HC Deb 13 February 1987 vol 110 cc610-31

Order for Second Reading read.

1.3 pm

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

We have just spent over three and a half hours debating a Bill that is in the form of a private Member's Bill, but I am sure that the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) will readily acknowledge that it is, in fact, a Government Bill. It is consensual and there is no serious opposition to the broad principles contained in it. However, as a result it may talk out what is an all-party private Member's Bill that enjoys considerable support in the House and certainly has the support of those affected outside.

I begin with a challenge to the Minister. If, in the light of the revelations of the Department's report of 23 January and of all-party support for this much needed Bill, he will allow it through to Committee, I will sit down now so that we can discuss any points of detail that will arise in Committee.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

I should like to echo what my hon. Friend has just said. Opposition Members restricted themselves to 52 minutes of speeches on the previous Bill because it is agreed, but Conservative Members spoke for 156 minutes—about three times as long. The Opposition believe that the Bill is important to some of the most needy people in Britain. If the Minister says that he will give it a fair wind, we undertake to give it a rapid Second Reading and to do everything in our power to expedite its proceedings through Committee. I hope that the Minister will respond charitably in view of the severe problems that are faced by many people.

Mr. Anderson

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that most helpful intervention and renew my challenge to the Minister.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Richard Tracey)

I am afraid that I cannot say that I am prepared to be so sweepingly charitable. The Government want to hear a considerable amount of detail from the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson). We want to pursue this debate.

Mr. Anderson

The details can be dealt with in Committee. The facts are amply known in all their misery—if the Department has eyes to see and ears to hear what its own reports have revealed. I can only conclude that, by a cynical manipulation of parliamentary procedure, the Treasury Bench wants to kill the Bill and do nothing about the misery that is revealed in its departmental reports.

Three weeks ago, on 23 January, the Department of the Environment issued a most frightening and damning report on housing. It is frightening because it says that more than 2 million people now live in multi-occupied accommodation at risk to their lives because their homes lack satisfactory means of escape from fire. The report is damning because it states unequivocally that conditions in such properties are an indictment of national and local government housing policy over many years. Those are not my words, but what "The 1985 Physical and Social Survey of Houses in Multiple Occupation in England and Wales" says. I am therefore amazed at the Minister's response to my challenge. If my Bill has one overriding objective, it is to give tenants in bedsits, hostels and bed-and-breakfast accommodation the right to live in decent, safe homes.

The Bill would provide the basis for local housing authorities to give tenants the protection that they deserve, which they are manifestly not given at the moment.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

I am not one of those who are amenable to cynical exploitation of parliamentary procedures, but I am genuinely interested in the hon. Gentleman's argument. It seems that local authorities already have considerable powers to deal with many of the hon. Gentleman's complaints. It appears that local authorities do not make as much use as they might of powers under section 11 of the Housing Act 1985. They certainly have power under the appropriate fire regulations to do much of what the hon. Gentleman is talking about.

I have read this extraordinarily lengthy, complicated and detailed Bill, and it seems that if enacted its provisions would be extremely expensive if they were to be implemented by local authorities. Why cannot local authorities be encouraged by central Government to make use of the powers that are already available to them?

Mr. Anderson

I can give a fuller answer to the hon. Gentleman's question as I proceed with my speech, but I shall respond immediately to his suggestion that there are adequate means available to local authorities to deal with fire hazards. It was suggested in a May 1986 postal survey that probably 38 per cent. of houses in multiple occupation have inadequate means of fire escape, and the report that was published on 23 January revealed that over 81 per cent. of houses in multiple occupation have inadequate means of fire escape. It is estimated that only 8 per cent. of properties are covered by existing legislation. The figures show that there is a yawning gap between the powers that are available to local authorities and the necessary provisions that are contained in the Bill.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

Is it not a fact that most local authorities throughout the country support the Bill, and that the Environmental Health Officers' Association at national level is supporting it as well? The association believes that the relevant powers should be strengthened and that resources should be made available to enable it to exercise the powers that now exist.

Mr. Anderson

Indeed. I have been encouraged by the overwhelming support for the Bill from professional bodies such as the Institution of Environmental Health Officers, from the Fire Brigades Union, from local authorities, including many that are Conservative controlled, and from the Association of District Councils and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, whose housing and works committee resolved unanimously to support the Bill. There has been support from all the relevent national voluntary agencies, including tenant groups, law centres and churches throughout the country. The response has been overwhelming and most encouraging. By reading the list of sponsors the Government will see that there is a genuine all-party support. A number of Conservative Members have shown their support and I commend to the Minister the remarkable speech that was made on Tuesday by the hon. Member for Croydon, North-west (Mr. Malins), who set out the problem as he has seen it at first hand. If the Government fail to respond to what is clearly an all-party Bill, they will stand condemned throughout the country.

A Bill similar to mine received a Second Reading in 1983. Unfortunately, it died because of the general election. The result of a number of factors is that the problem has become much worse since then. Research shows that 2.6 million people live in houses in multiple occupation in England and Wales. The term "houses in multiple occupation" is derived from the Housing Act 1969. It is defined in section 345 of the Housing Act 1985 as a house which is occupied by persons who do not form a single household.

