Clause 5. — (Power of local authority to authorise the temporary use of a house by persons in excess of the permitted number).

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

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7.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare , Norwich

I beg to move, in page 5, line 38, at the end, to insert: (6) A local authority may take into consideration a seasonal increase of population in their district as an exceptional circum stance to which regard is to be had for the purposes of this Section. This is to carry out a promise made to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Thorp), who thought that taking a holiday was not an exceptional circumstance coming within Clause 5, and that therefore a local authority would not be able to give a licence to the occupier of a house to exceed the permitted number of persons in view of an exceptional circumstance. My hon. and learned Friend considered that the taking of a holiday was a normal form of activity in such a locality, and an Amendment was promised to make it quite clear that, for the purposes of the local authority's control of overcrowding under Clause 5, it should come within the range of exceptional circumstances.

7.31 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Greenwood Mr Arthur Greenwood , Wakefield

While I have no objection whatever to the making of some special provision with regard to holiday resorts, this Amendment seems to go much further than the understanding at which we arrived in Committee. As I understand the Parliamentary Secretary, a circumstance is to be regarded as an exceptional circumstance when it is not an exceptional circumstance, that is to say, when the town is a holiday resort and derives its livelihood from the letting of lodgings to visitors. Clearly, there is a case for making some provision with regard to this matter, but the new Subsection (6) seems to me to go a very long way, because in every other part of the Clause we are thinking of a house, not of a general dispensation. Indeed, if I remember rightly, that point was made in the Committee, and the title of the Clause relates to the use of a house. Now it is proposed to attach at the end of the Clause what will amount, in the case of every seaside place in this country and of every place that can claim to be a holiday resort, to a general dispensation given to it by the local authority whose interests are best served by giving this general dispensation.

I know that this is rather a late stage at which to make the suggestion, and, as I have said, I have no objection to the special circumstances of holiday resorts being taken into account, but, if local authorities are to be allowed, for a period not exceeding 12 months, to establish a permanent condition of overcrowding in their midst, there ought to be some central supervision. I have no objection to the local authority having a certain discretion in this matter, but my fear is that this new Sub-section of Clause 5 will mean that the local authority will be able itself to determine that its area shall be a permanently overcrowded area. Surely that is not what the Parliamentary Secretary meant. If, indeed, the Government have promised, or are prepared to make, a concession on this point, I think that it ought to have the approval of the Department before it becomes operative.

7.34 p.m.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare , Norwich

I am afraid I did not make my meaning plain. Although we were pressed to give a general dispensation, we thought it better to deal with the question by a particular licence in respect of a particular house—

Photo of Mr Arthur Greenwood Mr Arthur Greenwood , Wakefield

I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but, as 1 have pointed out, the new Sub-section will allow the local authority to make a general dispensation, while the whole meaning of the Clause is against a general dispensation by the local authority.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare , Norwich

It is only in respect of a particular habitation occupied by a particular occupier, and therefore I do not think it can be described as a general dispensation. With regard to the suggestion that it would allow of a permanent state of overcrowding, I would point out that the provisions of Clause 5 will still apply. The new Subsection will give power to grant an application for a licence lasting up to a year, in view of the particular circumstances of the applicant, and therefore it cannot possibly lead to a permanent state of overcrowding.

Photo of Mr Arthur Greenwood Mr Arthur Greenwood , Wakefield

I am sorry to interrupt again. I am not trying to make any kind of capital out of this; it is merely for purposes of clarity. A local authority could give a licence for 12 months, could give it again for the next 12 months, and yet again for the succeeding 12 months, so that in fact it would be permanent.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare , Norwich

Surely the right hon. Gentleman realises that holiday resorts are in rather a different position from ordinary towns, and it would be very hard to prevent visitors from going there. In the Bill a general principle is laid down, and in Clause 5 a very reasonable exception is provided for. The ex- ception applies to holiday resorts, but only in the case of working-class houses where visitors are taken. It is vitally necessary that there should be some control over those houses, but it is necessary that at certain seasons of the year the local authority should be able to say to the occupier of such a house that, if the ordinary number of persons that he is permitted to have in his house is x, in these exceptional circumstances, say in July, August and September, it shall be x 1. That seems to me to be a very reasonable thing to do.

7.39 p.m.

Photo of Dr Christopher Addison Dr Christopher Addison , Swindon

I do not want to.press this point, but I think it is right that we should ask the Solicitor-General also to give his attention to it. I am not in the least objecting to the general purpose for which the hon. Gentleman is contending; the only question is as to what the Clause will mean with these words in it. I suggest to the Solicitor-General that this new Sub-section will give a general meaning to Sub-section (1) of the Clause. Sub-section (1) is intended to operate with regard to an individual dwelling-house, but it would appear, or at all events I suggest that it might appear, that these new words might be used to give a sort of collective dispensation. Therefore, I would ask the Solicitor-General whether, notwithstanding the general words in the first line of the new Sub-section, the final words. to which regard is to be had for the purposes of this Section. will mean that it will still relate to individual applications, or, in other words, that the provision will not be of a general character? With regard to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), that a dispensation may be given for any period not exceeding 12 months, clearly, if a licence can be given for 12 months, it can scarcely be in respect of a seasonal increase in population, seeing that it would involve the whole year. Therefore, I shall be glad if the Solicitor-General will tell us what is implied by the word "seasonal," which clearly must be some thing different from 12 months If there is any dubiety, I suggest that words ought to be inserted to limit the period for which the licence may be given—say to provide for its being reviewed after the lapse of a month—or that, when a local authority propose to make a dispensation of this kind, they should be required to seek the consent of the Minister, or something of that kind. Without in the least desiring to be obstructive, I feel that we should have a correct interpretation of what the Clause will mean with these words in it.

