Clause 3. — (Offences in, relation to overcrowding.)

Orders of the Day — Housing Bill. – in the House of Commons on 20th May 1935.

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6.54 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Caporn Mr Arthur Caporn , Nottingham West

I beg to move, in page 3, line 5, to leave out "living," and to insert "ordinarily resident."

This Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) and myself is designed to secure what we believe the Minister intended to be carried out by the Clause. I understand that Subsection (2) was intended to provide that if a person is making a house his home on the appointed day, he shall be allowed to sleep there thereafter without committing the offence of overcrowding until such time as other accommodation can be found for the family. In order to secure that, the Clause has been drafted to say, living there on the appointed day and thereafter continually live there. I notice that in a new Sub-section which the right hon. Gentleman has himself put down he has used the words "normally reside." It has been held that the words "reside," "normally reside" or "resident" in a number of Acts of Parliament would cover people who were, in fact, absent from the house on any particular day provided the house was their home and that they had a bona fide intention of returning to it as their home. We are a little afraid that the word "living" which, so far as we can discover, has never received any judicial definition, might be held to be a narrower term than the words "normally reside" or the word "resident," especially having regard to the fact that the new Sub-section (4) will contain the words "normally reside" and not "living." If the narrower interpretation were given to the word, it would follow, of course, that a wife who was absent, say, in hospital, or a child who was away living with an aunt or friend, or a father or son who was away on the appointed day far business purposes, could not thereafter sleep in the house if it thereby became over crowded. I feel certain that that cannot be the intention of the Minister, and I hope that he will accept this Amendment in order to make clear what I believe to be his intention.

6.57 p.m.

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

As my hon. Friend said, the word "resident" has been, if I may so put it, illuminated by a number of judicial decisions, but I think they were mostly concerned with Statutes having a quite different subject matter. There are many decisions as to the meaning of "resident" for the purposes of income tax, but that is totally different from the matters which a court would have to consider in dealing with this Bill. We think it rather an advantage that the word "living" has not been judicially construed. Clearly, the fact that somebody was away for a short visit or was in hospital would not prevent it being held that he was living in a house on the appointed day, and it would be unfortunate to encumber, as it were, the argument on this Clause by a word which has received a number of constructions, some of them artificial constructions, in other Statutes. But having said so much, I will certainly consider the point which the hon. Member has put. I do not myself feel any danger at the moment that the courts would take the narrow view, and say that a father, mother, son or daughter who was living in the house but did not happen to sleep there on the appointed day, being away for a temporary purpose, was not an occupant of the house. The Committee will note that sleeping in the house is contrasted in the previous line with living in the house. It is really a matter of construction. We have used the word "living" and we will consider whether there is any necessity to put in words to make it clear that the narrow construction which has been suggested would be avoided. In view of that undertaking, I hope the hon. Member will not press his Amendment.

Photo of Mr Arthur Greenwood Mr Arthur Greenwood , Wakefield

The word "re side" is used in the Minister's own Amendment. Is there any distinction between the meaning of the word "resident" there and here?

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

In the new Sub-section the reference is not to someone normally residing in the house, but to someone who comes there by chance.

7.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

I want to refer very shortly to the point raised by the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood). As the Clause stood originally, the word "live" would fulfil the Solicitor-General's specification. Directly you put down a proviso which brings in the word "reside," it must narrow the word "live" and give it an entirely new meaning. I suggest that the Solicitor-General should alter the word in the proviso, or alter the word "live," so as to use the same word all the way through. You cannot have two different words which tend to mean the same thing in an Act of Parliament.

