[Mr. W. NICHOLSON in the Chair.]
(1) At any time within three months after the passing of this Act a tenant, who becomes by virtue of this Act liable to pay any sum by way of rent or on account of arrears, may apply to the County Court for an Order suspending such liability on the ground that the house is not in all respects reasonably fit for human habitation or that it is otherwise not in a reasonable state of repair, and Section two of the principal Act shall apply as if the application had been made under Sub-section (2) of that Section.
(2) Where the liability in respect of the payment of instalments is so suspended, the instalments which would have become payable during the period of suspension, shall for the purpose of calculating the aggregate amount of instalments paid be deemed to have been paid.
The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Douglas Hogg): I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the words "At any time within three months after the passing of this Act." The two hon. Members (Mr. T. Thomson and Mr. Pringle) in whose name this Amendment stands are not present at the moment. It is an Amendment which I promised the hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle - under - Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) to accept. I therefore move it, so as to fulfil my undertaking. Under the Bill the tenant has to give notice within three months to suspend the rent. That was copied from the principal Act, but I cannot see why in the cases we have in mind he should not be able to apply for a remedy. He now suffers, because until he applies he has to go on paying this increased rent. If at any time he wants 422 to exercise his right, it is only reasonable that he should be able to do so.
Amendment agreed to.
The ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), after the word "arrears," to insert the words "or the sanitary authority." Under the Bill as it stands, only the tenant can apply for an order to suspend liability on the ground that the house is not fit for habitation. When we were discussing Clause 1 it was pointed out that very often the tenant either dare not, or could not afford to, make that application. Under the principal Act there is power in the sanitary authority to make the application. I am proposing to make this Clause the same in effect as the principal Act, by inserting the words of the Amendment, which would enable the authority to apply for the Order if, in its opinion, the house was not fit for habitation.
Mr. WHEATLEY: I agree with the Amendment as far as it goes, but it raises the whole question as to the steps to be taken to protect the tenant. Anyone familiar with the conditions knows how difficult it is for the tenant to protect himself by the steps provided in the Bill as it stands. Therefore we welcome the extension to this Bill of a power which exists in the principal Act, under which the sanitary authority may take the initiative on behalf of the tenant. That is a very roundabout way, and in practice it is sometimes a very cumbersome way of getting to the desired goal. What I suggest in a later Amendment on the Paper, is that where the sanitary authority has granted a certificate that a house is not reasonably fit for human habitation, the possession of that certificate by the occupier should entitle him to withhold the increased rent until the owner has satisfied the sanitary authority that the house is in a reasonable state of repair. The sanitary authority's certificate would be accepted as primâ facie evidence of the insanitary condition of the house. To disprove the primâ facie evidence the onus would be thrown on the owner of taking the initiative in legal proceedings. I do not think that there is anything unfair in that system. If a house does not satisfy the sanitary authorities, it is not fair that you should throw on the very poor tenant the cost of initiating legal proceedings. I know how easy it is 423 to say that the tenant requires only, first of all, to pay his 1s. or 3s. 1d. for a summons, and that this, that, and the other thing has to be done, but I know that in actual practice in the City of Glasgow it costs a tenant at least 40s. to take these proceedings. The tenant, in the poverty-stricken condition that such a tenant is usually in, has not 40s. to spare. Nor is the case fully met by giving the power to the local authority. What we want to get at is to throw the responsibility on the owner after the certificate has been granted by the local authority.
Mr. KIRKWOOD: I wish to support the remarks of the last speaker and to make an appeal to the Attorney-General. It is a very serious point. We are dealing here with the very poorest of the poor, with those who, at the best of times, are in straitened circumstances, and owing to the awful conditions under which they are living have their cases aggravated. They have no knowledge of protection by the Courts. In Glasgow the corporation got the Town Clerk to take up this idea of the health authority taking the landlord to Court when houses were in an insanitary condition. That fact proves that it was poor people with whom they were dealing, people who had no one to defend them. But the Court in Scotland turned down the corporation and pointed out that the tenant had just the same right as the landlord and must sue the landlord in Court individually, just as the landlord had to sue the tenant individually. The tenant was, therefore, left unprotected. Generally he has not the money and does not know the way to go about it. What we ask is, that where the sanitary authority decides that the house is not fit for human habitation the tenant shall have the right to retain the increase in rent. Surely no legal mind can get behind that? We are facing the sterling fact that people are forced to live in houses—there are over 13,000 of them in Glasgow alone—that are scheduled as unfit for human habitation. Yet the landlords are claiming this increased rent for those houses. These poor tenants are looking to Parliament in the belief that they would get justice if they were able to reach Westminster, and they have sent us on their behalf to appeal to you in the name of humanity to protect them in these cases.424
Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE: As a former Medical Officer of Health, I would like to make one or two remarks on this particular point. For 15 years I was a County Medical Officer of Health and had the supervision of the work of sanitary authorities and medical officers of health for several areas, urban and rural, and, incidentally, of course, was in close touch with my brothers in similar work in places like Glasgow—the medical officer there is a great friend of mine—and other towns throughout the country. I consider that this Clause gives the opportunity for a very great advance in housing and that the Government are to be congratulated on this proposal, which largely does away with the objections that one naturally feels to the necessity of this Bill at all. This gives us a real chance of housing improvement. The difficulty is that from one side too much is liable to be made of exceptions to the general desire of house owners to keep up their property well. These exceptions are often exaggerated into generalisations, and they are spoken of as being applicable to the whole country. On the other hand, good cases are put forward as being applicable to the whole country. As medical officers of health, we have to take note of the good house owner and the good tenant, the bad house owner and the bad tenant, and it would be very difficult to size up in generalisation the classes of householders or house owners as good or bad. We have to