Skip to main content

New Clause A—(Further Provisions About Overcrowding)

Volume 529: debated on Thursday 8 July 1954

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

A.—(1) If it appears to a local authority, in the case of a house within their district, or of part of such a house, which is let in lodgings or occupied by members of more than one family, that excessive numbers of persons are being accommodated on the premises having regard to the rooms available, the authority may serve on the occupier of the premises or on any person having the control and management thereof, or on both, a notice—

  • (a) stating, in relation to any room on the premises, what is in the authority's opinion the maximum number of persons by whom it is suitable to be occupied as sleeping accommodation at any one time, or, as the case may be, that it is in their opinion unsuitable to be occupied as aforesaid; and
  • (b) informing him of the effect of subsection (3) of this section.
  • (2) For the purposes of paragraph ( a) of the foregoing subsection a notice may, in relation to any room, prescribe special maxima applicable in any case where some or all of the persons occupying the room are under such age as may be specified in the notice.

    (3) Any person who has been served with a notice under this section shall be guilty of an

    offence it, after the notice has become operative,—

  • (a) he causes or knowingly permits any room to which the notice relates to be occupied as sleeping accommodation otherwise than in accordance with the notice; or
  • (b) he causes or knowingly permits to be accommodated on the premises such a number of persons that it is not possible, without contravention a the foregoing paragraph or the occupation as sleeping accommodation of some part of the premises for which a maximum is not specified under paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of this section, to avoid persons of opposite sexes and over the age of twelve years (other than persons living together as husband and wife) occupying sleeping accommodation in the same room
  • (4) Any person committing an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding five pounds and, where the offence of which he was convicted continues after conviction, to a further fine not exceeding two pounds for every day for which the offence so continues.

    (5) Section fifteen of the principal Act (which provides for an appeal against certain notices and orders under Part II of that Act and determines the date on which a notice or order is to become operative) shall apply in relation to a notice under this section as it applies in relation to a notice under the said Part II requiring the execution of works and in section one hundred and fifty-seven of that Act (which confers powers of entry for purposes connected with housing) the reference in paragraph ( d) to Part IV of the Act shall include a reference to this section.

    (6) Where a local authority has served a notice under this section in respect of any premises, they may at any time withdraw the notice, without prejudice to anything done in pursuance thereof or to the service of another notice, or, if there is any material change of circumstances, they may substitute for the notice a further notice under this section; and, where a notice is withdrawn, subsection (3) of this section shall cease to apply in relation to the premises, without prejudice to its further application if a subsequent notice is served in respect of the same premises.

    (7) The powers exercisable by a local authority under this section shall be without prejudice to those conferred by the last foregoing section, and nothing in this section shall be taken as prejudicing the provisions of Part IV of the principal Act (which relates to oven crowding in separate dwelling houses).

    8.45 p.m.

    This Amendment raises a question of Privilege. If the House agrees, I shall cause a Special Entry to be made in the Journal.

    I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

    This new Clause is designed to fill a gap which might otherwise exist in the power of local authorities. It does not revive the byelaw-making power but empowers the local authorities to serve notices on occupiers as to the way in which sleeping accommodation in lodging houses and other places may be used, and makes the breach of their requirements an offence. It removes a weakness which would otherwise exist in the full powers of the local authorities.

    This is a rather more important matter. We had quite a debate on this question in Committee. It was pointed out then that, with the fairly sweeping abolition of the byelaw-making powers of local authorities, there was a good deal of anxiety not only about lodging houses but about other matters. In so far as this new Clause meets a very small part of the problem we raised at that time, we are, of course, very grateful.

    Some little anxiety was mentioned by Lord Silkin in another place, and also by ourselves in Committee, as to whether local authorities would fully recognise their responsibility to provide other accommodation for those who might be displaced in carrying out the provisions of this particular Amendment and other provisions in the Bill. While we have had a certain easement of our anxiety by references made in another place, and by the Minister pointing out that it is most highly unlikely that the local authority would carry out the procedure unless it was quite satisfied that it had other accommodation available, it is worth asking the Minister whether he will draw the attention of local authorities to this point.

