped that by this Amendment, rather than by groping about in the labyrinth of regulations, the defence of the ordinary innocent person might be found in the reasonableness and the grasp of the facts which the courts show on these occasions. That is the reason why I drafted the Amendment in this fashion. However, if my noble friend cannot think of any other words than "knowingly", and if he can think of no other defence which would paraphrase it or make the language more simple and clear, I will withdraw the Amendment. I do not know whether my noble friend can hold out any hope on the actual drafting of this subsection at this stage.


I shall, of course, be glad to have a look at the possibilities, but I am not particularly hopeful. Certainly between now and Report I will have another look at the whole thing, but I am not specially optimistic.


I thank my noble friend. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 13 agreed to.

Clause 14 [Power to require doing of work to make good neglect of proper standards of management]:

5.27 p.m.

VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS moved, in subsection (5) to leave out "the local authority may in writing allow" and to insert: the court, or in writing, the local authority may allow". The noble Viscount said: This is another small and, I am sorry to say, legal point, but your Lordships will see that by subsection (5), the period of 21 days from the service of the notice during which someone who has had the notice served on him may appeal can be extended only by the local authority, and that the courts—in this case the magistrates' court, and in Clause 17 the County Court—have no power whatever, under the Bill as drafted, to extend the time.

I am slightly troubled about this because your Lordships will see that in Clause 14 (2) there is what, on the face of it, appears to be a rather strange method of serving one of these notices. I am led to suppose that this is not without precedent, but none the less I have a vague fear that in certain cases this method of service may result in the notice not coming to the attention of 'the manager of the house until after the 21 days' period is up. If this should happen and this landlord should be one of those notorious ones whom the local authority is out to catch, then I feel that there would be a grave temptation on the part of the local authority not to extend his time. Therefore, even if he had good grounds to appeal, and good grounds to expect to be successful, he would be excluded from his rights under the Bill. That is an extreme case. There may be other circumstances, too, where it would be right for the court to be able to say that in the particular cir- cumstances, there should be an extension of the time. I hope that your Lordships will think that this is a power that should be given to the courts in this particular case, and I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 16, line 12, leave out from ("as") to the end of the line and insert the said new words.—(Viscount Colville of Culross.)


Once again, while I fully appreciate my noble friend's point, I feel that I cannot advise your Lordships to accept his Amendment. In fact, if I may be so bold as to say so, I think I have rather less compassion for this Amendment than I had for his previous one. The main snag about it is that it altogether misses the real point of a fixed period of appeal. That point is to make certain that there is a fixed date for the purpose of Clause 18 (1), which empowers the local authority, if a notice of works has not been complied with, to do the work themselves and recover the cost.

To introduce a provision which would enable a prospective appellant to apply to the courts for an extension of the appeal period would stultify that power and so destroy one of the most effective provisions of Part II of the Bill for ensuring that houses in multiple occupation are put in satisfactory condition without undue delay. Perhaps in using the word "destroy" I was probably slightly over-stating the case. But certainly I think it would seriously damage the power. The real bugbear for local authorities is the possibility of endless delay and procrastination on the part of "hot" landlords. My noble friend's Amendment would open the door to precisely that sort of procrastination.

I must admit that there may be cases where a notice has failed to reach a prospective appellant through no fault of his own. He may have been called off at short notice to bury his grandmother in Tibet. But in that event the penalties to which he would be exposed would not be all that horrible. There is no real question here of failure to appeal involving the person concerned in criminal proceedings. At the most, he would find himself, under Clause 18 (3), having to pay for the works on his own house which the local authority had carried out. I grant that the local authority might possibly decide to prosecute under Clause 13 (4) for an offence, resulting in a state of affairs which they also thought fit to deal with by a notice of words under Clause 14. However, although there can be some overlapping, in practice the criminal sanction in Clause 13 and the powers of Clause 14 are, as a matter of law, I am told, quite distinct. If a defendant to criminal proceedings under Clause 13 (4) satisfied the court that he had not knowingly contravened the regulations he would be acquitted, even though the local authority had properly served notice under Clause 14.

Finally, I would point out to my noble friend that there are perfectly well established and proper precedents for the fixed time limit proposed in this Bill. I could quote him a whole series of them. I will quote four. There are Section 290 of the Public Health Act, 1936; Section 13 (3) of the Coast Protection Act, 1949; Section 11 (1) of the Housing Act, 1957, and Section 274 (2) of the Highways Act, 1959. None of those has the safeguard of the permission by the local authority to extend the period of appeal which we have worked into this particular clause. This clause, in fact, goes further in helping the prospective appellant than do those clauses in those other Acts.

To sum up, I would suggest to your Lordships, for all my noble friend's advocacy, that there are three solid grounds for not accepting his Amendment. In the first place, I would grant that, through some fluke, a prospective appellant might miss the appeal bus; but in that event he would not be exposing himself to any very crippling penalties—certainly not to criminal action. Secondly, to accept my noble friend's Amendment would be seriously to impair the effectiveness of Clause 18, a key provision of this Bill; and, finally, as I have just mentioned, the appeals procedure embodied in this Bill has perfectly respectable antecedents in legislation.