recognise that there are bad house owners and bad tenants. We as medical officers of health have always been trying to get at the bad tenant and the bad house owner, and we object to people emphasising one danger rather than the other. They are both dangerous to the community. Looking sympathetically at the case, and with the desire which I am sure is the desire of the hon. Member for Shettle-stone (Mr. Wheatley), I wish to endorse his proposal by saying that I am perfectly certain that the onus in the case of the bad house owner should be laid upon that house owner of getting any relief under this Act. It is a splendid lever to make really effective the requirement that the house shall be reasonably fit for human habitation, and that it shall receive reasonable repair before the house owner is able to recover the rents. Our difficulty as medical officers of health always has been to treat the poor house 425 owner fairly; the poor house owner who is unable to do what is required. If he is going to have the relief given under this Act, he should be required to do certain things, and the onus should be on him to prove that the house is in proper and sound order. That being so, it is quite true that a large number of tenants will be able to get relief on application to the Court. It is, however, difficult for the workman in full work every day to make application to the Court, with all the difficulty which that application implies, such as losing half a day's work, and also the actual cost. The process of the sanitary authority is this: The sanitary inspector keeps under constant survey all the housing of the town; the medical officer of health keeps more indirectly under survey the whole of the housing of the town, but neither the sanitary inspector nor the medical officer is the authority to give the certificate in this case. I am quite opposed to the subsequent Amendment of the hon. Member for Stratford (Mr. Groves) which proposes to leave out the words "County Court" and to insert "the medical officer of the local administrative authority." The medical officer is simply the adviser to his authority. It must be the authority that must give the certificate that is required. Every sanitary authority has a sanitary inspector and medical officer who are responsible for reporting to them any cases of houses which are not fit for habitation, and although they cannot close them at the present time owing to the shortage of houses, it is their duty to do so. Therefore, it should be quite clear that the sanitary authorities have the responsibility of saying whether houses are or are not up to the mark and fit for relief under the Act. The notice should be in such a way that, whether by application of the tenant or not, the certificate of the local sanitary authority, who probably have the materials for the certificate in their possession, as to the scheduling of any particular house on its register, should be sufficient to give the relief Therefore the house owner in applying for relief should be bound to see that the house is not on the register of the sanitary authority. The tenant, like anybody else, should be able to see whether the house is on the register of houses not fit for human habitation or houses not fit for repair. The onus should be on the 426 local sanitary authority, and not on the tenant.
Mr. J. ROBERTSON: I object to going to the Court again for an order after houses have been scheduled. It has been pointed out that we are too apt to generalise from individual cases. Some of us live in districts where the classes of property which we are up against, and in regard to which there have been orders of the Court, are not the exception, but the rule. These houses stand condemned in the reports of the medical officers and of the sanitary authority. Such property has been scheduled as unfit for human habitation. Some of the houses I am referring to were built 70 or 80 years ago. They were laid on the clay without any foundation being cut, and were run up at a cost of from £25 to £50 per house. Those of us who were acquainted with the extension of the coal trade in the 'seventies, because of the change from sailing tonnage to steam tonnage, understand the great demand there was for houses. The houses were rushed up. There were no sanitary regulations then. They were built in areas in which either the shipowner, the coal-owner or the iron and steel owner was the predominant power. I wish some hon. Members would take advantage of the offer that I am going to make to them. I am not a rich man, but if they will go with me I will pay their train fare to Scotland and take them round the houses, and they have much harder hearts than I imagine they have if they do not return with my idea about these houses. There are hundreds of these houses. We have gone on the assumption under this Bill that we should protect good property in regard to increases of rent. Good property always gets good tenants. I hold in my hand the report of a medical officer of health with respect to certain houses. This report was made ten years ago. I have photographs of the houses, but photographs never convey the real condition of the houses. Here is an extract from the medical officer's report, which shows the futility of going again to the Court for an order in respect of such houses: "This area consists of 48 houses, of one apartment. All are damp in most cases from floor to ceiling, plaster broken and crumbling off. Defective ventilation. Joists rotten and floors broken. Sashes unhung and decayed, cannot be used. Door standards 427 loose. Door locks broken and in disrepair. Floors nine inches below the level of the ground. No internal water supply. Lack of proper drainage. Insufficient water closet accommodation. Nine water closets to 48 householders." I have a further report with regard to 300 houses. The description given by the medical officer in respect of the 48 houses applies to the 300 houses. These houses belong to the same proprietor. I would like to see this Clause much stronger. If I expose food which is not fit for human consumption I am liable to prosecution, and I would like to see the Committee discussing a Clause providing that any individual, whether a widow or not, if they expose houses for sale which are dangerous to the health of the people, shall be liable for prosecution in the same way as they would be liable to prosecution if they exposed bad food for human consumption. I hope that the Amendment will be agreed to. The owners of the property to which I refer are not poor people. The houses belong to rich people who, in the mad race for wealth in the 'seventies, housed our people like swine, and now they come here and expect to get sympathy. Poor people sympathise with each other and help each other, but these rich people who own property of this kind are the enemies of a proper Rent Restriction Act being passed through this House. If hon. Members saw these houses and the conditions under which rent is being asked, they would be filled with the same indignation with which I am filled, when arguments are brought forward in favour of people who have made their wealth out of the tears, the blood, the degradation and the death of people who are compelled to live in this class of house. I hope that the Amendment will be accepted, and that we shall shut out of the Clause people who are breeding discontent amongst the tenants, as has been done in the district to which I referred.
Sir WILLIAM RAEBURN: One is almost tempted to make a personal explanation, but I do not think that the case at which the hon. Member who has just sat down directly hinted is one with which this Committee should deal.
Mr. ROBERTSON: You brought it forward.
