(1) Where any notice under section 15 or section 16 of the Act of 1961 is in operation in respect of a house possession of that house
or of any part of it shall not be obtained by means of a notice to quit until the works listed in the notice or in the notice as varied by a court under section 17 of the Act of 1961 have been executed or the notice has been revoked under that section:
Provided that the person who has served the notice to quit may apply to the court for possession if the local authority certifies that that is necessary for the proper execution of the works and that alternative accommodation is available for those dispossessed.
(2) On the application of the local authority or of any person to whom the notice to quit applies and after considering any representations by the person who served the notice to quit, the court may suspend its operation for a period of three months from the date when it would have come into effect under the foregoing subsection.—[Mr. Mulley]
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.
The proposed Clause is designed to provide security of tenure during the operation of notices issued under Part 2 of the 1961 Act. It has been tabled in response to representations made by the Sheffield City Council and it arises from the experience of that council in trying to give effect to the terms of the 1961 Act. It is the view of that council that because of the defects of that Act, which this new Clause seeks to remedy, the purposes of the Act have not been carried out.
As the House knows, Section 15 of the 1961 Act is concerned with the provision of additional facilities—for example, washing facilities and sanitary conveniences—for houses in multiple occupation. Section 16 of the Act relates to the provision of means of escape from those houses in case of fire. In our experience in Sheffield the Act has not worked properly because although it was designed to permit the local authority to regulate the balance between the condition of the premises on the one hand and the state of the occupation on the other, I understand—and I quote from a communication I have had from the town clerk:
In practice, the system can operate rather differently. At present, a landlord who receives a Notice under section 15 for example, can serve Notice to Quit on his tenants or a proportion of them, reduce the occupation, and thereby create a situation in which he can ignore the local authority's Notice. The reason why he can afford to ignore it is that if the local authority execute the works in default
their power to recover their expenditure is limited to expenses reasonably incurred. If their Notice is rendered irrelevant by a reduced occupation they cannot carry out the works and assert that the expenditure was reasonably incurred.
These Notices, therefore, lack the positive force which the Act intended them to have. All that they do, in effect, is to give the landlord an option either to comply with the Notice or to dispossess some or all of his tenants. Abrupt dispossession can obviously inflict grave hardship on tenants.
Naturally, this aggravates the already difficult housing situation, which the city council is doing its best to meet. It also takes out of the pool of potential housing to let these houses which are removed from the pool to avoid the operation of the local authority's notice.
I understand that in Sheffield the council has already served about 100 notices under Sections 15 and 16. The result has been that in 36 houses notices to quit have been served in respect of 93 families and 72 single persons. This has been the consequence of the authority trying to carry out its responsibilities under the 1961 Act. As I have shown, a substantial number of people have been given notice to quit.
If one chooses a purely hypothetical case, of a large house, in all respects ideally suited for multi-occupation—save for a deficiency in toilet accommodation—if the landlord is using the house for multi-occupation and deriving from it the sort of income which these houses yield, he should be prepared to incur the expenditure to which the local authority would put him by serving a notice under Section 15. Conversely, taking a completely different hypothetical example—that of a house in multiple occupation, but unsuited to that use and incapable of being rendered suitable for it by reasonable measures under Section 15—the local authority may be relied upon to prefer action under Section 19 of the 1961 Act, to limit the occupation, rather than under Section 15, and seek to require the landlord to improve the facilities anti incur additional expenditure.
Sheffield City Council anticipated this problem some time ago and instructed the town clerk to make representations to the effect that tenants in these properties should be given a measure of security of tenure corresponding to that accorded by the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946. Where a contract under that Act has been referred to a rent tribunal, either by the lessee or the local authority, and a notice to quit is served on a tenant before the decision of the tribunal, or within three months after it, the notice to quit is not to take effect for three months unless the rent tribunal substitutes a shorter period or the reference is withdrawn.
The purpose of the new Clause is to attempt to apply these principles to houses in multi-occupation so that local authorities may effectively carry out their responsibilities under Sections 15 and 16 of the 1961 Act. The proposals which the Minister has belatedly introduced in the new Clause with which we have dealt do not meet this point because they deal only with the question of acquisition. My submission is that there should be security of tenure whether or not the houses are to be acquired by the local authority; that is, security of tenure during the period that the local authority is carrying out the works.
There is a safeguard in the new Clause, for obviously in certain circumstances it might be necessary for families to move out while the work is being properly done. In addition to the purpose of the new Clause, it should be recalled that there is a tendency on the part of landlords, when they see a local authority inspector going around a property, to anticipate that a notice will be issued under either Section 15 or 16 and, as a safeguard, they immediately serve notices to quit on their tenants.
I hope and believe that the wording of the new Clause is such that this tendency will be avoided. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will accept the new Clause because we must give tenants security of tenure, albeit in a limited measure. Had it been possible and had we had some chance of succeeding we would have introduced a wider form of security of tenure, but we believe that the new Clause will do something to relieve the hardship which has been inflicted on tenants under the 1961 Act system, will prevent local authority action horn being rendered abortive and may save tenants from being dispossessed in many cases because landlords can easily avoid their responsibilities as the law now stands. As I say, it may save tenants from being dispossessed because once a landlord has incurred capital expenditure in complying with the instructions of the local authority, that property will naturally be added to the limited pool of houses available to let. It is obvious that if landlords are obliged to put these houses into proper condition they will, having done so, be anxious to continue to let them.
