HC Deb 23 July 1986 vol 102 cc330-1
7. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what steps he intends to take in the light of the findings of the first part of his Department's research study of houses in multiple occupation in England and Wales; and when he hopes to publish the second part of the study.

18. Mr. John Fraser

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what recent representations he has received about his Department's policy towards houses in multiple occupation.

Mr. John Patten

We have already strengthened local authorities' powers in this area and issued guidance. They should use those powers and follow that guidance. We are considering the need for further measures in the light of the current research and representations to the Department. We hope to publish the second part of the study before the end of the year.

Mr. Knox

As over 1 million people live in multi-occupied accommodation, and as at the present rate of progress it will take between 70 and 85 years to bring it up to acceptable minimum standards, does my hon. Friend not think that there is a strong case for introducing legislation to compel local authorities to direct resources into this important but neglected area?

Mr. Patten

This is an extrememly important area and one in which my hon. Friend has shown a considerable interest for many years. Progress is patchy. Some local authorities have made good progress, but, alas, others have not used the powers that have been theirs for between 20 and 25 years. We are waiting for the results of the research examination that we are making. Those results will be published by the end of the year and at that time we shall consider whether to issue strengthened guidance, or perhaps even to introduce legislation, which is what my hon. Friend wants.

Mr. John Fraser

Does the Minister agree that such information from his Department's survey as we have received confirms all the warnings of death, danger and dereliction in houses in mulitple occupation? On his Departments' figures, one in two is in a poor state of physical repair, one in four is badly managed and one in six is overcrowded. Why wait? Why not allow the Bill that has completed its passage through the other place to pass through this House so that at the third attempt we can have some tougher legislation about houses in multiple occupation?

Mr. Patten

We should wait for the research results, which, as I have said, will be published before the end of the year. If we do that we can take decisions on the basis of properly evaluated examination. I ask the hon. Gentleman not to forget that since 1979 we have given local authorities additional powers, and in certain circumstances we have placed duties on them to use those powers. We have made it possible for grant to be paid for the installation of fire escapes. I wonder why it is that so many local authorities have not used the powers that have been available to them for a quarter of a century?

Mr. Squire

Will my hon. Friend consider making it a requirement on landlords of houses in multiple occupation to post a notice stating the relevant fire risk within the property, so that at least the tenants can be aware of the dangers they face?

Mr. Patten

That is a valuable suggestion by my hon. Friend and we shall consider it when considering the results of the research at the end of the year.

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