Sir W. RAEBURN: Let me state my own case. The whole head and front of 428 this business is that grave charges were being made against the whole body of landlords. One would imagine that they were a most inhuman set of people, and that the tenants were always good. I wanted to give a sample on the other side, and I took a case which had been put before me. I was authorised to make an offer of the property which the hon. Member is now hinting at, and he accepted that offer. I then put him into communication with a responsible firm of lawyers and they communicated with him.
Mr. PRINGLE: Is all this talk about these negotiations in order?
The CHAIRMAN: It is not quite in order, but, on the other hand, the hon. Member has a right to reply to any charge that has been made.
Sir W. RAEBURN: I shall not take up the time of the Committee two minutes, as regards the Glasgow aspect of this matter, but that there may be no misunderstanding, I would like to say that I made a genuine offer, which was genuinely accepted, and from there it has passed out of my hands entirely. I am not fathering or recommending the property. Of course, if the property had been a very good property, the owner is not likely to have made an offer of it, as she did, but let the Committee remember that while there are parts of it bad, there are also good parts. However, I have nothing more to do with that particular case. My point is this: Why is this property still inhabited? There is no doubt that part of it has been condemned. The owner would be only too glad if a closing order were made, and the property left derelict, or taken down, but she cannot get that. There are no other houses for the tenants to go to, and this is the consequence. Here is this landlady, who is not rich by any means—far from it—compelled to pay tenants' rates and owner's rates, and to keep some sort of roof over the heads of these people. Why should she be singled out to do this? Why, if the property is insanitary, can it not be closed? She does not say it is sanitary. It cannot be made sanitary. It is old property, that is not worth spending a pound note on.
Mr. WHEATLEY: Then why increase the rent?429
Sir W. RAEBURN: There has been no rent paid. It is all very well to say the rent is too much per annum, but if you are not getting it, what are you to do? It is not being collected, and therefore these people have no grievance. They are getting a roof over their heads at somebody else's expense. Why should any landlord or landlady incur the odium of being compelled to keep insanitary property let, when they would rather close it? We talk about the sanitary authorities in this connection, but it seems to me they are of no use at the present time. If a tenant goes to a sanitary authority, and asks for a certificate that his house is unfit for human habitation, he will get it, but what happens then? You cannot close the property. The authorities will not let you do that, and there is the dilemma in which we find ourselves with regard to some of these properties. May I mention a sample of what landlords in some of the mining districts are doing? We have been told how cruel and harsh and inhuman they are. One of the very foremost of the mine-owners in Scotland told me the day before yesterday that he has got property which has been condemned by the sanitary authorities, and that he has pleaded for it, in vain, to be closed. He cannot spend any money. He has taken all his mine-workers out of that property, and it is now inhabited by people in whom he has no earthly interest, and they are sitting rent free. He has never rendered a rent account to one of them. I said: "Well, it is because you are a rich man that you can do that. It is costing you taxes and rates both for the tenants and yourself, but you are doing that." There is a sample on the opposite side to what we have had pointed out, and there are many cases of that kind. There is nobody on this side of the House, there is no right-minded man, who would ever uphold any landlord in taking rent, especially increased rent, from insanitary property.
Mr. KIRKWOOD: That is all we are asking.
Sir W. RAEBURN: You would imagine, from the speeches that are made, that from the particular cases which are in a minority you are to generalise and sweep everybody into the same category.
Mr. ROBERTSON: Not in the minority.430
Sir W. RAEBURN: There may be bad landlords. There are some, but there are also tenants of whom it is true to say that if you gave them a palace to-day, it would be a pigsty in a week. I should be very glad indeed if these houses which are unfit for human habitation, or, at any rate, in a very bad condition, could be shut up, but we are faced with a difficulty with which we have never been faced before. There is no place for these people to live in, and they will have to put up with a little of this, until that is swept away. The great point, now, is to try to get on with housing as fast as we can, but I think the Attorney-General has done very well in giving, as he has done, perfect confidence in the authority of a sanitary officer's certificate without going to a Court at all as to the condition of these houses.
Mr. W. HUTCHISON: One appreciates that there are bad landlords as well as bad tenants, but an attempt has been made to-day to represent that the law has given no protection to the tenant in connection with this matter of the habitable condition of his house. That is not correct. First of all, under the Housing and Town Planning Act, 1909, there is, under Sections 14 and 15, an obligation upon a landlord to keep his house in all respects reasonably fit for human habitation. This has formed the subject of a judgment in the Sheriff's Court of Renfrewshire, where the Sheriff has decided in favour of the tenant, under those two Sections of the 1909 Act. Then again, in the Scottish Housing and Town Planning Act of 1919, Section 25, if the owner of any house suitable for occupation by persons of the working class fails to keep such house in all respects reasonably fit for human habitation, the local authority may serve notice in writing on the owner requiring him to execute such works as will be necessary to put the house in a habitable condition, and the owner is under liability to a heavy penalty if he dares to let the house to any tenant while it is unfit for habitation. Again, in the 1920 Increase of Rent Act, Section 22, it is laid down that at any time after the date of any increase permitted by the Act the tenant or the sanitary authority may apply to the Court for an order suspending such increase, on the ground that the house is not in all respects reasonably fit for 431 human habitation, or is otherwise not in a reasonable state of repair. The Sheriff Principal of Lanarkshire, in Glasgow, has given a locus under that Act to the sanitary authority, in the case of the Corporation v. Mickel, which was decided in the beginning of 1922, and the expense of obtaining that suspension of the increase of rent was given, on the motion and application of the sanitary authority, not of the tenant at all. Again, it will be found that the word "repairs" in that same Increase of Rent Act, 1920, is specified as being any repairs required for the purpose of keeping premises in good and tenantable repair. These are all obligations on the landlord and as far as the Statutes and the judgment of the Court are concerned, these obligations are still exigeable, and the sanitary authority has power to make a suspension of the increase in rent, if the sanitary authority chooses to prosecute, as the locus standi has been decided by the Sheriff Principal of Lanarkshire. Therefore, to make the statement that the Corporation of Glasgow, or of any other great city, has no right to appear before the County Court, and that their locus is not accepted by the Judge of the County Court, is not in accordance with the facts. I think it right that these things should be placed before this Committee before deciding to make any such alteration as is proposed. There are wide powers vested in the sanitary authority, and it is open to any tenant to go to that authority. I know of cases where the authority has gone, under these three Acts, and suspended increases of rent, and demanded that these things be done by the owner of the premises, and, therefore, I do not see where the justice comes in of complaining of the cost to the tenant. Even the certificate of the sanitary authority, which costs one shilling, can be reimbursed to the tenant, under Section 24 of the Act, by deduction from any subsequent payment of rent. In these circumstances, is the tenant too lazy to go to the sanitary authority? I am not supporting either the landlord or the tenant, but I merely wish to point out the state of the law, and that the Courts have given authority to the sanitary authorities to come in and interfere as between landlord and tenant. Therefore, the blame rests not on the landlord 432 but on the sanitary authorities of the various cities, which have refused to take action in cases where houses are in such a condition as has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. Robertson). If they have not done their duty, it is for my hon. Friends to stir them up to do it, and they should not come here and endeavour to get new Clauses into this Bill.