The House will be aware of the range of HMOs, which includes bed-and-breakfast accommodation, bedsits, flats with shared provision, hostels and boarding houses. Research shows also that 81 per cent. of those living in HMOs are single, that 35 per cent. are women and that 65 per cent. of the HMO population are aged 35 years or under. However, 12 per cent. are retirement pensioners.

My concern arises from being the chairman of the parliamentary Campaign for the Homeless and Rootless, a vice-president of the Institution of Environmental Health Officers and, at local level, the president of the Swansea accommodation for the single homeless organisation. As the president of that Swansea organisation, I see with my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) the problems which arise even outside major conurbations.

Recent Government research, which was published on 23 January, not only confirms, but goes further than the results of the earlier postal surveys. The reports of May 1986 and January 1987 show that there is a nationwide housing problem and that the housing and safety conditions of more than 2 million of our fellow citizens are nothing short of a national scandal. They also show that the existing legislative framework is manifestly inadequate because it fails to guarantee decent and safe homes for those needy people. It is on that basis that I put the case for my Bill.

HMOs are to be found in all parts of the country. The postal survey showed that 43 per cent. of them are in Greater London, 41 per cent. in the non-metropolitan districts, and 16 per cent. in the metropolitan districts outside London. Therefore, it is a national problem which exists in the nicer cathedral cities as much as in the hard-pressed conurbations. I understand that the low standards of lodging houses in Lincoln, especially for tenants in receipt of supplementary benefit, caused such a scandal that last year the district council commissioned a report, which showed that up to 2,000 people in Lincoln were living in HMOs, many of which were substandard.

The really frightening element that emerges from those two reports is that, all over the country, people are living in properties that are a risk to their lives. I shall not bore the House with the statistics that are set out in the reports, but I commend perusal of them. As I mentioned in response to the hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter), 81 per cent., or four out of five, of all HMOs lack a satisfactory means of escape from fire, and 80 per cent. are unsatisfactory on the grounds of lack of amenities, overcrowding or the standards of management.

Taken together, those two departmental reports completely demolish the argument that the existing legislation is adequate and that all would be well if all local authorities did no more than carry out and enforce the legislative powers that are available to them. The reports stated that if local authorities continued to use their powers to enforce safe standards at the rate they were doing when the survey was conducted, it would take between 70 and 85 years to make all HMOs safe. It is patently obvious that the present legislation is not being enforced.

The Department of Environment report in January stated: It is clear that local authorities have failed to enforce existing standards". However, in a press release which accompanied the publication of the report the Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction said only: Local authorities already have duties and extensive powers to take action to improve standards in appropriate cases. But the research suggests that practice is patchy". That must be one of the housing understatements of the year.

There are two main reasons why the present legislative framework is inadequate to transform people's living conditions. First, it is overwhelmingly discretionary. I have already referred to the problem of fire escapes. Research shows that the relevant statutory instrument No. 1981/1576 applies to only 8 per cent. of HMOs nationally, but that 81 per cent. of HMOs are unsafe. Secondly, the present framework gives HMO tenants virtually no rights to initiate action, or to expect and receive action.

It is well known to those who are active in this sphere that the great majority of HMO tenants are unlikely to complain about their lot for fear of harassment or eviction. Yet one of the most shocking facts revealed in the Department's postal survey was that 86 per cent. of all local authorities said that their policies for dealing with HMO conditions were based on reacting to individual complaints. By definition, a large proportion of tenants are unlikely to initiate such complaints because of fear.

Clause 2 places a firm duty on landlords of HMOs to provide and maintain standards for fire safety, facilities, space and management. It makes it clear that owners of property in multiple occupation must maintain their houses in such a way as to protect the health, safety and welfare of their tenants. Clause 3 places local housing authorities under a duty to inspect their areas to locate all HMOs and to ensure that all such houses meet the requirements set out in the Bill.

It is clear from the Department's research that authorities do not carry out their present general duties systematically. Indeed, last month's report stated: There is a need for local authorities to inform themselves about the scale, distribution, condition and function of HMOs in their area; to take appropriate action to enforce standards; and to monitor change through a programme of cyclical inspections. In other words, the Department's research supports the principle of clause 3.

The clause provides that authorities must inspect their areas to locate HMOs once every two years. For authorities which have an exceptionally large number of such properties in their area, clause 3 (2) enables them to apply to the Secretary of State for a further period of one year in which to carry out a full area inspection. I must stress that the principle of the clause is widely supported by the professional bodies concerned, not only the Institution of Environmental Health Officers, but the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, whose members in London and the metropolitan areas have the greatest concentration of HMOs.

Clause 4 requires local housing authorities to keep an open register of HMOs in their area. I included the clause essentially to ensure that HMO tenants have open access to information about who their landlord is and what steps their local council is taking to ensure that their home is safe. Clause 5 needs to be read with schedules 1 and 3. Together they provide for minimum housing and fire safety standards for houses in multiple occupation.