I hope, with this explanation, that the Minister will accept the new Clause or at least the principle of it. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl), I do not claim that it has been drafted immaculately. If need be, the Minister can amend the drafting or introduce a completely new Clause, so long as he accepts the principle involved.
The Minister has already broadly accepted the principle which we are asking for in the new Clause 1 in its application to houses under compulsory purchase order. If it applies in that case I am hopeful that he will agree that it should apply also in this case because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) pointed out, we are concerned here with preventing the tenants of houses in multi-occupation from becoming the victims of action which it is considered necessary for the Government and the local authorities to take to maintain housing standards.
In order that houses in these conditions are brought up to standard, the Government and the local authority take action through the law to ensure that the landlord shall put them in proper condition. Unless what is proposed in the Amendment is adopted, the unfortunate tenant on whose behalf we are supposed to be acting will suffer by being given notice to quit. I am sure that it is not the Government's intention that that should be the position. As distinct from the situation which the Minister reported when he moved the new Clause 1 and said that he had found that there were only four cases throughout the country, we are dealing here with a situation in which many more cases are affected.
Clearly the hon. Member is not comparing apples with apples. The case which I undertook to look into was that where a compulsory purchase order having been made in connection with works required on a multi-occupied property the landlord thereafter gave notice to quit to his tenants. The 93 families given notice in Sheffield were not connected with compulsory purchase orders. Therefore, this is not a comparison of like with like.
I am not suggesting that they are compulsory purchase orders. The right hon. Gentleman must have missed my comment. We are asking for the principle here which was accepted by the Government in connection with compulsory purchase orders under the new Clause 1, but in that case the right hon. Gentleman said that there had been only four instances throughout the country where notice to quit had been given by the landlord after notice had been served.
In this case, in Sheffield alone, out of 100 notices served on landlords, no fewer than 93 families and 72 single persons have received notices to quit from the landlord in order to avoid the force of the local authority's order. Surely this is not defensible, and it does not apply only to Sheffield. We have had figures provided and know exactly what the position is in Sheffield, but we also know that Sheffield in this matter is typical of a large number of industrial cities.
On the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park, where the landlord has tried to anticipate notice by the local authorities by giving notice to quit, this is in my view the most serious aspect. I hope that the Government will unhesitatingly say that they will give protection in these cases where the landlord has given notice to quit after a local authority notice has been served.
It is certainly the experience in Sheffield that landlords find out beforehand that notices are likely to be served, either because inspectors have come round and examined the property or because things have been discussed in a council committee and in one way or another people have heard about them. In these cases, where the landlord serves notice on the tenants, hardship is caused to the tenants. The housing situation is intensified because the council has to do something about housing those to whom notice to quit has been given, and the landlord is enabled to escape his obligation. I am therefore very concerned with this question of notice having been served by the landlord before the local authority notice is served on him.
Although the proposed new Clause may conceivably cover the point, I am not certain that it does, because of the words
where any notice under section 15 or section 16 of the Act of 1961 is in operation…".
This could be taken to mean that it is in operation, having been given before the notice was served and the notice to quit has not yet been enforced, so that the tenant is still in the property. I am not sure that it would cover all circumstances in which a tenant is given notice to quit before the local authority notice is served and the tenant is already out. But even if he were not already out, under the wording of the new Clause 5—if it is interpreted that it could cover such cases—I am still worried about the position of the tenant who although protected is not sure whether he is protected by the Clause. He might be inspired by fear, having received notice to quit, of being involved in all kinds of inconveniences and expense in trying to find other accommodation, quite apart from all the worry that he would be caused.
Assuming that the Government may be persuaded to adopt the new Clause, I hope that the Minister will look carefully and consider whether it would be better to make it specifically clear in the wording that where notice to quit has been served by the landlord in anticipation of notice from the local authority, that notice to quit shall not be applicable. In view of the size of the problem, and the intense unhappiness, disorganisation, and perhaps expense involved for hundreds of people throughout the country, judging by the fact that there have been 165 individual units in one city alone, I hope that the Government will be persuaded to accept the Clause in principle. I hope that the Minister will look at the point that I have raised and will try to make it crystal clear that the Clause would also cover cases where notice to quit has been served before the local authority has served notice on the landlord.
I hope that the Minister will accept this important new Clause, though possibly in a revised form. The principle is so important that the right hon. Gentleman must do something about it. I speak only to emphasise that this is a very common problem throughout the country. In the London area local authorities are becoming increasingly worried at the way in which landlords are able to drive a coach and horses through this Section of the 1961 Act.
It is important for two reasons that we do something about it on the lines of the new Clause. In the first place, local authorities are trying desperately to carry out what the Government have laid upon them to improve the amenities of houses in their areas, but as soon as they try to do that, landlords are giving tenants notice to quit and are making nonsense of what the local authorities are trying to do. Officials of the local authorities are becoming completely frustrated in their efforts to improve amenities, and they are worried and quite sickened that what they try to do often results in families being made victims and made homeless.
The other reason why we should do something on the lines of the new Clause is the present chain reaction. In my area families come into these multi-occupied premises from other premises in multi-occupation from which they have been evicted in these conditions. They are then evicted again by the new landlord, as soon as notice is served upon him, and they go on to similar premises and the same thing happens again. These poor, unfortunate families go from one misery to another without ever having the benefit of the improvements which the legislation provides for them. This is a shocking situation which is getting worse rather than better. Something on these proposed lines must be done.