I thank my noble friend for that explanation. I am also interested in his account of the origin of some of the landlords with whom we are now dealing. However, with those words I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 14 agreed to.

Clause 15 agreed to.

Clause 16 [Provision of means of escape from fire]:


this is a purely drafting Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 118, line 24, leave out ("subsection") and insert ("section").—(Earl Jellicoe.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 16, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 17 agreed to.

Clause 18 [Carrying out of works by local authority]:


This also is a drafting Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 19, line 37, leave out from ("under") to ("is") in line 38, and insert ("section fourteen, section fifteen or section sixteen of this Act").—(Earl Jellicoe.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 18, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 19 and 20 agreed to.

Clause 21 [Application of ss. 12 to 15 to certain buildings comprising separate dwellings]:


I would suggest that, with your permission, we might take this Amendment and the two Amendments which stem from it, 14 and 15, together. These three Amendments are all linked. Their object is to clarify the drafting of subsection (1) (a) and (b) of Clause 21 and to remove a possible ambiguity. In another place my right honourable friend explained that, even though there may be a dozen or more dwellings in a block of flats, it was intended that the clause should bite if at least two of the dwellings were in multiple occupation. This interpretation was questioned, and it was suggested that it could be held that subsection (1) (b), as drafted, meant that each dwelling in the block of flats must be in multiple occupation. It is not intended that subsection (1) (b), should be interpreted in that way, and Amendment 14 puts the matter beyond doubt. Amendment 15 is a small consequential drafting one. Amendment 13 has been introduced to remove any similar ambiguity about the interpretation of subsection (1) (a). It is intended that the clause should apply to a tenement building if at least two of the dwellings have shared W.C.s and washing facilities. I beg to move. This is a purely I beg to move.

Amendments moved—

Page 24, line 20, leave out from ("but") to end of line 21 and insert ("comprises separate dwellings, two or more of which do not")

Page 24, line 25, leave out from ("but") to end of line 26 and insert ("comprises separate dwellings, two or more of which are")

Page 24, line 27, leave out ("is").—(Earl Jellicoe.)

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Clause 21, as amended, agreed to.

5.39 p.m.

VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS moved, after Clause 21 to insert the following new clause:

Registers of houses in multiple occupation

"—(1) At any time not less than three years from the commencement of this Act a local authority may make and submit to the Minister for confirmation by him a scheme authorising, the local authority to compile and maintain a register for their area—

  1. (a) of houses which, or a part of which, are let in lodgings, or which are occupied by members of more than one family, and
  2. (b) of buildings which comprise separate dwellings, two or more of which do not have a sanitary convenience and personal washing facilities accessible only to those living in the dwelling,
and the Minister may if he thinks fit confirm the scheme with or without modifications.

(2) A scheme under this section shall not come into force until it has been confirmed and, subject to that, shall come into force on such date as may be fixed by the scheme, or if no date is so fixed, at the expiration of one month after it is confirmed.

(3) A scheme under this section need not be for the whole of the local authority's area and need not be for every description of house or building falling within paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (1) of this section, and

  1. (a) may prescribe the particulars to be inserted in the register, and
  2. (b) may, as regards houses and buildings first becoming registrable after the compilation of the register, make it the duty of persons prescribed by the scheme to notify the local authority of the fact that the house or building appears to be registrable, and to give the local authority all or any of the prescribed particulars as regards the house or building, and
  3. (c) may make it the duty of persons prescribed by the scheme to notify the local authority of any change which makes it necessary to alter the particulars inserted in the register as regards any house or building.

(4) Without prejudice to the provisions of section one hundred and seventy of the principal Act (under which a local authority may require information as to the ownership of premises), a local authority may, for the purpose of ascertaining whether a house or building is registrable, and of ascertaining the particulars to be entered in the register as regards the house or building, require any person who has an estate or interest in, or who lives in, the house or building to state in writing any information in his possession which the local authority may reasonably require for that purpose, and any person who, having been required by a local authority in pursuance of this subsection to give to them any information, fails to give that information, or knowingly makes any misstatement in respect thereof, shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding ten pounds.

(5) A scheme under this section may make a contravention or failure to comply with any provision in the scheme an offence under the scheme, and a person guilty of an offence under the scheme shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding ten pounds.

(6) At least one month before a scheme is submitted to the Minister for confirmation by him, notice of intention to submit the scheme shall be given in one or more newspapers circulating in the district of the local authority,

(7) As soon as a scheme under this section is confirmed by the Minister, the local authority shall publish in one or more newspapers circulating in their district a notice stating the fact of such a scheme having been confirmed, and describing any steps which will have to be taken under the scheme by those concerned with registrable houses and buildings (other than steps which have only to be taken after a notice from the local authority), and naming a place where a copy of the scheme may be seen at all reasonable hours.