Photo of Mr Arthur Caporn Mr Arthur Caporn , Nottingham West

The sole object of putting this Amendment down was to draw attention to what we felt would be a difficulty. If it is to be looked into, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.2 p.m.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare , Norwich

I beg to move, in page 3, line 42, at the end, insert: (4) Where the persons sleeping in an overcrowded house include a member of the occupier's family who does not normally reside there but is sleeping there temporarily, the occupier shall not be guilty of an offence under this Section in respect of the overcrowding of the house unless the circumstances are such that he would be so guilty if that member of his family were not sleeping in the house. The object of this Amendment is to carry out a promise made during the Committee stage that there should be an exception in enforcing the overcrowding standard in the case of a boy or girl living away from home but returning to the house. Those who sat on the Committee will remember that it was generally felt that it would be a mistake to try to provide for every kind of exception, because it would make, among other things, a very unwieldy Bill. It was felt that the system of licence provided in Clause 5 would, in the main, enable exceptional circumstances to be met; but the Committee were still not satisfied and, therefore, my right hon. Friend promised to provide an Amendment which would not make it an offence by reason of the fact of a son serving in the Army or Navy and returning home, or a girl working out of town and coming to stay at the house. The word "temporarily" in the Amendment means that the boy or girl cannot continuously overcrowd the house by taking up normal residence there. The Amendment to this Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) rather enlarges the Amendment to an extent that evasion might be encouraged. I do not think anyone wants that. To allow a friend to come and stay for a long time would break down the whole provisions of Part I of the Bill. It would be very difficult for the courts to determine whether a particular lodger were a friend or not. If the House accepts the Amendment I now move, it will substantially deal with the points which were raised by several hon. Members in all parts of the Committee.

7.6 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Greenwood Mr Arthur Greenwood , Wakefield

I do not rise necessarily to oppose the Amendment, because I remember the undertaking the right hon. Gentleman gave. Like the majority of Members of this House, I am not a lawyer. The Parliamentary Secretary referred to a son or a daughter. I should like to have an explanation as to what is a member of the occupier's family. Are we speaking in terms of the Poor Law, which ranges very widely indeed, or do we mean sons or daughters of the spouses occupying the premises? I use the term "normally" in these Debates perhaps more than any other Member, but seeing that it is going into an Act I should like to have some definition as to what "normally reside" means. A member of the family "who does not normally reside"—does that mean he is working away from home and comes home at week-ends? Does it mean that he may be home three or four nights a week, but does not usually have his meals at home except at week-ends? The Parliamentary Secretary used the word "temporarily." I do not understand the technicality of the drafting of Amendments. It says: who does not normally reside there but is sleeping there temporarily. I should have thought if a person were not normally residing there, the word "temporarily" does not matter very much. I am not opposing this Amendment; I am only asking for the sake of clarity, because one does not want to move an addition to the Clause which is going to open the door a good deal wider than the right hon. Gentleman intended, or much wider than the undertaking he gave in Committee.

7.8 p.m.

Miss WARD:

I am very grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for having fulfilled the promise made to the Committee to include some provision for visitations from members of the owner's family. The introduction of this Amendment is consistent with the conciliatory spirit which both my right hon. Friend and the Parliamentary Secretary showed during the whole of the Committee stage in that they were desirous of meeting the legitimate objections of Members of the Committee to certain provisions in the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) has really raised the main issue, but am I to take it that the Amendment has been rather loosely drawn in order to provide for the necessary elasticity? Presumably the actual definition of the word "temporarily" is to be left to a decision of the courts. If I remember rightly, when the discussion took place in Committee it was rather felt that if one had put in that anybody could temporarily overcrowd a house if staying there for the purpose of gain, that would more clearly have defined what the position really was. If the definition of "member of the family" is the Poor Law definition, it is very often possible for various members to stay and pay the occupier of the house for the period of their visitation. It seems to me that perhaps the Amendment is not very specifically drawn, but that, of course, may be the intention of my right hon. Friend. I gather that I am allowed to refer to the Amendment standing in my own name.

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

Does the hon. Member propose to move her Amendment?

Miss WARD:

Not yet.

Miss WARD:

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, in line 2, after "family," to insert "or friend."

I have no desire, nor have the hon. Friends associated with me, to be tiresome, but we feel that there is a certain feeling in the country, among a large section of the community, that even with the very best social legislation in the world, and with the very best desire to improve the social conditions of the people, we are, perhaps, a little inclined to interfere too much with the liberty of the subject. It seems a little hard that on no occasion should it be possible for the owner of a house to give a friend the offer of a bed for the night without infringing the provisions of the Bill. If there could be found some way of allowing the owner of a house to extend the ordinary rules of hospitality to anyone who might want to stay, that would, generally speaking, meet the approval, at any rate, of my party in the House.