I agree with everything that has been said by my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) and Wood Green (Mrs. Butler). I assure the Minister that the sort of thing to which they referred is becoming very widespread in London, and particularly in the East End. Only recently my attention was drawn by the Stepney Borough Council to what are now becoming large numbers of cases where, as a result of the borough council carrying out the provisions of the 1961 Act and sending officials round to view various properties with the idea of serving management orders in respect of those premises, the landlords are immediately taking advantage of the situation and giving their tenants notice to quit. In many of these cases they are decontrolled tenancies in multi-occupation and the tenants are liable under the 12 Rent Act, 1957, to notice to quit at any time.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green has pointed out, whereas the Government can be made responsible under the Rent Act for the eviction of people because they are in decontrolled tenancies, it is the local authorities which are now being blamed, as a result of Government action, for causing the eviction of people by their landlords. It is the responsibility of the Government, in this case even more so than under the Rent Act, to ensure that in cases of eviction resulting from the operation of the 1961 Act, protection shall be afforded.
I do not know how far one can go in this matter. I know that the Government are op posed to security of tenure. But where action is taken by local authorities as a result of governmental action, it is not fair to blame the local authorities for the shocking conditions in which these people are left after they are given notice to quit. In London there is no spare accommodation to offer to anybody who is evicted. It would be different if there were a pool of accommodation to which evicted people could go.
I ask the Minister to be reasonable and to give some hope to local authorities when they carry out the pro, visions of the Act which the present Government put upon the Statute Book. It is only by including in the Bill some provision on the lines of this proposed Clause that the situation can be remedied. I hope the Clause will be accepted, at least in principle, so that if necessary it can be amended to give it proper legislative effect.
This is a very difficult point, and I do not believe anybody thinks it is easy. I am not going to waste time commenting on the drafting. Certainly if the Government were to accept the spirit of the proposed Clause we would undertake to put down something to incorporate the gist. But I fear I cannot be as encouraging as that.
The problem is that in conditions of shortage, whether the landlords are deliberately exploiting or whether they are men of low standards, unaware of the harm that they are doing, we face the task of improving living conditions of the tenants, and we must accept that there is some risk that we may drive the landlords to give notices to quit. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] The answer is that we are dealing in this case, as I say, sometimes with landlords who are deliberately out to exploit shortage, and more often I believe with landlords who have very low standards. The houses that are mostly seen in this category are owned by landlords of the second class, with very low standards, and who do not realise what the obligations of a landlord should be.
The problem has been brought out by all hon. Members who have spoken. It is that if we seek to give security of tenure during the period during which works are carried out under the 1961 Act to improve the property, then at the first sniff of danger of such an order being made some landlords may take alarm and give a notice to quit. I do not see how one can draft to deal with this. We might get to a situation where every visit of a public health inspector to a multi-occupied property put the tenants of that property at risk of notice to quit. That would be to assume that all landlords have these sorts of standards. Mercifully that is, even in the worst cases cited, nothing like true.
I have got some record, though nothing like comprehensive records, of the number of works orders made under the 1961 Act by a number of major housing authorities and the number of cases of evictions which they have reason to believe have followed from those works orders. I think the Sheffield experience is the worst that has been brought to my notice, but I have not systematically sought this information yet, so I am not making that as a categorical statement from this Box.
The Sheffield City Council is alarmed at the fact that out of 100 attempts to carry out the responsibilities placed upon it by the House, in 36 cases its efforts have been completely abortive because notice to quit has been given. Also the City Council has found that it has been held responsible by the people concerned. There are 160 housing units for which it feels responsible, at a time when the city is facing serious housing difficulties. The Minister ought to find some way of meeting this very real difficulty in the city.
I do not propose to deal with the proposed new Clause summarily. I have a lot to say and I hope the hon. Member will allow me to develop it.
Certainly the Sheffield experience is alarming. I hope I am not—I am not deliberately—in any other way misusing figures from, for instance, Manchester which, it says, has taken action under the 1961 Act on 500 houses, in 45 of which cases some degree of vacant accommodation has been found. Manchester does not say that all those 45 houses have been vacated or that all the vacant property resulted from notices to quit due to the 1961 Act. But certainly there is a problem here.
It is difficult for a Tory Minister to stand here and say this, but I have to accept that in this situation compulsory purchase orders by the local authority may be the best way out. If a landlord first packs his house beyond what we would regard as reasonable standards and then, on the approach of the local authority with what one must presume—although it may not always be so—a reasonable proposition about the works that need to be done, proceeds to kick people out, then I am not very indulgent towards that landlord's right to go on owning that particular property. Of course, the case has to be judged on its merits and, if a compulsory purchase order is made, it is my job to act in a quasi-judicial fashion. But I do not stand here to assert the sacred right of ownership of property in an undiluted form when this takes place.
Nevertheless, we have to recognise the basic difficulty in the overcrowded towns. There is not the land in these towns by which quickly to relieve the shortage. We have to follow the much more laborious processes of overspill, and this means providing work for the people who are moved out to be decently housed. We must recognise also that, in conditions of shortage, landlords who take in large numbers of people, often immigrants who are not, for no fault of their own, widely welcome, do serve a purpose. We are here caught in a very difficult dilemma between the satisfaction of the human need of a roof and the improvement of housing standards.