(8) A copy of a scheme confirmed by the Minister shall be printed and deposited at the offices of the local authority by whom it was made, and shall at all reasonable hours be open to public inspection without payment, and a copy thereof shall, on application, be furnished to any person on payment of such sum, not exceeding one shilling for every copy, as the local authority may determine.

(9) A scheme under this section may vary or revoke a previous scheme thereunder: and a local authority may at any time with the consent of the Minister revoke a scheme by an order, notice of which shall be published by them in one or more newspapers circulating in their district.

(10) The production of a printed copy of a scheme purporting to be made by a local authority, upon which is indorsed a certificate purporting to he signed by the clerk to the authority stating—

  1. (a) that the scheme was made by the local authority,
  2. (b) that the copy is a true copy of the scheme,
  3. (c) that on a specified date the scheme was confirmed by the Minister,
shall be prima facie evidence of the facts stated in the certificate, and without proof of the handwriting or official position of an; person purporting to sign the certificate in pursuance of this section."

The noble Viscount said: This very lengthy Amendment is something which I hope may appeal to my noble friend Lord Jellicoe. Ever since this Bill was first introduced into another place, there has been considerable pressure that some sort of registration of houses for multiple occupation should be brought into existence and that the local authorities should therefore have some better knowledge of the problem as it exists in their areas. The difficulty, as I understand it, about having a compulsory register of this kind is, first, that it would be extremely burdensome on the local authority concerned; and, secondly, that this problem is by no means universal, and there are many towns which would be forced to have a compulsory register when they really did not have the problem at all and it would therefore merely be wasting their time and the time of their oflicers. None the less, it must be for the local authority to compile any register such as this, because if it is left merely to the landlords, their characters have already been sufficiently outlined for your Lordships to understand that they will take every opportunity of not putting themselves on the register. I have therefore suggested in this clause a permissive power to make such a register as this, but the power is in the most flexible of all possible forms.

It suggests the definition of houses in multiple occupation to which the register should apply, and the third subsection of the clause explains that the register need not deal with all of these houses. For instance, it may deal only with houses, only with flats or only with tenements, according to the way the problem exists in that particular local authority's area. Moreover, not even all the area need be covered if this is not considered necessary. I do not think that this is open to any form of abuse so that a great burden will be laid upon perfectly innocent landlords. On the other hand, I feel that it will give local authorities an opportunity, after the three years during which time they may examine and explore the problem are up, to collect together all the information of these multiple-occupied houses in a central register, which will make it very much easier for them thereafter to deal with the situation.

The clause as it is drafted I think gives proper protection by way of enabling people to be told about any such scheme. There are provisions for the proposed scheme to be circularised in a newspaper both before it is submitted to the Minister and after it is confirmed by him if he does confirm it, and a copy of the scheme is to be available for not more than a shilling at the offices of the local authority. But the whole essence of this is flexibility, and I hope it will be sufficiently flexible for each local authority to be able to make it apply to the particular circumstances of the problem which faces them. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— After Clause 21, insert the said new clause.— (Viscount Colville of Culross.)


I have agreed with all the other Amendments that the noble Viscount has moved this afternoon, and he has moved this Amendment, also, in a very persuasive and lucid way, as everyone has agreed, but he has not persuaded me on this Amendment, and I hope that the Government and this Committee will not agree to it. I know the arguments that have already been put forward as to the amount of work a register would give to a local authority, and the noble Viscount has tried, by this selective process, to minimise that amount of work and to leave it to the local authority to decide. Personally, I think that, in dealing with some of the evils with which we have to deal, we are sometimes too inclined to feel that we must have a survey and a register when there is plenty of knowledge which we already have and when what we really want is action. I am certain that for some time to come local authorities will be quite aware of the houses in which the conditions are not good and where they ought, under Part II, to be serving notices. I think also that, as time goes on, the information will come from neighbours and through local councillors; and I do not think there is as much difficulty as some people believe in finding out.

However, that is not my main reason for hoping that this Amendment will not be accepted. I feel that it will act as a deterrent against people who really want to do a good job—in other words, people who are living in houses that are too large for them and who wish to let part of their houses to other people. It seems to me that the minute you begin to say, "If you are going to do that, then you must register with the local authority, or you may have to register, and you must inform the local authority of any change", and so on, as provided in this Amendment, many people who might otherwise do exactly what we want them to do—namely, have other families in their homes as well as themselves—will be deterred from doing it. I know that it may be said, "After all, what is it to register? We are not saying that these people are not to let their houses. All we are saying, if this Amendment is accepted, is that they will have to inform the local authority", but I am quite certain that there are a great many people who would not do it. They would be told, "You have to comply with certain regulations", and they would not do it.