Mr. KIRKWOOD: The hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Hutchison) is misleading the Committee, and I will tell you why. He is stating exactly the opposite of what I said.
Lieut.-Colonel CROFT: That proves him to be right.
Mr. KIRKWOOD: It may, but time will determine whether he is right or not. I am not able to clothe my language to appear anything else than simply what I really mean. I was saying how the law actually worked out in practice. I have defended thousands of those tenants in the rent Court in Glasgow, and in every case we thought that, by getting the certificate from the sanitary authority and placing that before the Sheriff, we would be able to get the tenant cleared. It had no effect whatever, and further, the sanitary authority of the Glasgow Corporation took a test case to the Court on behalf of the tenants. This is exactly the opposite to what the hon. Member for Kelvingrove has stated. They took a test case, and we had what he states tested by the Corporation of Glasgow, that is to say, the sanitary authority, suing the factor or landlord, on behalf of the tenant, to carry out the repairs necessary to make, not one or two houses, but 13,000 houses fit for human habitation. Sheriff Principal MacAlister Morrison Mackenzie, Sheriff Principal for Lanarkshire, gave it as his opinion that the individual tenant would have to sue the factor or the landlord in order to get these repairs done I hope I am making myself clear and that there is no legal phraseology to confuse the issue. Further than that, when we presented the schedule which we had obtained from the sanitary authority showing that a house was unfit for human habitation, the certificate from the sanitary authority had no effect on the sheriff. He said it had no bearing on the law. Yet this was the most sympathetic sheriff that we had to deal with, because just as is the case 433 with tenants sand landlords, there are sheriffs and sheriffs. In no case had the certificate any effect.
Mr. LORDEN: With regard to the little quarrels between gentlemen from Scotland I am not interested, but I am interested in the effects of this Clause and I cannot see how the suggested Amendment of the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) is going to work. As a member of a local authority for some 21 years I know that these certificates are issued quite ex parte. There is no opportunity of anybody opposing them before they are issued. You will alter the whole system of local government if you make the sanitary authority practically a Court of Appeal in these matters. I will give the Committee an instance. In connection with certain property which I know, when the Rent Restrictions Act came in, people thought they were going to have their houses decorated and brought up to a high pitch of perfection. They applied to the landlord who sent the surveyor and the surveyor reported that while the property might be better for being decorated it was in a most excellent state of repair. The tenant was not satisfied and he got hold of the sanitary inspector who issued a notice—quite out of his province—requiring these decorative repairs to be carried out. The owner wrote to the medical officer of health and said while he was prepared to put the houses in a reasonable state of repair he was not prepared to spend large sums in decorations which were not absolutely necessary. He asked the medical officer to inspect the property and say if any repairs were necessary. Within a fortnight he received a letter from the medical officer stating that the notice had been withdrawn and expressing regret for the trouble which had been given. Does not that case, for which I can give chapter and verse, show that somebody apart from the landlord or the tenants or the local authority is required to decide on these matters, and the County Court appears to be the only place where evidence can be heard on both sides. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Shettleston proposes to abrogate the functions of the County Court and put them on to the local authority, which is an unnecessary and wrong proceeding. I cannot see why you should throw on local 434 authorities duties which are not theirs. It is their certificate which comes before the County Court Judge, but there are other sides of the question to be considered, and I cannot conceive it being dealt with otherwise than by the County Court. The Amendment of the Attorney-General concedes all that is necessary, and under it the sanitary authority may go to the County Court and ask that something should be done. Incidentally, may I allude to a remark of an hon. Member opposite to the effect that some of the houses concerned in proceedings under the Act were from 70 to 80 years old. I wonder what will happen to a very large number of the houses built under the so-called Government Housing Scheme if they are up for even 30 years.
Mr. GROVES: The remarks of the hon. Member who spoke last are fully dealt with by the Amendment of the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) because that Amendment in the end leaves the County Court as the ultimate and final authority. I submit that in the instance to which the hon. Member referred the landlord would ultimately have the opportunity of appealing to the County Court against the claim of the tenant which appeared to be excessive. I am prepared to withdraw my own Amendment if this slight Amendment is accepted because I feel that it covers all the points we are urging. We are making a claim on the ground of equity and I suggest that it is not an extravagant claim. In our view, the position should be this: If the tenant has a grievance regarding the state of the house he acquaints the local sanitary authority. They inspect the premises and if in their opinion the house is not in a fit state, they grant a certificate to the tenant. The tenant then withholds the rent increase—not the whole rent—and acquaints the landlord with the reason. The onus will then be upon the landlord to apply to the Court and prove that the property is in a reasonable state and fit for habitation. I think we may adduce isolated cases and use them as arguments in favour of the general principle, and I wish to give the Committee some actual details which prove the necessity for this Amendment. In the County Borough of West Ham there are 48,302 houses. We have only 16 sanitary inspectors, and in the year 1922 they 435 inspected 10,413 houses, of which 8,412, or 80½79 per cent., were found not to be reasonably fit for habitation. One has to argue in this matter by the law of averages, and we have only a limited number of inspectors working all the year round. But I have taken an average year, and now I will give the figures for an average month. In February last 943 notices were served.