I am sorry that the Minister has not been able to find some method of providing for that very real desire. It does savour a little of class legislation, because there is a very distinct definition in the Bill of the houses which come within the purview of it. It is possible for people who are not residing in a dwelling-house within the meaning of the Act to overcrowd for the purposes of offering hospitality. I am not suggesting that they would be desirous of doing it for any other purpose except for a very short time, but it is possible, and I have known it happen in certain circumstances, that owners of houses have overcrowded them, possibly during holiday seasons, or for some specific reason. It does savour slightly of class legislation to prevent people who will be concerned with this Act from being able to offer a bed to a friend. I have no intention of pressing the Amendment, but I very much regret that we have not been able to find some way of including it, and I trust my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary can hold out some hope that in another place he will be able to meet this very reasonable objection.

7.13 p.m.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

I beg to second the Amendment.

I hope the Minister will give the matter very serious consideration. The Amendment which the hon. Member for Wall-send (Miss Ward) moved upstairs is a much better one than the Minister's, because she defined quite clearly the class of person to whom the exemption was to apply. What is going to happen? A man of the working classes goes to see some friends and spends the evening with them. He misses the last train, or the last bus, or the last tram. The house is technically up to the limit, according to the standard of this Bill, which will then be an Act. The people wonder what is going to happen, and he says "Well, Bill, I don't mind if I shake down in the kitchen." He does that. Next morning it comes to the knowledge of an inspector, and a prosecution takes place.

Photo of Dr Christopher Addison Dr Christopher Addison , Swindon

The hon. Member seems to imagine that there will be hordes of inspectors.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

There may be. At any rate, it comes to the knowledge of the local authority and they institute a prosecution. On the first prosecution made of that kind there is going to be a local riot. It is just folly. It is no good the Parliamentary Secretary saying people will not prosecute in these circumstances. It is their duty to prosecute. It is not the business of the Parliamentary Secretary to encourage people not to enforce a Bill he is piloting through Parliament. It is a Bill which ought to be enforced. It is creating a new offence. You ought not to have Acts of Parliament to create unnecessary offences. I am not clear about the phrase "occupier's family." I do not know whether it will be capable of a satisfactory definition. The word "friend" would, in the long run, imply anybody not normally in the house and who, quite clearly, is not paying for his night's lodging. That is the basis of what we have in mind by the Amendment to the proposed Amendment. If the Government's Amendment be put unaltered into the Bill, everybody will regard it as fussy legislation, and will become annoyed. Nothing will be gained, and the problem of overcrowding will not be solved. Overcrowding will not be brought to an end by the Government refusing to make this concession. If the Minister thinks that the words of our Amendment are too loosely drawn, perhaps he will think out words of his own, so that he can have them inserted in another place.

Photo of Mr Arthur Greenwood Mr Arthur Greenwood , Wakefield

Is there a definition of "friend"? The hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) interprets it as meaning in the long run not normally in the household and not paying for lodging.

7.17 p.m.