I am not saying that these people would not have the right accommodation in their houses. Over and over again we are told that there are people who are living in houses which are too large for them and who ought to move. I always have a great deal of sympathy for them, because they have lived in these houses for a long time, and they are their homes. But one of the ways to get round those difficulties is to let part of that house to someone else, or to another family. Then we say that that is multiple occupation. It is, but it can be very good multiple occupation. These people really can help in the housing problem, but I am certain that once you tell them, "If you do this you must register with the local authority", then in many cases they will not be willing to do so.

I shall probably be told by the noble Viscount that the local authority would probably not want to register houses of this sort. To that I would reply as I did previously, when I said that I thought the wording was too vague and that too much power was being given to the Minister to do what he thought was right. I would say that, if we did that, we were giving too much power to the local authority to choose which area or which houses were to be registered and which were not; and as long as registration is there I think that difficulty will arise. I think we are all in agreement as to the type of house that we want local authorities to deal with, and I would suggest that we let the local authorities concentrate on those houses —and we know there will be plenty of them to get on with—and that in the meantime the other houses, which are being let in a proper and decent way and are providing homes for other people, should be left. I would say to your Lordships, please do not frighten those people off, because they are helping to solve the housing problem to-day to a great extent.


The purpose of this Amendment is not different in substance from the purpose of the Amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Silkin and myself. We both seek registration in different ways. With regard to what the noble Baroness, Lady Horsbrugh, has said, I am sure she will recall that for some thirty years local authorities were empowered to make bylaws requiring information from which they could, of course, form a register. So far as I know, many of the leading local authorities who have had this problem acutely did have by-laws—which were, of course, approved by the Minister—and, so far as I know, this did not prove to be burdensome upon them.


Will the noble Lord forgive my interrupting? It seems to me that one of the difficulties we have to-day is that there have not been enough of the larger houses divided, not for conversion, but for sharing, and I feel that if we had not had these regulations and by-laws in the past there might have been more sharing of houses under the schemes which we have to-day.


I am sure the noble Baroness will not misunderstand me when I say that that is entirely conjecture. So far as I know, those who have been responsible for operating these bylaws have never felt them to be an encumbrance or a hindrance to the performance of the duties which fell upon them. However, the point of my noble friend Lord Silkin and myself is that the proposals in Part II of this Bill, while they strengthen the powers of the local authority with regard to maintenance and management under a code of management to be prescribed by regulations, will not make these powers available for all houses let in lodgings. The powers will apply only to those which have so far deteriorated as not to be reasonably suitable for occupation by the individual or by the householder, or both.

There is no power to require the registration of either existing or proposed houses let in lodgings; and although the powers contained in the Bill will undoubtedly assist in dealing with the worst cases of houses let in lodgings, they will do nothing, I submit, to prevent the establishment of additional houses, and they are unlikely to prevent either existing or additional houses from deteriorating to a pitch where the local authority may intervene. It will still be possible for anyone to establish a new let in lodgings without proper facilities and to overcrowd, and no offence will have been committed until the code of management has been applied, or a notice to abate overcrowding has been served. If families are displaced by a landlord from a house let in lodgings, there is a moral, if not a legal, obligation (to which I referred in an earlier speech) upon the housing authority to find shelter for the homeless. In short, a rehousing problem arises.

The purpose of our Amendment is to secure that the local authority shall have information so that they can take steps to prevent, as well as to remove, defects and the absence of proper facilities and amenities. As regards the difference between the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Silkin and myself and that of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, his proposal will not operate earlier than three years hence; indeed, it may never operate at all. It is going to be at the option, I gather, of the local authority, and it provides for a scheme which, I should have thought, was a little by way of duplication of the proposals in the code which the Minister himself will be under obligation to provide and enforce. But the chief difference, and the reason why my noble friend Lord Silkin and I prefer our Amendment to that of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, is that it is to apply at once and not wait the three years. Much can happen in three years—indeed, we hope a good deal will hapen so far as these multiple-occupied houses are concerned. In those circumstances, whilst I support the principle underlying the noble Viscount's Amendment, I prefer our own.

5.53 p.m.


Looking through the Marshalled List of Amendments, I am glad to see that my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross has no more of what I might call the more troublesome Amendments up his sleeve. Therefore I do not feel I can be accused of "buttering him up" for some sly purpose if again I congratulate him on the skill and clarity with which he moved his Amendment. I am in some slight difficulty since I am not quite certain whether we are discussing both Amendments on this theme at the present time, but I hope that to some extent my remarks can play over both.

As my noble friend has suggested, the arguments for and against registration were exhaustively discussed at Committee stage in another place. I do not think it is any secret that some members of both the major Parties (I see that the minor Party is not here at the moment) thought that some power of registration should be introduced into this Bill. While resisting that suggestion, my right honourable friend made it clear that his mind on this point was far from closed. Before I come hack to my noble friend's Amendment, I feel that I should advise your Lordships why I cannot honestly suggest to them that they should support the Amendment standing in the names of the two noble Lords opposite. That Amendment, I suggest, is open to the pretty powerful objections which led my right honourable friend in another place to resist any form of widespread or compulsory registration. I think I can summarise the main objections to the widespread and compulsory registration procedure in the following terms.