The CHAIRMAN: We cannot go into all these details. I would point out to the hon. Member that the Amendment before the Committee now is that the words "or the sanitary authority" be inserted in the Clause.
Mr. GROVES: I thought I was proving the efficacy of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Shettleston, but I promise not to waste time. I was pointing out that the law, as it exists, is obviously not availed of by the working man, because in the year 1921 only 55 people in my borough applied to the Court, and in 1922 only 16 applied to the Court. Therefore I suggest that the law is not what the working man seeks to utilise when he wants an order upon the landlord to get his house put into reasonable repair. I thought I was adducing a few commonsense arguments in favour of the Amendment.
Major Sir G. HAMILTON: Is not the hon. Member speaking to the wrong Amendment?
The CHAIRMAN: The Amendment before the Committee is that moved by the Attorney-General, to insert, after the word "arrears," the words "or the sanitary authority."
Mr. WHEATLEY: I understood that we were to discuss the whole question. The Amendment which I have on the Paper is an alternative to that of the Attorney-General, and I understood it was agreed that we should discuss the whole question involved.
The CHAIRMAN: We have been discussing the whole question, because, if the Amendment of the Attorney-General be carried, it cuts out the Amendment of the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley).
Mr. GROVES: Am I not in order? Are we discussing the Amendment of the 436 Attorney-General or that of the hon. Member for Shettleston?
The CHAIRMAN: The Amendment now before the Committee is the Amendment of the Attorney-General.
Mr. GROVES: Do you rule that we are discussing the merits of one of these Amendments only or that we are discussing both?
The CHAIRMAN: I said that the Amendment of the Attorney-General would cut out the other Amendment, and that on the Attorney-General's Amendment I would allow a discussion on the whole question at issue.
Mr. HARRISON: Would it not be simpler to discuss the Amendment standing next on the Paper.
The CHAIRMAN: It would have been quite open to the Attorney-General, had he wished to do so, to accept the alternative Amendment and withdraw his own, but the Attorney-General is in possession of the Committee and his Amendment is the one which is being discussed at the present time.
Mr. HARRISON: I was referring to the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Stratford (Mr. Groves) to leave out "County Court" and insert "medical officer of the local administrative authority." We have already heard these figures three times.
Mr. GROVES: I agree the Committee must be weary of hearing them, but I dutifully waited, according to the Chairman's instructions, until we arrived at Clause 3. I am weary of putting the figures, I assure you, but I am bringing them forward to support the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Shettleston. That Amendment, as I have said, will put the tenants in such a position that if their houses are not in a reasonable state of repair they can apply to the sanitary authorities and obtain a certificate. If that certificate is granted the tenant can refuse to pay the increased rent. It is perfectly reasonable that the onus should be on the landlord to go to the County Court and prove that the house is in a proper state. I come here representing the views of my constituency. That is what I was sent here for. I was born in the constituency, and have seen this sort of 437 thing all my life. It is not a matter of decorations. In my borough we cannot close these houses because we have no other places in which to house the people. No rent is being paid, and the houses are not within the purview of the Amendment. It is not right that the houses should be used. An Order issued by the last Government emphasised the fact that certain action was to be taken. The Court stated that no Order merely to abate overcrowding will be granted, and, therefore, the medical officer is unable to ask for a closing Order in respect of an unfit house when compliance with the Order will transfer the occupiers to the streets or to the workhouse. For the moment we have to leave things where they are. It is unfortunate and unjust. We are now trying to put a practical proposition to the Government, and it is no use people queering our pitch by introducing grave issues which do not affect the Amendment before us. On a previous occasion I said that 80½79 of the houses in West Ham are certified by the sanitary authority as not fit for habitation. It is not a matter of decoration. The walls have not been decorated for 20 years. There are no doors, no bannisters, and in many cases no floors. I want the Committee to be patient with me for one moment. The children, when they come home from school—
The CHAIRMAN: We cannot go into these details. The Question is whether the words "or the sanitary authority" should be included in the Clause.
Mr. GROVES: The onus is upon the tenant to prove that his house is in an unfit state. In West Ham many thousands of the houses have no floors, and have not been painted and have no wallpaper. Our proposal would put the landlord in the position of being compelled to accept the onus of proving that the house was in a reasonably sanitary condition. No sanitary authority would dare to certify that such houses were fit for people to live in. Therefore, the tenant would be entitled to withhold the amount of the increase of rent. I beg the Attorney-General to try to see the point at which I am driving. Tenants do not like going to County Courts, and we want so to arrange it that the maximum amount of expense that a tenant would incur to get justice would be the bare 1s.438
The ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We have had a very full Debate, conducted temperately, and the view of each side has been adequately stated. There was an understanding yesterday as to how long we should sit. We are anxious to conclude this discussion and get through the Bill by 1 o'clock. Appeals have been made to me that there are houses which are not fit to be lived in, and that the tenants ought not to pay increased rent. That is conceded. The whole object of this Clause is to provide that they shall not be obliged to do so. The only question we are discussing is, who shall decide, in the event of dispute, whether or not the houses are fit to live in. The last speaker said that the effect of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley), which appears later on the Paper, would be to put the onus on the landlord of proving that the house was habitable. He is mistaken there. The effect of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Shettleston would be to prevent the landlord getting any rent until the sanitary authority had certified. The sanitary authority is substituted for the County Court as the final Court of appeal. I am not sure whether that is appreciated.