For the general policy in this situation, particularly in connection with London, we must, I think, wait the few months needed to read what the Milner Holland Committee has to say. We must not, even in this Bill, try to find a definitive solution on what is a narrow base of evidence at the moment. But we have to put in the hands of local authorities a means to prevent landlords, first, overcrowding houses and then, when the local authority takes the action which Parliament requires it to take, kicking people out.
The Government's new Clause which the Committee has accepted today does, as hon. Members have already acknowledged, go a long way to meet the situation. The criticism which would be made of the new Clause if we were debating in a council chamber would be that the compulsory purchase order is a cumbersome weapon. It is an effective weapon.
The hon. Gentleman murmurs that it is an expensive weapon. It is expensive managerially. It is expensive administratively, that is, in the time of busy officials, but I do not believe that it is expensive financially. We are dealing here with property which may well have made a very big profit for the landlords while it was being sweated, and we can, I think, take it for granted that, when it is no longer being sweated, even when it has had reasonable works carried out to it and even after it has been allowed to run down in terms of numbers by the normal effluxion of time, there should be no burden on the ratepayers of the community. I think that that is common ground.
Therefore, to hon. Members who are impatient to find some panacea, I say that the compulsory purchase order procedure may be the best we can do at the moment. If we try to pursue the will-o'-the-wisp of security in this particular instance, we shall, I fear, simply drive forward in time and ever more forward in time the action of those few landlords whom we have in this case to worry about. They will start giving notice to quit as soon as a public health inspector comes near them, and we shall be worse of than we are now.
I hope, therefore, that the House will take very seriously the difficulties which I have mentioned, will be content to wait for the Miner Holland report for the wider policy issues, and will recognise that the Government's new Clause, with the limited but real security which it does give during at least some of the time taken by a compulsory purchase order on its way to confirmation, if it is confirmed, will enable local authorities to remedy this trouble. I do not believe that we need fear that a local authority such as Sheffield, for instance, will have to exercise 36 compulsory purchase orders to prevent the eviction of all these families from the 36 houses which they were occupying. I believe that some compulsory purchase orders well publicised in the locality will serve the purpose. I cannot prove this, but I think that this is a case in which the instrument we are providing may have a deterrent value.
I do not pretend that this is a perfect answer to the Opposition's new Clause. I am not attacking the new Clause on many of its technical defects, which could be put right if we wanted to remedy them. But I hope that the House will recognise the very real difficulties I have mentioned and be content to rely, and to ask the local authorities to rely, at least until Milner Holland reports, on the security we are giving and the encouragement we are giving for the use of compulsory purchase orders in these limited numbers of cases. That is why I hope that the new Clause will not be pressed.
On many occasions during the consideration of the Bill in Committee, we were inclined to praise the Minister for the zeal with which he took up points and endeavoured to meet them. I find it very difficult to be patient with him on this occasion.
What has the right hon. Gentleman told us? First, he says that the basic object which we wish to achieve by the new Clause can be achieved and that, if there are defects of drafting in it, this would not of itself be a reason for rejecting the Clause. He rejects the thing on principle. He does not say that it is impossible to draft a Clause to do it.
Next, the right hon. Gentleman admits that there is a problem. He told us more than once that there is some risk that, when these notices under the 1961 Act are served, landlords will give notice to quit. We know this very well. My hon. Friends from Sheffield, from Middlesex and from a Metropolitan borough have told us, and I have received letters from other local authorities indicating that this is a serious problem.
In the light of that problem, and with knowledge of the fact that, if we were resolved to draft a Clause for the purpose, we could do it and we need not bother about the technicalities of drafting, what does the Minister suggest? First, he says that one should rely entirely on the compulsory purchase procedure. But he has been told, and he has had to admit, that this is often slow, cumbrous and expensive. The more frequently he advises local authorities to use compulsory purchase to deal with this, that or the other problem, the more dilatory the process is likely to become because his desk will be crowded with a growing number of such orders to be considered. It has been remarkable on how many occasions, over the past few years, when we have brought one housing abuse after another to the notice of the Government and the House, we have been told that the remedy is compulsory purchase by the local authority. In this case, we want a quicker and less cumbrous remedy.
If I said anything which misrepresented the Minister, I am sorry.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider the implication of what he is saying. He is suggesting that we should reject the new Clause, giving as one of his reasons that we still have to see what the Milner Holland Committee says. I ask him to consider the implication of that. He, surely, would not argue that, until we know what the Milner Holland Committee says, we should not legislate on housing at all. What he is a saying, then, is that it is prudent to wait for Milner Holland and that this is a reason for not adding an Opposition new Clause to a Bill but it is not a reason for not adding a Government new Clause to it. If the Minister were to say, "Let us have a stand-still on housing legislation until Milner Holland reports", that would, at least, be a logical position; but, of course, he knows that it would be an impossible one. We must take certain decisions about housing policy before the Milner Holland Committee reports. A decision to reject this new Clause is taken just as much in ignorance of what the Milner Holland may say as a decision to accept it. We must take one decision or the other. We cannot be inhibited by the mere fact that the Milner Holland Committee has not yet reported.