7.43 p.m.

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham and Worthing

I think it is right to point out that during the Committee stage this matter was fully discussed, and the right hon. Gentleman then raised no objection—

Photo of Dr Christopher Addison Dr Christopher Addison , Swindon

I am not objecting; I am asking what it means.

Photo of Mr Arthur Greenwood Mr Arthur Greenwood , Wakefield

I am afraid the Noble Lord did not listen to my speech.

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham and Worthing

The two right hon. Gentlemen having already spoken, perhaps I might be permitted to say a word. During the Committee stage, after a full discussion of the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), the Solicitor-General used these words: My right hon. Friend has said that it is the clear intention that the Clause should be capable of being used for covering the point raised by the Mover of the Amendment, and, if owing to these words, it is not, or might not be, possible to use it for that purpose, my right hon. Friend will certainly undertake to introduce an Amendment on Report to see that it should be. There was a very friendly discussion in the Committee, in the course of which a number of individual cases were referred to, and I think there was no doubt as to what was in the mind of the Committee.

7.44 p.m.

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

As my Noble Friend has said, this point was discussed very fully upstairs, but I make no complaint of the fact that it has been raised here. I should like to tell the House just how the discussion arose. The Clause deals with cases in which, during the months of July, August and September, very large numbers of people go to certain places for their holidays. Clearly that is a case which ought to be dealt with, and Clause 5 is in the Bill to deal with it. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Thorp) referred to a very narrow construction that had been put on the words "exceptional circumstances" where they occurred in other Statutes in a rather different context—

Photo of Mr Linton Thorp Mr Linton Thorp , Nelson and Colne

My hon. and learned Friend will forgive me; the words in that case were "special occasion."

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

The word "special" applies both to occasions and to circumstances. It was suggested that the principle in that case, applied to this Bill, might lead the courts to say that the localities with which we are concerned would not be entitled to consider a large influx of holiday visitors as a special circumstance. The right hon. Gentleman opposite shakes his head, but that is the context in which I am giving my explanation. We said we would make it quite clear that the words "exceptional circumstances" in the Bill should not include a circumstance such as that. That being the purpose of the Amendment, it is obvious that it was not our intention to enlarge, and the Amendment does not contain anything which would enlarge, the powers of the Clause; it simply extends the matters which the local authority may consider. As regards the word "seasonal," if my right hon. Friend will look at the wording of the Amendment he will see that the words are: take into consideration a seasonal in crease of population…as an exceptional circumstance. All that that means is, that when they are operating Sub-section (1), which gives them power to grant individual licences for special circumstances they may take into account the seasonal flow of visitors. That, I think, further answers the second question put by the right hon. Gentleman as to whether this entitles them to give a licence for a year. The answer is clearly "No," because no one could apply for a licence based on the fact that there was a. seasonal flow of visitors for any other period than that during which the seasonal flow continued.

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

In the holiday season, or whatever clearly is seasonal in practice. I was asked as to the position every successive year, and as far as that is concerned it will be dealt with by the local authority in the same way as any special circumstances.

Photo of Mr Arthur Greenwood Mr Arthur Greenwood , Wakefield

It is continuing special circumstances.

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

It is continuing special circumstances operating for a limited period during successive years. One imagines that if a particular occupier of a working-class house obtained a licence for two lodgers for the holiday season, it would be right that she should get a, licence the following season. She would have to apply each year.

7.47 p.m.

Photo of Mr Linton Thorp Mr Linton Thorp , Nelson and Colne

What my hon. and learned Friend has said with regard to this Amendment coincides with my recollection and view of the undertaking given upstairs. I did not raise this question in any objectionist spirit or in any other spirit than that of wishing to ensure that when the Bill became an Act there should be no question and difficulty as to what the position was to be with regard to the big influx at seaside and other places in the Summer season. I pointed out that, as a matter of drafting, it might be regarded as impossible for the local authority to give a licence for the number of persons accommodated in a house to be increased because it might be said that there were no exceptional circumstances involved owing to the fact that a great many people went to the seaside for a summer season, and that that was rather the rule than the exception, and that if these words were read in conjunction with the condition preceding of the power of the local authority under Clause 5 with regard to licences, some captious person might take advantage of the local authority. Having raised that question rather on the technical construction of the Clause as it stood, my hon. and learned Friend said that he Would look into it, and I think that the words proposed in the Amendment meet the case.

7.49 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Greenwood Mr Arthur Greenwood , Wakefield

I should like to ask the Solicitor-General a question. I am not, as the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) assumed, opposing the Amendment in the least. The Amendment says, "a seasonal increase of population," and is it assumed that there is one season in the year? I am still in difficulty as to the period of the year for which licences may be granted. Most of the popular seaside resorts have seasons in the sense that they become overcrowded at Christmas, the New Year, Easter, Whitsuntide and the summer months and so on. I raise this question in order to suggest that the Solicitor-General should look at the Clause again before it goes finally through this House.

7.50 p.m.

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

I think that these words exactly carry out the intention, as I understood it, of the Committee. "Seasonal" means that in order to bring yourself within the Clause you have to show an increase of population relating to the season. We do not in this country go in very much for winter resorts, but there are places to which people resort at Christmas for a shortened period. It would cover either of those circumstances. What it does not cover, is the place which is equally popular throughout the year. If there are any such places to which people go equally throughout the year clearly they would not be held to be places to come within the provisions of this Clause. The Clause simply applies to places where there is at one season or another for a limited period of the year an exceptional influx of people. We think that the Amendment satisfies the general desire of the Committee upstairs, and we hope that the House will accept it.

Amendment agreed to.