Mr. WHEATLEY: Is the Attorney-General prepared to accept my Amendment, and make provision for the landlord having a right of appeal to the Court?
The ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I do not think I can do that, because I do not think that it would help either landlord or tenant. What I am doing in my Amendment is to make it possible for the sanitary authority to apply, if the tenant has not the money to do it. Further than that, I am incorporating the provisions of the principal Act, because I say that "Section 2 of the principal Act shall apply as if the application had been made under Sub-section (2) of that Section." That means that the Court must make the Order suspending the increase if it be satisfied, by the production of a certificate of the sanitary authority or otherwise, that any such ground is established; that is to say, that the house is not fit to repair. All that is done by the Clause as I propose to amend it is that either the tenant or the sanitary authority can go at any time to the County Court. The certificate of the 439 sanitary authority is produced, and it is primâ facie evidence, and the onus will then be on the landlord to displace that evidence. If he cannot do it the Court must order that the arrears be suspended. If the landlord prove that the certificate is wrong, the Committee will agree that he oughht to get the rent. With my Amendment we are adequately protecting the tenant, because we are providing that either he or the sanitary authority can go to the Court, that the Court has to take the certificate of the sanitary authority and that certificate—it costs only 1s., which has to be refunded if the complaint is well founded—is primâ facie evidence, and the landlord then has to establish to the satisfaction of the County Court Judge or Sheriff Court that the certificate was wrongly granted.
Mr. SHORT: I want to call attention to the real issue which is involved in this Amendment. We have not met with a great deal of success in our attempts to secure Amendments of this Bill. Apparently there is universal agreement in the Committee as to the need of preventing landlords from taking rent, and particularly increased rent, if property is in an insanitary condition. We are all anxious to make the law a little more rigid in respect of insanitary property. We have been told that the law provides ample protection. I have no doubt that it does. I recall Earl Balfour saying, when he was Mr. Balfour, that if the various Housing Acts and Public Health Acts had been applied and wisely administered there would have been no slum property. It is because the provisions of those Acts have not been properly applied that we are seeking to make a more rigid provision in this Bill. The learned Attorney-General rightly pointed out that the onus would be thrown on the landlord, but if I understood him correctly the conflict would be between the landlord and the tenant.
The ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Or the sanitary authority, whoever applied.
Mr. SHORT: Whoever applied; that is the whole point. I doubt whether the sanitary authority will be the applicant; it will generally be the tenant who will be forced into that position. What we seek to do is to put the entire onus, as far as legal responsibility is concerned, upon the landlord. I suggest that be- 440 tween now and Report, the Attorney-General might consider this matter further, and if possible provide some form of words that will meet the view expressed from all sides of the Committee, and make the law more rigid in so far as the legal responsibility of the landlord is concerned. We do not think that the words of the Amendment carry us far in that direction.
Mr. WHEATLEY: We are in a difficulty. We prefer the Attorney-General's Amendment to the Bill as it stands, but we prefer our own Amendment to his.
The CHAIRMAN: The hon. Member will have an opportunity of bringing forward his Amendment on the Report stage.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. D. GRAHAM: I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), after the word "repair" ["state of repair, and"], to insert the words "or that the landlord has not executed all the repairs that as a part of the contract of tenancy he has undertaken to execute." We are all agreed in our endeavour to get the Committee stage finished as quickly as possible, but this is a very important Amendment, and I am hoping, after the expressions of opinion I have heard with respect to the reasonable and honest liabilities of the owners, that we shall get this Amendment through without opposition. What we ask is that no unreasonable or unfair obligation should be put upon the landlord. We do not want to take anything from him that he can rightly says is his. We assume that there is a contract between the landlord and the tenant, and that both are agreed as to the nature of the repairs to be made, and we ask that in the case of the landlord failing to carry out his part of the contract the tenant should be relieved from the obligation of paying an increased rent. I do not want any hon. Member to read into this Amendment something that it does not contain. We assume that there is an agreement which has been entered into mutually and on equal terms that certain things will be done in return for a certain sum of money, and that the tenant is bound—we do not say that he ought not to be bound—to carry out his part of the bargain to pay the rent; but at the same time we ask that the owner should be bound to carry out his part of the contract. The main Act of 1920 makes it perfectly clear that the owner is not 441 entitled to 25 per cent. of the increase unless he carries out that part of what we claim is a bargain. I hope the Attorney-General will see the reasonableness of our proposal and the motive that is animating us. We are not wedded to any particular words, and we shall not quarrel if he can put into words something that will meet the point that we are trying to raise. What we are anxious to secure is that when there is a fair and honest bargain entered into between landlord and tenant, and it is agreed that the landlord is to execute the repairs, it should be an obligation upon him to execute the work before he is entitled to get the increased rent.
The ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I am sorry that I cannot accept this Amendment. I should like to call the attention of the hon. Member and the Committee to what the Bill does provide, and I think it will be seen that the Amendment is not really necessary. Under the Clause, if the house is not in every respect reasonably fit for human habitation, or if the house is in any other way not in a reasonable state of repair, the landlord cannot get the arrears. The Amendment would only apply to houses which are in all respects reasonably fit for human habitation, and are in a reasonable state of repair, because there is a provision in regard to houses which do not comply with those conditions. Therefore, if there happens to be an agreement between the landlord and tenant, and if there was merely a tap off or a door handle wrong or some trivial repair undone, if this Amendment were carried the tenant would be able to say that the owner had not executed all the repairs which he had contracted to do under the contract of tenancy, and he would not be able to get any arrears. I do not think that that would be reasonable. Although I appreciate that the hon. Member is not wedded to any particular form of words, my submission is that it is only in the case of trivial things that his Amendment could become operative, because whenever there is anything which means that the house is not in a reasonable state of repair or is not in every respect fit for human habitation, the Bill says that the landlord is not to get the arrears. If the repair which he has not 442 executed is something which does not produce an unreasonable state of repair, and does not produce anything which makes the house unfit for human habitation, there is no reason why the owner should be penalised by being prevented from getting the arrears. The tenant still has his remedy for any damage that he sustains, by way of counter-claim in any action, or he could bring an action himself if he thought fit. It is cases where there is a substantial breach of the obligation to keep the house in repair that we desire to meet, and those cases are covered by the Clause as it stands.