The one argument with any approach to substance in it which the Minister advanced was this. He said, in effect, that the landlord of the type that we are considering gives the notice to quit when the notice under the 1961 Act is served, whereas, he argued, if the new Clause is carried he will start putting in his notices to quit even earlier—at the first sniff that a 1961 notice may be served on him or at the first visit of the official from the town hall.
Let us see whether there is substance in that objection. Suppose that the landlord has reason to fear that a notice under the 1961 Act will be served on him. He knows, if the new Clause is carried, that if he waits until that notice is served it will be no good giving notice to quit. Therefore, having read the Minister's recent speech in reply to the new Clause, he promptly puts in the notice to quit before the 1961 Act notice is served. But a notice to quit must run for at least four weeks. Within that four weeks the local authority can serve the notice under the 1961 Act.
The new Clause says that when a notice under the 1961 Act
is in operation"—
that is, at any moment after it has been served—
in respect of a house possession of that house
obtained by means of a notice to quit".
I take that to mean that, even if the notice to quit had been served before the 1961 Act notice was served, possession could not be obtained once the 1961 Act notice had been put on. If that is not the legal effect of the new Clause, there would be no difficulty, as the Minister admitted, in altering the drafting to make absolutely certain that that was the effect.
Therefore, that one argument of the Minister which seemed to have any substance in it is really an empty bogey. If landlords, fearing that 1961 Act notices may be served on them, start giving notice to quit, the local authority can reply by promptly serving the notice under that Act. There is really no substance in the Minister's objection to the new Clause, and I cannot imagine that my hon. Friends will wish to withdraw it.
Some of us sometimes feel a little sorry for the Minister, who has to stand at the Box and apologise for the fact that compulsory purchase orders appear to him to be the only way out. He cannot shift his responsibilities for the 1957 Act by apologising for not doing something which the tenants of London, in particular, and the main cities really require.
When the Minister starts analysing the figures of possible evictions arising from the 1961 Act, he should understand that members and officers of local authorities are, in many cases, very diffident about serving these notices because they realise that people will be evicted as a consequence of serving the notice. Therefore, local authorities must proceed extremely cautiously in serving management and improvement orders. The Minister, from his figures, may be able to say that there is no particular problem, but those of us who live with it know that the problem is ever present and cannot be exposed to its true extent because local authority members and officials realise the difficulty in which they will place tenants.
I attended a court in my constituency the other day. The magistrates were hearing a case in which the management order of the local authority said that there should be seven tenants in the building. It was found that there were thirteen, and that rents of £2 15s. and £3 a week were being charged for the rooms. It was discovered that if the order were enforced, as is will have to be, the tenants would be evicted and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards) pointed out, the local authority will get the opprobrium for the eviction of these tenants.
The Minister cannot ride away from this situation and say that compulsory purchase orders are the solution Every Metropolitan borough has had experience of going to the Minister for compulsory purchase orders. We have had the experience of property owners briefing the best legal brains that they can find to protect them against the legitimate requirements of the citizens of our boroughs, and in many cases we have failed to get the orders. What will happen to these tenants while all these processes are going on?
I hope that my hon. Friends will press the new Clause and give some encouragement to local authorities in the towns to endeavour to bring old property up to a reasonable standard so that people can live a decent lfe.
The new Clause deals with notices under Sections 15, 16 and 17 of the 1961 Act, and it is worth having a look at them to realise what we ate talking about. They put certain controls on the owners of houses. Section 15 gives power to require the execution of works. Section 16 deals with the provision of means of escape from fire. Section 17 deals with the right of appeal. If an owner deserves notices under those Sections to be imposed on him, I think that he deserves all the controls, directions, regulations and restrictions which should follow from them.
For that reason, I am inclined to agree with the principle behind the new Clause. After all, the notices served under these Sections of the 1961 Act are served for the benefit of the tenants. The purpose is to improve the house for the tenant's benefit, and if by a side wind we do some harm to those tenants we are hardly carrying out the purposes of the Bill.
As hon. Members know, frequently in this House I put the view of the owners of property. I endeavour to put the view of the good owners of property. The view of the good owners about those who draw upon themselves notices of this sort under the 1961 Act is that they are bad owners and deserve all that they get. But it is right and proper that they should be obliged to put their houses in order, and if by doing that, or if to escape doing that, they cause hardship to their tenants, I should have thought that it was reasonable to impose some control such as that suggested in the new Clause. I can see no harm in slamming on control immediately these notices are served.
Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Minister will answer this point in a little more detail. He has asked hon. Members opposite to await the Milner Holland report. Frankly, I cannot see where the Milner Holland report comes into this. It will not deal with these specific cases, examples of which have come from Sheffield. It will not deal with specific cases of the eviction of tenants merely because notices under the 1961 have been served. Its scope will be much wider than that. Although I am not sure that this new Clause is the right way to deal with this specific instance, I should like to see landlords who have been served with notices of this sort prevented from evicting their tenants, thus giving local authorities the greatest possible difficulty in finding accommodation for the tenants and probably landing many of the tenants in accommodation for homeless families, which is the last thing that anyone should want to do to his tenants.
It is within the recollection of the House. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) will see that the speech that the Minister has delivered is printed and circulated throughout the country, particularly in those areas where the housing problem is most acute.
What can one do but sympathise with the Minister in having made the speech which he did? He received from the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), of all people, an incentive to act in the spirit of the Amendment that he had rejected. The only thing that the Minister can do with any credit to himself after two such episodes is to make way for someone else.