First, the noble Lords' Amendment would embrace every house in practically any form of multiple occupation in every part of the country. It would involve notification of houses in multiple occupation which are well run and which give no cause for concern whatsoever. I think we should not ignore that the great majority of houses so let give no cause for complaint, and are not in fact in a condition which calls for intervention by the local authority. Secondly, each of the 1,500 local authorities in England and Wales would receive notification whether or not multiple occupation gave rise to any problems in their areas. The areas which have to cope with this difficult and intractable problem are a pretty small minority of this total, in how many rural districts, for example, is this a real and pressing problem?

Thirdly, such a widespread requirement would cause a quite needless amount of work in many local authority offices. I need hardly remind noble Lords that many local authorities are short of staff. This requirement would involve them in diverting effort from perhaps more pressing problems, like slum clearance, or indeed carrying out the very important provisions of Part II of the Bill. Of course, if local authorities who have this problem on their hands were not aware of where to look for these houses, widespread registration would obviously be needed. But my information—and I know there is a possible argument on this on both sides—is that the local authorities concerned know pretty well Which are the worst houses in their areas. I think that is a point which my noble friend Lady Horsbrugh made, and it was certainly my experience the other day when I was taken to see these houses. The local people knew only too well where to take me. The noble Lords' scheme, therefore, would, I suggest, not only waste effort but would also misdirect effort.

I think There are also a number of technical objections to it which perhaps it is not necessary for me to elaborate, though I shall be glad to if noble Lords wish it. Therefore, I would suggest to your Lordships that there are pretty substantial reasons why you should not accept the Amendment standing in the names of the two noble Lords opposite, although its aim and the strategy behind it is one which we all share. I think we are talking in terms of tactics here.

I feel that the same objections do not apply to my noble friend's Amendment. Under his new clause, as he has said, it will be left to each individual authority to consider, in the light of the conditions in their area, and also in the light of the practical experience which they have gained in applying the enforcement powers of Part II of this Bill, whether anything could usefully be achieved by introducing a scheme of registration. If of course, the fears of the dangers foreseen by my noble friend Lady Horsbrugh were shared by that local authority, as well they might be, then they would not introduce the scheme. I have a feeling that one of the virtues of my noble friend's Amendment is that it would take account of the differing circumstances in the differing areas of different local authorities.

The clause which he has suggested to your Lordships also avoids most of the objections which would result from a general scheme of registration applicable to the country as a whole. The great majority of houses in multiple occupation give no cause for concern.


I do not know.


The noble Lord says, "I do not know," but certainly that is the information which is in the hands of the Ministry which I am representing.


I believe it was the case in Birmingham that, when they adopted by-laws under the 1925 Act, the information thus obtained was horrifying and surprising.


As the noble Earl is doubtless aware, Birmingham is one of the local authorities which would like to have the powers his Amendment would provide. There is no secret about that. But if they were to put forward a suitable scheme, under my noble friend's Amendment, in three years' time, in the light of the experience gained in this, my right honourable friend would have authority to approve such a scheme. But I think that there is a great deal in Birmingham and elsewhere which local authorities could do, without the power which the noble Lord's Amendment would place in their hands.


Birmingham deserves a compliment from the Minister and not any questioning of what it has done. Birmingham has done a magnificent job.


The noble Lord has entirely mistaken what I said, if he thinks that I was in any way criticising Birmingham or any other local authority. That was far from my intention. It was he who put the name of Birmingham forward on this occasion.

To resume, it is certainly my information that multiple occupation, in its more objectionable forms, is limited to some areas of some larger cities and the problem can assume quite different characteristics from place to place. My noble friend's suggested Amendment has the considerable advantage of making it possible for local authorities to formulate a scheme best suited to the conditions of their areas. Where a local authority considers it unnecessary to introduce a scheme to cover the whole of its district, which may well be the case, it can limit the scheme to any part or parts of the district where conditions call for this additional means to supplement the direct power of Part II of the Bill. Therefore, I suggest, despite what my noble friend Lady Horsbrugh said (and I am sorry to disagree a little with her on this occasion), that my noble friend's Amendment has substantial advantages over that of the noble Lords opposite.

While I entirely agree with their basic object, as we all surely do, it has certain disadvantages. As I see it, my noble friend's Amendment gets the priorities right, whilst theirs does not. There are many 'practical things which can be done now under this Bill. His Amendment is selective in its operation, but theirs is, if I may say so without an offensive use of the term, promiscuous. It relies on a permissive approach—I think that was the phrase my noble friend used—rather than compulsory methods. Whilst advising your Lordships to reject the Amendment standing in the name of noble Lords apposite, I would suggest that the new clause proposed by my noble friend may well be acceptable.

It has already been made clear on a number of occasions that Part II of the Bill is cutting into new ground. Although I understand that my noble friend may have had some technical assistance in preparing his Amendment, I would not suggest that it is necessarily word perfect. But your Lordships might consider approving it at this stage, and if you feel that it can be improved at a later stage, then I am sure that we can all look at any suggestions that are brought forward.