Mr. GRAHAM: I do not think the Attorney-General has quite appreciated the position. In regard to trivial cases, he has put up a fairly decent case. We do not want to penalise landlords, and we do not want to continue the quarrel. Take the case of a tenant occupying a house prior to the War, or prior to the introduction of the Rent Restrictions Act, where there was a recognised agreement on the part of the owner that he should do the painting. That was a common understanding so far as owner and tenant were concerned in Scotland. Since the Rent Restrictions Act came into operation that custom has tended to disappear. The owner has relieved himself entirely of that responsibility, notwithstanding that he has got an increase in rent of 25 per cent. on the 1914 standard for the particular purpose of carrying out repairs. That is not to be considered a trivial matter. It is a very necessary part of the accommodation which the tenant is entitled to have. The house cannot be described as in a fairly decent state of repair if the papering, plastering and painting is not up to date. What we want is to provide for a condition such as that, where it means a fairly decent amount of expenditure so far as the house owner is concerned, and he refuses to do it and depends upon the tenant doing the work which he himself originally contracted to do. It is not fair for the landlord to occupy that position and to get the advantage of the increased rent provided. If the Attorney-General cannot meet the point now, I hope that between now and the Report stage he will make inquiries amongst his friends. He will find that this Amendment raises a substantial grievance so far as the tenant 443 is concerned, and that some means should be found to deal with the matter.
The CHAIRMAN: Does the hon. Member withdraw the Amendment?
Mr. GRAHAM: I am willing to withdraw if the Attorney-General will do what I ask.
The ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I do not like to promise to consider it unless I can make some alteration.
Mr. GRAHAM: I am asking you to inquire.
The ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I will make inquiries, but I think that the words "reasonable state of repair" really cover the grievance. If, for instance, the absence of painting meant that the house was not in a reasonable state of repair, or if the plastering was so bad that the house was not in a reasonable state of repair, this Clause would meet the case, but if it simply meant that the painting was done in the eighth year instead of the seventh year, or in the fourth year instead of the third year, I do not think that the hon. Member would say that that was a ground for depriving the owner of his arrears of rent. The hon. Member will see that we have got in words, deliberately chosen, in a way which make it a matter of fact for the sanitary authority, and ultimately for the County Court. When we provide that, although the house is in every respect reasonably fit for human habitation, but is not in a reasonable state of repair, then the landlord is not to get his increased rent. Although I will make inquiries, I cannot promise or hold out much hope that I shall be able to alter the Clause.
Mr. GRAHAM: I am quite willing to withdraw the Amendment, but unless we can get some assurance that the question will be dealt with, I shall raise it on the Report stage.
|Division No. 31.]||AYES.|
|Buckle, Mr.||Kirkwood, Mr.||Stewart, Mr. James|
|Graham, Mr. Duncan||McEntee, Mr.||Sullivan, Mr.|
|Groves, Mr.||Robertson, Mr. John||Wedgwood, Colonel|
|Hill, Mr.||Short, Mr.||Wheatley, Mr.|
Mr. SHORT: I object to the Amendment being withdrawn.
Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
The CHAIRMAN (having collected the voices): The "Noes" have it.
Mr. SHORT: I challenge a Division. I have been saying that the "Ayes" have it.
The CHAIRMAN: I collected the voices, and there was no doubt about the result.
Mr. SHORT: I have challenged a Division, and, I am entitled to it.
Colonel WEDGWOOD: We are entitled to a Division.
The CHAIRMAN: Does the hon. Member wish to press it to a Division?
Mr. SHORT: I want a Division. If I am not treated properly by the Committee, I will not treat the Committee properly.
The CHAIRMAN: I will ask Mr. Wheatley to move the next Amendment.
Mr. SHORT: I protest I want a Division.
Colonel WEDGWOOD: We must insist on the rights of minorities on Committees. We very often have small minorities. We have a right to a Division, in order to record the votes. If an hon. Member choose, he can force it.
The CHAIRMAN: The hon. Member can force it.
Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
The Committee divided: Ayes, 12; Noes, 40.445
|Attorney-General, The||Hamilton, Major Sir George||Perkins, Colonel|
|Blades, Sir Rowland||Harbord, Mr.||Pringle, Mr.|
|Bruford, Mr.||Harrison, Mr.||Privett, Mr.|
|Butler, Mr. James||Hiley, Sir Ernest||Raeburn, Sir William|
|Croft, Lieut.-Colonel||Holbrook, Colonel Sir Arthur||Roberts, Mr. Samuel|
|Davies, Mr. A. T.||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen, Sir Aylmer||Solicitor-General, The|
|Elliot, Captain||Hutchison, Mr. William||Somerville, Mr. Annesley|
|Fermor-Hesketh, Major||Lorden, Mr.||Stewart, Mr. Gershom|
|Foot, Mr.||Lowe, Sir Francis||Sturrock, Mr.|
|Ford, Mr.||Millar, Mr. Duncan||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid|
|Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel||Milne, Mr.||Sykes, Major-General Sir Frederick|
|Gray, Mr. Frank||Mitchell, Sir William Lane||Wheler, Major|
|Guthrie, Mr.||Molson, Major||Wise, Mr.|
Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
This Act may be cited as the Rent Restrictions (Notices of Increase) Act, 1923, and shall be construed as one with the principal Act, except that this Act shall not extend to Ireland.