I have shared the Committee room upstairs with a number of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart), for 85 hours. The hon. Member maintained a high standard of debate. Today, however, in replying to me just now, he fell far below his own standard. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]
I produced, or purported to produce, only one main argument against the new Clause. I did not lean heavily on waiting for the result of the Milner Holland inquiry. I said—and this point has not been properly answered—that if we sought to give security from the time when a works order under the 1961 Act is made, we face the danger that a mere visit of the public health inspector, which would not lead in that case to a works order at all, might precipitate evictions which would not otherwise have happened.
It is not enough for the hon. Member for Fulham to pick out only those cases in which a works order results from a public health inspector's visit. It is quite true that in such a case where the tenant knows, realises and insists upon four weeks' notice, within that four weeks the works order can be made and the protection that would be given by this new Clause, or another rendering of it, would bite. But what about all those cases w here a landlord takes fright from a hint, real or imagined, of the possibility of a works order and then gives notice to his tenants and no order follows? There is no protection there. I have tried to draft in this way myself for this purpose, but I do not think that it is possible to draft to avoid making things worse rather than better if we use this method.
If the House thinks it wrong of me to state frankly as I see it the position in the big towns, I must go on offending hon. Members. The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) teased me throughout the London Government Bill, and I am glad to see him back on this memorable election day teasing me again, but for the first time on this Housing Bill.
Hon. Members must recognise the situation in the big cities where the land is running out. There is the greatly increased rate of household formation and the greatly increased demand for houses from a declining population due to younger marriages and longevity and greater prosperity. There is imposed upon all these the difficulty, which hon. Members opposite must be careful never to forget, of large numbers of immigrants concentrated against their will in small sectors of towns.
In this situation, we face a real problem in trying to raise the quality of houses. It is not enough for hon. Members to behave and to speak as if the Government are not putting into the hands of local authorities a strong weapon. The hon. Member for Fulham spoke about the cumbrous and, as he called it, expensive and lengthy nature of the compulsory purchase order procedure, but that, surely, was not the main attack upon the compulsory purchase order weapon in Committee upstairs. The main attack was that during the necessarily laborious unfolding of the compulsory purchase order procedure, the tenants were at risk. That was the attack and it proved to be justified.
I have turned up evidence, of which I told the Committee, of at least four cases, and there may well be more, in which evictions have taken place after the compulsory purchase order was made. That is where the Government have by today's first new Clause, which the House has accepted, strengthened the hands of the local authority and much increased the safety of the tenant. It is not, therefore, nearly as necessary now to deal with the problem that the present new Clause seeks to settle.
I believe that a number of local authorities would prefer to use the procedure in the present new Clause. If we could find a way to draft to overcome the difficulties to avoid the risk of leaving matters worse rather than better. I believe that a number of local authorities would prefer this way.
I understand my right hon. Friend's chief argument against the new Clause to be that the landlord will see it coming, or will imagine it to be coming, and will give notice but will not the same thing happen under the compulsory purchase order method? Would not the landlord see that coming? Is there not exactly the same argument against it?
No, because there are two distinctions. The compulsory purchase order procedure that we are using for this purpose is the compulsory purchase order procedure advised to local authorities by my right hon. Friend who is now Home Secretary where homelessness is threatened by the charging of exorbitant rents. It is the compulsory purchase order procedure which the Government have encouraged local authorities to use where appropriate to increase their housing stock or to improve existing houses.
Landlords, it seems to me, do not have the same fear of this from a mere visit by a public health inspector as they would have in a case under the present new Clause, which is specifically tied to a works order under the 1961 Act. I admit to my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) that in any protection which we give to tenants, there is danger that we shall merely throw earlier into his vindictive action the landlord who wishes to act in this way.
There are two further distinctions. The new Clause purports to give security of tenure for a limited time, but we all acknowledge that we are dealing with a limited number of vindictive landlords. What comfort is it to the tenant if the security is given until the works are completed and then the landlord is vindictive afterwards? In that case, the compulsory purchase order is a great deal more protection for the tenant.
We ought to recognise that most of the tenants we are discussing would never have got into the accommodation they have now if it had not been for the Rent Act, 1957.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that many of these tenants living in these properties which became decontrolled as a result of the Rent Act were living there before the Rent Act?
We know exactly how many: 400,000. All the rest of the properties which are now decontrolled have been decontrolled by creeping decontrol and would not have been available for letting had the Rent Act not been passed. They would have been sold. Therefore, the accommodation we are discussing has been made available by the operation of the Rent Act.
Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the underlying difficulty as expressed in this new Clause and in his own new Clause is the insecurity of the tenant. That was the case for his own new Clause and it is the case for this. The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that before the 1961 Act can be effectively operated he or some other Minister must do something about insecurity of tenants.
I do not accept that. The problem arises from sheer shortage in the big towns and lack of land. To give security to one lot of people merely makes it impossible for another lot of people to be housed. Of course any Housing Minister is on a sticky wicket in a housing shortage, but a shortage is not eliminated by freezing the pattern of tenancies, but only by producing a larger number of houses, for which there is not the land in the big cities while we hold the green belts. That is why the Government have produced the South-East Study and that is why we shall produce similar studies for the other congested areas. I must return to the new Clause.
The hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. H. Butler) misinterpreted the statistics about compulsory purchase orders. It is important that hon. Members should appreciate the effectiveness of this procedure if they are to be willing not to press this new Clause. We have approved and rejected about the same number of compulsory purchase orders, but by far the largest number of compulsory purchase orders submitted to us have been withdrawn by the local authorities because they had served their purpose by taming the landlords concerned—otherwise the local authorities would not have withdrawn them. The effectiveness of the compulsory purchase order weapon cannot be judged purely by the number of orders which have been approved. One has also to add the number withdrawn.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby asked me why I referred to Milner Holland. I do not want to make too much of this, but I referred to Milner Holland because we shall get far more knowledge of the scale and detail of these and other problems between tenants and landlords in London when we have his report. People are now apt to exaggerate. The hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards) quoted Stepney experience, and I know how experienced he is, but he did not give figures. I am sure that he could. I do not happen to have the Stepney figures. Does he?
I do not have the exact figures, but I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the effects of the management order procedure under the 1961 Act are now being felt and will be felt increasingly, and that any figures given today would be much lower than I would be able to give in three months' time, because they are increasing weekly.
It helps if hon. Members speaking on these detailed and local points give the figures, as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) did. It helped a lot.
I must ask the House to recognise the difficulties. I can offer to look at this problem again but, in the light of the time given in my Department to trying to get round the difficulties I have outlined, I fear that it would be almost bound to be a barren undertaking. If the House does not expect too much from me, I will undertake to do that, but I do not want to try to buy off the Opposition from pressing the new Clause by giving any false promises or false hopes. If we attacked the problem in this way, we could not be sure that we would not make things worse rather than better. I think that we have to rely on the compulsory purchase order procedure both in substance and as a deterrent. We must rely on the increased protection to the tenant that the first new Clause undoubtedly gives.
I hope that in the light of this we shall encourage local authorities to press on with the use of the powers of the 1961 Act. At the moment, we face, inevitably in a free society, cities in which the larger part of the housing is better and better each year while the smaller part gets worse and worse. It gets worse and worse because the immigrants are crowded into relatively small areas of the cities.
It is impertinent for the right hon. Gentleman to lecture London Members of Parliament who live and who all their lives have lived in the centre of these troubles. It is impertinent for him to tell us to recognise the facts, when we have been brought up with and have known these things most of our lives.
I wish that in his speeches the hon. Gentleman would recognise more that the freezing of the pattern of tenancies will not solve any of these problems. We do no benefit to the people who seek houses simply by confirming the occupation of those who at the moment happen to have them. The problem is the increasing number of young people marrying earlier and seeking homes of their own. They, too, have a claim, but that takes us much wider than the new Clause.
It is wide of the new Clause. All the new Clause says is that until the works are done in the house, the landlord is not to have power to evict the tenant. In other words, the local authority would be able to decide whether the best way of handling the problem was for the tenant to go or stay. It is a temporary arrangement, a temporary suspension to deal with the problem of the works order. All this stuff about the South-East Study and the rest of it is absolutely irrelevant to this question.
I must leave it to the hon. Gentleman and the House. I am willing to undertake to consider this problem yet again, but I am not willing to give any promise that I shall come up with a satisfactory answer. If the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park will withdraw the Motion and Clause, I will undertake to consider it once again. I will even discuss it with a few of the local authorities concerned. I really cannot offer, however, any prospect that in this limited context I can find something that will assuredly leave things better off !hart they are now.
I hope that, in reconsidering the matter, the right hon. Gentleman will bear in mind that the principle is supported not only by my right hon. and hon. Friends but by 100 per cent. of the back benchers opposite who are present.
Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that further consideration of the Bill should be postponed while he makes these inquiries? There will be plenty of time for him since it has just been announced that we are not to have the General Election until the autumn. There is a vacuum in legislation that the Government wish to introduce. Why not postpone this Bill while he makes inquiries?
I am not disposed to withdraw my Motion and Clause, but at the same time I hope that the right hon. Gentleman's words were not put in the way of threat. He said that if the Clause were to be withdrawn he would be prepared to reconsider the problem. I hope that while the right hon. Gentleman continues to hold his great responsibilities and is faced with the evidence that local authorities cannot get on with their work, he will not make it a condition of his looking at this problem again that I should withdraw the Clause. I hope that he will at least undertake to meet the City of Sheffield to discuss this problem.
I will not undertake specifically to meet Sheffield, but I will undertake to see that discussions take place with Sheffield and to receive any other representations that any other local authorities want to make to me on this.
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. It was worth having this debate if only to get from him two extraordinary pieces of advice, almost in the same breath. First, he said that the only way to deal with the problem was by compulsory acquisition—this at a time when he and his friends are spending vast sums of money putting quite a different doctrine on the hoardings, denouncing public ownership.
Secondly, he ventured—and perhaps this is a stronger point—to criticise this Clause because it would not give a suffi-
The evidence available shows that in 36 cases out of 100 this has been the effect in Sheffield and surely the right hon. Gentleman must consider doing something to help local authorities to do their job. How can he expect them to undertake their duties under the 1961 Act if in 36 per cent. of the cases they are wasting their time and the ratepayers money? They are incurring a 36 per cent. chance of seriously aggravating an already desperate housing situation in their cities.