The reward has at last been achieved, and I am grateful to my noble friend for his most hearty welcome to this Amendment. Of course, it is exactly the same point about which the noble Lord, Lord Latham, has been talking. I agree that there is a three-year limit before any register under this proposed clause can come into operation, but I was advised that this was quite inevitable in any case. Therefore, it seems to me better to have it, even in three years' time, rather than not have one at all.

I think that my noble friend Lord Jellicoe has dealt fairly fully with the objections which my noble friend Lady Horsbrugh feared might result. I would again point out that the sort of houses about which I think she was worried need not go into any such scheme put forward by local authority. But there is the other side of it. However worthy a person might be who wishes to share his or her house, that house should still be kept up to a proper standard. If there is any danger of its not being kept up, it is quite fair that it should go on the register. This is the other side of the problem the noble Lady put forward and I am not altogether convinced by her objections. However, I willingly fall in with the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Jellicoe.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clauses 22 to 30 agreed to.

6.8 p.m.

LORD SILKIN moved, after Clause 30 to insert the following new clause:

Houses let out as several dwellings

".—(1) Where a house or part of a house is let in lodgings or to more than one family the person managing the house or the part thereof so let shall give notice in writing to the local authority—

  1. (a) if the house or the part thereof is so let on the 1st of September, 1961, within three months of that date;
  2. (b) if the house or the part is so let after the 1st of September, 1961, within one month from the date of such letting.

(2) In each case the notice shall contain the following particulars:—

  1. (a) the total number of rooms in the house or part so let;
  2. (b) the total number of rooms let or proposed to be let in lodgings or for occupation by members of more than one family, and the dimension of every such room;
  3. (c) the name and address of the owner and/or the tenant of the house or part of the house.

(3) Any person failing to give such notice in accordance with this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding ten pounds."

The noble Lord said: I understand that the noble Earl is not prepared to accept this Amendment and I do not want to say much about it, because I think it has been fairly fully discussed, and since the Amendment of the noble Viscount has been accepted, I think that that has gone a fairly long way. But there are two things that I should like to say. The first is that the noble Earl is mistaken in assuming that local authorities have even reasonably full knowledge of all houses that are let in the way we contemplate. I do not think it can be so. The only way in which they can get the information is by some form of registration.

There may be some areas where the evil is greater than in others, but to the individual family living in the type of house we are talking about, it is no great comfort to be told that there are few others of that kind. To every family the deprivation of the necessities of reasonable comfort is a serious frustration of life, and to say that because there are few of them we need not take the same trouble as we should take if there were a large number, seems to me a misconception. I am familiar with a number of rural areas where houses that were originally built for one family are being sub-let. To-day they are not even entirely suitable for one family. There is a tremendous pressure for accommodation in rural areas, of which I am sure the noble Earl is aware. This pressure is almost as great as it is in urban areas. Indeed, the pressure in urban areas overflows into the rural areas, and often to such an extent that the pressure on accommodation is just as great. It seems to me, therefore, that we ought to go a stage further than the Amendment which the noble Earl has just accepted and require notification to the local authority in every case where it is proposed to sub-let.

That Amendment has been accepted, but I thought I should justify the Amendment we have put down, because, in my view, it is better, more reasonable and goes further to meet the evil against which we are directing this Bill. Furthermore, it gives the local authority the information that they need. My noble friend instanced the case of Birmingham, where they had their own information before registration which led them to believe that there were some hundreds of dwellings to which this was applicable, but when they came to register they found that it ran into thousands. If a local authority with the resources of Birmingham was so ill-informed as to the nature of the evil, one could well understand that in areas where the facilities are not so good the information would be even scantier. I feel that if one had a choice, the Amendment that we propose is preferable. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— After Clause 30, insert the said new clause. —(Lord Silkin.)


I should like to thank the noble Lord for the sympathetic terms in which he has moved this Amendment. I agree that some local authorities feel that they may not have enough information, and certain of them feel strongly that it is only through a scheme such as the noble Lord is advocating that they will obtain that necessary information. But I would suggest that they at least know of the worst cases, and those cases can be tackled effectively under the provision of Part II of the Bill as it stands at present. However, if such a local authority should wish to put forward a scheme in the light of the experience they gain on the operation of this Bill after a period of three years, and provided that they put forward a scheme which is acceptable to my right honourable friend, then they will be armed with the powers which the noble Lord is seeking for them now. I do not think that he or the Committee would wish me to make a long speech on this Amendment at this stage, as we have already discussed it quite fully in dealing with my noble friend's Amendment. I cannot advise your Lordships to accept the Amendment, especially in view of the action which the Committee have just taken in accepting my noble friend's Amendment, but I would again wish to reaffirm that we nevertheless are sympathetic with the reasons behind the noble Lord in moving it.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Clause 31:

Repairing obligations in short leases of dwelling-houses Repairing obligations

31.—(1) In any lease of a dwelling-house, being a lease to which this section applies, there shall be implied a covenant by the lessor— (b) to keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling-house— (i) for the supply of water, gas and electricity, and for sanitation (including basins, sinks, baths and sanitary conveniences but not, except as aforesaid, fixtures, fittings and appliances for making use of the supply of water, gas or electricity), and

(2) The covenant implied by this section (hereinafter referred to as the lessor's repairing covenant) shall not be construed as requiring the lessor— (b) to rebuild or reinstate the premises in the case of destruction or damage by fire, or by tempest, flood, or other inevitable accident: or


This Amendment is put down merely for the purpose of inquiring as to the difference between installations for the supply of water, gas, electricity and so on and installations for making use of the supply of water, gas, and electricity, both of which are referred to in subsection (1) (b) (i). Could we have some definition? It seems to me that this is liable to give rise to certain misunderstanding and trouble. I would instance, for example, the taps of a bath: are they installations for the supply or the use of the supply? Perhaps the noble Earl could help me, beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 32, line 2, leave out ("making use of"). —(Lord Broughshane.)


Before turning directly to my noble friend's Amendment, I feel that I should at least briefly recapitulate the reasoning which lies behind the Government's decision to introduce Clauses 31 and 32 into the Bill. There have been had cases in the past of unscrupulous landlords imposing unreasonable conditions on tenants who hold upon leases. These clauses are designed to prevent this abuse and at the same time to ensure that property, all of which is in a sense part of our national heritage, is properly looked after. The main object of Clause 31, whether we are dealing with the lease of a house or a flat, and where the letting is for less than seven years, is to place the landlord under an explicit or implied covenant to keep the structure and the main internal service installations in proper repair and working order. For this purpose, paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of the clause seeks to define as clearly as possible (though it may not have done so) those internal services and installations which should be the landlord's responsibility.

Sub-paragraph (i) seeks to draw a clear distinction between installations for the supply of water, gas and electricity and sanitation, on the one hand, and those fixtures, fittings and appliances for making use of the supply of those commodities, on the other. Thus, installations like the main supply pipes for gas and water, or electric wiring in a house, would be the landlord's responsibility under this clause, but not appliances which make use of the supply: for example, cookers, "fridges", washing machines, radios, deep freezes—




Lampshades, and the ubiquitous "telly", under this definition would still be the tenant's responsibility. On the other hand, the major bath and washing equipment in a house will be the landlord's responsibility because of the specific mention of basins, sinks, baths and sanitary conveniences in this sub-paragraph. That is the broad aim. That was at least the Government's intention here, and that was what the Parliamentary draftsmen have tried to effect.

My noble friend has cast some slight doubt on whether we have this right and has put before me something of a poser on the question of taps. I would admit that their position under the present wording is possibly a little obscure. Taps are important things, and I think we should put them in their proper place. I suggest that that would be on the landlord's side of the fence, with washers coming on the other side of the fence. Taps are quite expensive items, and when complete replacement is necessary it would seem right that the landlord should undertake the cost. Moreover, if the whole bath or basin needs replacement, it would be rather ridiculous if the landlord had to supply the bath or basin but need not supply the taps.

I cannot say that I like the Amendment, but the noble Lord has explained that it is a probing one. I hope I have explained the reason for this. I admit that he has put his finger on a piece of possibly defective drafting, so far as taps are concerned, and possibly other equally useful articles. In the light of that explanation, I wonder whether my noble friend would agree to withdraw his Amendment at this stage, on the understanding that between now and Report we will reconsider the position and, if necessary, put down a clarifying Amendment from the Government side.


Before my noble friend sits down may I ask this question? He has told us about the taps and the washers; could he tell us whose job it is to reseat a tap? Would he like to give his mind to that?


I should need very careful notice of that question.


I thank the noble Earl for his reply, and in view of his undertaking to look at the matter again I should like to withdraw the Amendment. Before doing so, perhaps he would consider the possibility of having some further definition put in. Secondly, it has been suggested that power points might be covered.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.22 p.m.

LORD BROUGHSHANE moved, in subsection (2) (b), after "accident" to insert: or by dry rot, wet rot, woodworm or other similar decay unknown to the landlord at the time of the signing of the lease. The noble Lord said: As the noble Earl has just pointed out, it is clear that the object, and indeed the effect, of Clause 30 is to substitute, in the case of short leases of dwelling-houses, for the old rule of caveat emptor, a new rule, caveat vendor. Subsection (2) of the clause, nowever, recognises that there must be limits and exceptions to this new recasting of the law. I submit that an additional exception which should here be included are the cases mentioned in the Amendment. Surely, the circumstances of dry rot or similar decay unknown to the landlord at the time of the signing of the lease should not give the tenant a right of action for damages against the landlord. It seems to me that this is a case where the recasting of the responsibility as between landlord or tenant, or buyer and seller, has perhaps gone too far. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 32, line 20, after ("accident") insert the said words.—(Lord Broughshane.)