Mr. BUCKLE: I beg to move to leave out the word "Ireland," and to insert instead thereof the words "Irish Free State."
The ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We cannot do this, because the effect would be that we should be legislating for Northern Ireland, and this is not a matter which is reserved for the Imperal Parliament under the Government of Ireland Act. The effect of the Amendment would be that this Bill would be made to apply to Northern Ireland, which we cannot do.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
In the application of this Act to Scotland reference to "the County Court" shall be construed as a reference to "the Sheriff's Court."—[Mr. Sullivan.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Mr. SULLIVAN: I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
The ATTORNEY-GENERAL: If the hon. Member will look at Clause 18 of the principal Act, he will find these words.
Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. PRINGLE: In reference, Mr. Chairman, to a new Clause (Right of landlord to recover rates under certain conditions), standing in my name on the Paper, I would like to explain that it provides that where a landlord has, in fact, paid rates on the basis of an in- 446 crease of rent which he thought he was entitled to charge, and that increase has not been paid to him, or has been recovered by the tenant, he should have a right of recovery.
The CHAIRMAN: This Clause is outside the scope of the Bill.
Address of premises to which this notice refers
TAKE NOTICE that I claim that the sum of is due to me from you as tenant of the above premises on account of arrears of rent under the above-mentioned Act.
The amount due on account of such arrears is payable by instalments with, and as part of, your weekly [monthly, or other periodical] rent until the amount of such arrears is paid off. The first instalment will be payable on the day of *.
The amount of the instalments claimed by me is a week [month, or other period, as the case may be].
If you desire to know how the amount of the sum claimed by me is made up, or how the amount of the instalments has been calculated, information will be furnished you on application for the purpose being made to me in writing.
If you wish to dispute the amount of the sum claimed or of the instalments, you are entitled to apply to the County Court of
If at any time you give up possession of the above premises, either voluntarily or on an Order or judgment of the Court, the balance of the sum payable by instalments will immediately become due.
* The date to be inserted will be the first rent day after the expiration of one clear week from the date of the notice.
Colonel WEDGWOOD: I beg to move, after the word "Act" ["rent under the above-mentioned Act"], to insert the 447 words "the amount claimed is arrived at as follows:—" I should like the opinion of the Attorney-General on this point.
The ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I suggest to the Committee that this is really covered by the discussion we had yesterday, when we agreed, in Clause 2, Sub-section (3), to leave out the words "I so requested by the tenant." The Committee will remember that they then decided that we would not make the details part of the notice, but that we would make it mandatory on the landlord to deliver the particulars. I have put down in consequence an Amendment to make that clear.
Colonel WEDGWOOD: I am quite satisfied.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I beg to move to leave out the words "If you desire to know how the amount of the sum claimed by me is made up, or how the amount of the instalments has been calculated, information will be furnished you on application for the purpose being made to me in writing." This is an Amendment consequent on the decision we arrived at yesterday. Until yesterday, the provision was that the tenant had to ask for particulars, and accordingly, in the draft form, we had a notice to him that he had to ask for them. We have now decided that the particulars are to be given to him anyhow, and therefore those words become unnecessary and should come out.
Amendment agreed to.
Mr. WHEATLEY: I beg to move, after the word "of" ["apply to the County Court of"], to insert the words "you are entitled to apply to the County Court for an Order suspending any sum due from you by way of rent, or on account of arrears, under the above-mentioned Act, if 448 you consider that the premises are not in all respects reasonably fit for human habitation or otherwise not in a reasonable state of repair. You will be required to satisfy the County Court, by a report of the sanitary authority or otherwise, that your application is well founded, and for this purpose you are entitled to apply to the sanitary authority for a certificate. A fee of one shilling is chargeable, but, if the certificate is granted, you can deduct this sum from the sum due from you as aforesaid. The address of the sanitary authority is." I think the Attorney-General might accept this Amendment. There is nothing very serious in it.
The ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I think it would probably be fair to put these words in, because I see they are in the notice which is served under the principal Act, and I do not suppose there is any reason why we should not have the same form of words here.
Amendment agreed to.
The ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I beg to move, after the word "due" ["will immediately become due"], to insert the words "A statement is sent herewith showing how the amount of the above claim is arrived at, and how the amount of the instalments has been calculated." This is the point I have just explained to the Committee, and I think I need say no more upon it.
Amendment agreed to.
Schedule, as amended, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill, as amended, ordered to be reported to the House.
The ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Am I out of order, Sir, if I thank the Committee for their very assiduous attendance at what has been a very controversial and, I am afraid, a very tiresome discussion?
Committee rose at Twenty Minutes before One o'clock.449
THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:
Nicholson, Mr. William (Chairman)
Blades, Sir Rowland
Butler, Mr. James
Davies, Mr. A. T.
Doyle, Mr. Grattan
Graham, Mr. Duncan
Gray, Mr. Frank
Hamilton, Major Sir George
Hiley, Sir Ernest
Holbrook, Colonel Sir Arthur
Hood, Sir Joseph
Hunter-Weston, Lieut. General Sir Aylmer
Hutchison, Mr. William
Lowe, Sir Francis
Millar, Mr. Duncan
Mitchell, Sir William Lane
Morgan, Lieut.-Colonel Watts
Raeburn, Sir William
Roberts, Mr. Samuel
Robertson, Mr. John
Somerville, Mr. Annesley
Stewart, Mr. Gershom
Stewart, Mr. James
Sugden, Sir Wilfrid
Sykes, Major-General Sir Frederick
Ward, Colonel Lambert