It is because of these stark facts that Sheffield asked us to raise this matter. While I know from what the right hon. Gentleman said that even if we do not succeed with our Motion he will go on trying to find a better solution than the one he proposes, I remind him that his own new Clause, on which he rests his alternative, was only got out of him by the diligence, eloquence and persistence of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Committee stage.
|Division No. 65.]||AYES||[6.25 p.m.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||MacColl, James|
|Benn, Anthony Wedgwood||Griffiths, W. (Exchange)||Mackie, John (Enfield, East)|
|Benson, Sir George||Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||McLeavy, Frank|
|Blackburn, F.||Hamilton, William (West Fife)||MacPherson, Malcolm|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Hannan, William||Manuel, Archie,|
|Bowies, Frank||Hayman, F. H.||Mendelson, J. J.|
|Boyden, James||Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Rwly Regis)||Millan, Bruce|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Herbison, Miss Margaret||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Hilton, A. V.||Moody, A. S.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Holman, Percy||Morris, Charles (Openshaw)|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Houghton, Douglas||Moyle, Arthur|
|Callaghan, James||Howie, W.||Mulley Frederick|
|Chapman, Donald||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||O'Malley, B. K.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)|
|Darling, George||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Parker, John|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Hynd, John (Attercliffe)||Popplewell, Ernest|
|Dempsey, James||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Pursey Cmdr. Harry|
|Diamond, John||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Randall, Harry|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. C.||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Rhodes, H.|
|Edelman, Maurice||Jones, Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Kelley, Richard||Ross, William|
|Edwards, Walter (Stepney)||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Royle, Charles (Salford, West)|
|Evans, Albert||Lawson, George||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Fernyhough, E.||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Silkin, John|
|Fletcher, Eric||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Foot, Dingle (Ipswich)||Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Loughlin, Charles||Small, William|
|Ginsburg, David||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Steele, Thomas||White, Mrs. Eirene||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Stewart, Michael (Fulham)||Whitlock, William||Woof, Robert|
|Stross, Sir Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)||Wilkins, W. A.||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Thornton, Ernest||Willey, Frederick||Zilliacus, K.|
|Wainwright, Edwin||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Warbey, William||Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Mr. McCann and Mr. Ifor Davies.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Green, Alan||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles|
|Allason, James||Grosvenor, Lord Robert||Neave, Airey|
|Arbuthuot, Sir John||Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Nugent, Rt. Hon. Sir Richard|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Osborn, John (Hallam)|
|Awdry, Daniel (Chippenham)||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)|
|Batsford, Brian||Hastings, Stephen||Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm)||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Pitt, Dame Edith|
|Bevins, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Hill, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe)||Powell, Re, Hon. J. Enoch|
|Biffen, John||Hirst, Geoffrey||Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Hobson, Rt. Hon. Sir John||Pym, Francis|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Quintin||Quenneil, Miss J. M.|
|Bishop, Sir Patrick||Holland, Philip||Rawlinson, Rt. Hon. Sir Peter|
|Box, Donald||Hornby, R. P.||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John||Hughes-Young, Michael||Renton, Rt. Hon. David|
|Boyle, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward||Hulbert, Sir Norman||Ridley Hon. Nicholas|
|Buck, Antony||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Robinson, Rt. Hn. Sir R. (B'pool, S.)|
|Bullard, Denys||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Bullus, Wing Commander Eric||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Burden, F. A.||Jennings, J. C.||Sharples, Richard|
|Campbell, Gorden||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Shaw, M.|
|Carr, Compton (Barons Court)||Johnson Smith, Geoffrey||Shepherd, William|
|Carr, Rt. Hon. Robert (Mitcham)||Joseph, Rt. Hon. Sir Keith||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Chataway, Christopher||Kerans, Cdr. J. S.||Smyth, Rt. Hon. Brig. Sir John|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Speir, Rupert|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Lambton, Viscount||Stainton, Keith|
|Clarke, Brig Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Leavey, J. A.||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Cleaver, Leonard||Linstead, Sir Hugh||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Cole, Norman||Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'n C'd field)||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Cooke, Robert||Longbottom, Charles||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Corfield, F. V.||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn||Taylor, Frank (M'ch'st'r, Moss Side)|
|Coulson, Michael||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Teeling, Sir William|
|Dance, James||MacAdden, Sir Stephen||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||MacArthur, Ian||Thomas, Sir Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Deedes, Rt. Hon. W. F.||McLaren, Martin||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||McMaster, Stanley R.||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|Drayson, G. B.||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Touche, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon|
|du Cann, Edward||Madden, Martin||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Maitland, Sir John||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Elliott, R. W. (New'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||Marshall, Sir Douglas||Walker, Peter|
|Farr, John||Marten, Neil||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir Derek|
|Fell, Anthony||Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Finlay, Graeme||Maude, Angus (Stratford-on-Avon)||Webster, David|
|Fisher, Nigel||Mawby, Ray||Whitelaw, William|
|Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (Stafford & Stone)||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Williams, Dudley (Exeter)|
|Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Freeth, Denzil||Mills, Stratton||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Gammons, Lady||Miscampbell Normal||Woodhouse, C. M.|
|Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, Central)||Montgomery, Fergus||Worsley, Marcus|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||Moore, Sir Thomas (Ayr)|
|Goodhew, Victor||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Grant-Ferris, R.||Morrison, John||Mr. J. E. B. Hill and Mr. Peel.|