Having myself recently suffered from an acute attack of dry rot, I have listened with some sympathy to what my noble friend has said. Nevertheless, I cannot, I fear, go so far to meet him over his rot as I did over his taps. As I understand it, his Amendment would have the effect of removing from the landlord any liability for rebuilding or reinstating the premises if they were damaged or destroyed by dry rot, wet rot, woodworm or other similar decay, unknown to the landlord at the time of the signing of the lease.

I would suggest to your Lordships that there are substantial grounds for not accepting my noble friend's Amendment. In the first place, it seems odd, at least to me, to lump dry rot, wet rot, woodworm, and what-have-you, all 'together in the same package as things like fire, tempest or flood. Surely these two classes of peril are not on all fours. Rot and decay are hazards, unpleasant though they may be, which the landlord has to face as part of his day-to-day business. The prudent landlord, by careful supervision of his property, can do much to minimise these risks. For example, he can have the property surveyed and, if necessary, a special wood survey carried out; and subsection (4) of Clause 31 gives him the requisite powers of entry. But there is no such way in which a landlord can ward off a catastrophe like fire, flood or tempest. I would admit—I know it only too well myself—that some forms of wood decay, dry rot for example, are very difficult to detect. There are many hard-luck stories, but when he is hit below the belt by dry rot, the owner-occupier has to stand the racket. If the owner-occupier is hit, why should the owner who quite properly rents his house as a source of income escape?

What is the alternative? Surely if the obligation is not to be placed squarely on the landlord it must fall either on the tenant or on no one at all. Would it be right for the tenant, with possibly only a short period of his lease still to run, to be faced with all the expense of repairing a house undermined by one of my noble friend's rots? I suggest that this would be far too heavy an obligation, especially as it is the landlord who would benefit from the expense to which the tenant was put. I think the net result would be that no one would do the repairs at all, and the house would slowly but surely degenerate. It is precisely this decay of property which we wish to avoid and which there are provisions in this Bill designed to help us to avoid. Again, while wood decay may be difficult to detect I know only too well myself how fundamental the resulting damage can be. But precisely because the damage can be structural and basic I would suggest to your Lordships that there are reasons why it should be treated on a par—as a landlord's obligation—with repairs to the structure and exterior of the house.

For these positive reasons I suggest that wood decay should not be exempted from the landlord's responsibility as my noble friend suggests. There are also negative reasons for resisting his proposal. If his Amendment were accepted a dishonest landlord could escape his responsibilities for damages under existing law by saying that he did not know of the existence of the rot or decay, even though in fact he did know of, or had good reason for suspecting, its existence. It might be extremely difficult to challenge his statement effectively. Moreover, it would give an advantage to the inefficient property owner who did not have his property surveyed regularly and thoroughly and thus, through negligence on his part, did not discover the existence of rot or decay.

I know that this may seem to bear hardly on the landlord. However, I should like to put the following considerations to my noble friend in mitigation, as it were. First, where the decay has resulted from neglect or some other action on the part of the tenant the landlord can quite properly hold him responsible because of the clear duty placed upon him under paragraph (a) of subsection (2): to use the premises in a tenantlike manner … Secondly, there is the further mitigating provision in subsection (3) for due regard to be had, to the age, character and prospective life of the house or flat in question.

Finally. I should like to draw my noble friend's attention to subsection (6) Clause 32. If a landlord is really worried about wood decay—and I agree that he may well be—then under this subsection he has an obvious remedy. He can include in his lease agreement with his tenant a suitable provision absolving him from responsibility and, provided the county court agrees, he will be in the clear. I do not think this procedure is at all onerous. Application to the court is a perfectly simple, quick and inexpensive matter, and I think the only matter about which the court would be really concerned is whether the tenant, in signing the agreement, had acted as a perfectly free agent and under no form of duress. In all these circumstances I hope that I can prevail upon my noble friend not to press his Amendment.


I entirely agree with what my noble friend has said about the undesirability of making this sort of repair the responsibility of the tenant. I wonder, however, whether he would be able to give some sort of answer to this problem. So far as I know at the moment, if it is suddenly discovered in the course of the lease that major repairs have to be done because of dry rot or worm, or some similar sort of decay, it is usually found that the lease does not provide for it at all. It is then up to the landlord and the tenant to negotiate who is going to pay for what, in terms of alternative accommodation for the tenant while the repairs go on. I wonder if it is that aspect of it which is worrying my noble friend Lord Broughshane. As I understand it, not only will the present drafting of the Bill require a landlord to put the decay right, but he will have to supply somewhere else for the tenant to live while the work is going on, and that may be onerous.


I am obliged to my noble friend for his full explanation of the circumstances. I particularly note his last suggestion, that the landlord who would find himself in that position might easily contract out of his liability. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 31 agreed to.

Remaining clauses and Schedules agreed to.