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

One or two questions have been asked about the drafting of the Clause, and I will endeavour to deal with them. A point, which in Committee I promised to look into, was whether the words "normally reside" mean the same as "live." I entirely accept the suggestion that if it means the same, the same word ought to be used. We must look into that point. With regard to the word "temporarily" and the phrase "members of the family," a legislative assembly in passing legislation is faced with the question whether it is to dot the "i's" and cross the "t's" of everything down to the last detail, or whether it is to use general words. Obviously the latter method is the better. If you confine this Clause to members of the family who are within the Table of consanguinity, you tie things down absolutely, whereas by using the phrase "members of the family" you allow a certain latitude. So far as I know, it is not capable of legal definition, because a fourth cousin who has never had anything to do with his fourth cousin, might be held not to be a member of the family, whereas a fourth cousin who has been brought up with his fourth cousin might very well be held to be a member of the family. I give that as a possible illustration of the wisdom of not tying ourselves down to a sort of schedule of relatives. Similarly with "temporarily." Am I to put in "not for purposes of gain," as has been suggested? It might produce an unfortunate result. A member of the family might be home on leave, and might have the chance of a job and be willing to take it. The insertion of those words might cut him out.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) inadvertently made inaccurate use of one or two phrases. She suggested that it would be impossible to offer hospitality to a friend. We are dealing only with houses which are already occupied absolutely up to the standard in the Schedule. We hope that the number will never be very large, and that it will be a diminishing number. In any legislation of this kind you can imagine hard cases. The hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) put an extreme case of a man missing his train, or whose motor car broke down, and an offence being committed because he spent the night in the kitchen or in the sitting-room. I am not impressed by my hon. Friend's argument that it is no good saying that the local authority will not prosecute because here is an offence against the law, and they must prosecute. We are dealing with certain conditions in our social life, and circumstances must arise of a technical breach of the law where there has been no intention or desire to break the law. There has been an accident which has for one night caused a breach of the law. I do not shrink from saying that, in those circumstances, it would be proper for a local authority, even if the offences were called to their attention, not to prosecute.

We appreciate the cases which have been brought forward in argument for the Amendment to the proposed Amendment, but I suggest that they are isolated cases, and that nobody could say they are very numerous. We have come to the conclusion that the latitude which would be extended and the difficulties which would be created by enlarging the circle of members in the family on some vague ground, or of including friends in the house not for purposes of gain, would create difficulties which might lead to evasion. The hard cases would not justify incurring those difficulties of evasion, and although I appreciate very much the way in which the Amendment has been moved, it is for the reasons I have given that we cannot accept the Amendment.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

The reply of the Solicitor-General was that though the law has been technically broken, prosecutions will not happen. It is only three weeks ago that a lady was fined for driving a car to take a woman to a maternity hospital—

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

I am afraid that has nothing to do with the Bill.

Miss WARD:

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment to the proposed Amendment.

Amendment to the proposed Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Proposed words there inserted in the Bill.

7.24 p.m.

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

I beg to move, in page 4, line 3, to leave out "receiving."

This is the first of three Amendments to Sub-section (4), which is concerned with the offence of a landlord who permits overcrowding. The question has been asked, what is the position, when a landlord has delegated to an agent the duties of looking after his property? Does the landlord become liable for an offence? That raises a point which has come before the courts on one or two occasions, and has given rise to difficult questions. If a man has delegated the management of his property to an agent and an offence has been committed, he could not say, although the knowledge of the offence was only the knowledge of the agent, that because he himself had not any knowledge of it an offence had not been committed. It was the general sense of the Committee that the liability of the landlord must be insisted upon in the Clause in order to prevent arguments and to make it clear that the knowledge of the agent was, in this case, the knowledge of the landlord.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In page 4, line 3, leave out "from the local authority."

In line 6, after "offence," insert: has been served upon the landlord or his agent by the local authority."—[The Solicitor-General.]

7.27 p.m.

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

I beg to move, in page 4, line 12, to leave out "he," and to insert: the landlord or any person effecting the letting on the landlord's behalf. When we were discussing this question in Committee it was pointed out that the words in Sub-section (4, b) in regard to a landlord who failed to take such steps as it was reasonably open to him to take for satisfying himself that it would not become so overcrowded, were very bad. The Sub-section is an important one and deals with the circumstances in which a landlord shall be deemed to cause or permit a house to be overcrowded. I stated that there was great force in the objection that vague words of that kind were undesirable where the Bill was creating an offence. It was stated that the Clause should define specifically the steps which a landlord ought to take, and that failure to take them should make him guilty of an offence. As a result of three Amendments which I am moving, the inquiries which the landlord has to make are defined. In the third Amendment age and sex are included, because they are material pieces of knowledge in the circumstances. I think the three Amendments will fulfil completely the undertaking which was given in Committee.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In page 4, line 15, leave out from "to," to "in quiries," in line 18, and insert "make."

In line 19, after "number," insert "age and sex."—[The Solicitor-General.]