    There is one point which seems to need clarification. The Minister said that under this Bill the byelaws built up by local authorities to deal with overcrowding have gone. As I understand this Amendment, it provides that, where a local authority is satisfied that in its area there are over-occupied houses, it can give a notice to the owners that such houses are over-occupied and order them to reduce the occupation. To me it seems that thereby the person turned out loses completely the protection of the Rent Restriction Acts. Perhaps the Minister can tell the House whether that is correct.

    A further point is that I do not see how the housing authorities are to administer this without themselves building up some rules and regulations as to what constitutes overcrowding. Is it to be the old legal definition of more than two persons to a room? If so, it will not work, in view of the quite proper reference in the Amendment to the separation of the sexes after they reach a certain age. If this arrangement is to work effectively, all local authorities will have to build up a working system incorporating a definition of overcrowding. I very much doubt whether many local authorities will operate the scheme.

    What happens in a case where the children of the family have grown up and married but, owing to the housing difficulty, are compelled to live at home, as many thousands still are, and, legally, overcrowd their accommodation? Are the parents subject to an order from the local authority forcing them to reduce the overcrowding and turn out their own sons and daughters without any rent restriction protection or guarantee that alternative accommodation will be provided?

    Those are points to which the Minister should pay some attention and endeavour to meet in some way. Apart from those considerations, the Amendment is a good one, because it attempts to deal with a problem which local authority byelaws used to attempt to deal with, if not always too successfully. Subject to receiving a reply upon the points which I have raised, I see no objection to the Amendment.

    I want to reinforce the argument made by my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson). It seems to me that, on the one hand, the right hon. Gentleman has swept away the whole system of byelaws which local authorities have established over the years to deal with precisely this problem and, on the other, has substituted an alternative which, though good as far as it goes, does not go far enough. First, as my hon. Friend has said, local authorities cannot deal properly with each individual case unless they can have reference to some sort of code. The proposed Amendment seems to permit local authorities to do certain things, but they will have some difficulty in deciding precisely what direction they should give in regard to a number of cases which may be very similar to one another.

    It seems to me that, with the passing of time, local authorities will inevitably have to reinstitute a code—whether we call it a system of byelaws or something else—if they are to exercise their powers fairly and impartially. If they are permitted to do so under the Amendment, the right hon. Gentleman has gone very far towards meeting our case. If, on the other hand, the Amendment merely permits local authorities to deal with each case on its own merits, there will be a great deal of confusion. It is not incumbent upon a local authority to deal with case A in the same way as it has dealt with case B, in spite of the fact that the conditions in both cases are roughly equal.

    So I should like the right hon. Gentleman to say a word on this aspect of this problem—whether he expects local authorities, because of the powers he gives them, to evolve a code that they will apply impartially in all these cases that will come before them. Otherwise, I can see that this provision will lead to a good deal of confusion.

    By leave of the House, I would answer the important points that have been raised. As regards rent restriction, this Clause deals only with lodgers, and lodgers are not covered by rent restriction provisions. So that question does not arise. As regards the question the hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) asked, which was raised by Lord Silkin in another place, as to whether it would be wise to make the provision that alternative accommodation must be provided by the local authorities.

    I think it would be wiser to leave it as we now leave it in the case of demolition orders. There is no legal obligation on a local authority, when it makes a demolition order, to provide alternative accommodation, though I think that local authorities do provide alternative accommodation when they find themselves able to do so. I think we ought to leave the matter of lodging houses in the same way, knowing that it will be dealt with in the same manner by the local authorities.

    As to the question the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) raised, I do not know whether the local authorities will develop a code, but no doubt they will develop a practice which itself will develop into a code. We have a great variety of situations in our cities, and in this matter of alternative accommodation—an important one, the most important of all—the practice will vary greatly, with the opportunities open to local authorities to do what they ought to do. We have given them powers, and by so doing have met a great many of the requests made to us before, and we must let practice develop according to what the situation may be.

    Question put, and agreed to.