The management requirements, which date back to 1962 and which are now issued by the Secretary of State under section 369 of the Housing Act 1985, do not apply automatically to HMOs. That is a vital point. The position on fire safety standards, with well-publicised fires over the years at Clanricarde gardens and Pontypridd last year, shows the extent of the national scandal in respect of fire safety.

For over 25 years Greater London has had a code of practice for means of escape in case of fire, which provides guidance to all London boroughs and enables them to use the code to enforce standards. Outside London, no such code exists. It is left to each local authority to consult the local fire authority about fire safety requirements. In practice this often means individual consultation on each and every separate property. As the Department's research survey said: There is a need for a nationally agreed standard on means of escape and for this standard to be enforced effectively. I am sure that all hon. Members will be shocked to learn that the Government have known for over six years that such a standard is needed, but so far have failed to provide one.

As long ago as December 1980 Lord Whitelaw, the then Home Secretary, told the House that he appreciated the need for a code and would consult relevant local authority associations and others to produce one. A year ago, in February 1986, the long-awaited draft of such a code was issued by the Home Office for consultation. In my judgment, the House will be deeply concerned that the draft merely proposed to lay down standards for HMOs covered by authorities' limited duty to require means of escape. Only 8 per cent. of HMOs are covered by such duty.

Clause 5 will replace the present dangerous chaos and provide clear fire standards for all aspects of HMO management.

Clause 7 is the heart of the Bill. It requires local housing authorities to enforce the standards provided for and provides a streamlined procedure for enforcement. At present, local authorities must serve a variety of notices or orders when they use their powers to enforce standards. Therefore, clause 7 will enable authorities to serve only one notice for any or all aspects of the relevant standards. Tenant safety cannot and must no longer be left to the chance of discretionary powers.

Clause 8 largely re-enacts section 368 of the Housing Act 1985 and enables authorities to close part of a house for fire safety reasons. Clause 9 gives them power to take urgent action to put right a defect in an HMO if they consider conditions to be dangerous to tenants. Clause 10 provides a new procedure for dealing with properties that are not capable, at reasonable expense, of reaching the Bill's standards.

Hon. Members will wish to know that clause 33 defines reasonable expense in such a way as to take into account any grants that improvements in an HMO might attract. The number of houses that are incapable of being brought reasonably up to standard is likely to be small. If a property is large and accommodates many people, the authority can apply to the Secretary of State for a longer period of up to three years. When such a course must be taken, the housing authority must secure decent alternative housing accommodation for those who would be made homeless. Under clause 12, tenants will also be given the right to secure decent, safe alternative homes if they are made homeless as a result of the authority's use of its power to reduce overcrowding, or, under clause 8, to close part of an unsafe HMO.

Hon. Members will agree that nobody should have to continue to live in overcrowded or dangerous conditions and that it is absolutely right that the alternative must not be for them to be made homeless. Hon. Members will be reassured by the findings of the Department of Environment research that, in the view of surveyors of HMOs, if standards were enforced nationally, the amount of accommodation lost would be small—that is, 76 per cent. of HMOs would lose no households and only 5 per cent. would lose more than one.

Clause 11 provides grants for improvements. I have already referred to clause 12, which deals with the prevention and reduction of overcrowding. Clauses 13 to 24 reform the powers and procedures by which local housing authorities may make control orders on HMOs to protect the safety, welfare or health of tenants. These clauses will replace the existing provisions in the Housing Act 1985,.

Clause 25 will enable authorities to follow up a control order with a compulsory purchase order on grounds similar to those set out in section 243 of the Housing Act 1985 as if the HMO were located in a housing action area. Clause 2 will apply not only to privately owned HMOs but to local authority owned HMOs. Clause 34 relates to Crown properties. The remainder of the provisions are set out in part II, which deals with the financial provisions, and in part III, which deals with matters relating to power of entry, penalties, commencement and extent of the Bill and repeals—the more formal elements.

Sir Hugh Rossi (Hornsey and Wood Green)

Is the hon. Gentleman able to help me about something that troubles me in this otherwise admirable Bill? It is high time that some form of registration, inspection and control was exercised over bed-and-breakfast hotels, common lodging houses and the rest. The definition of multi-occupation seems to me to be much wider than is necessary to protect those categories.

In my borough there have been problems when the landlord, the owner of the house, lives in it and lets one or two rooms. The tenants could be older children who occupy a bedroom with, possibly, separate cooking facilities, but because they are not members of the landlord's family the fire officer asks for several thousand pounds to be spent on blocking off staircases and fireproofing doors. That would not be necessary if the house was occupied by a large family, and it is a particular burden for elderly couples who want help with the rates.

I am worried that the Bill may be drawn so wide that it will discourage such people from letting in an area where there is a great need for private rented accommodation.

Mr. Anderson

I understand the hon. Gentleman's anxiety and I commend his concern and long term activity in his own constituency, where there is a substantial housing problem. The definition that I have adopted is to be found in section 345 of the Housing Act 1985. The hon. Gentleman has made a serious point. Everybody wishes to encourage the maximum use of properties. His point could properly be dealt with in Committee if he could convince the Treasury Bench that the problem is so serious that the Bill deserves to reach its Committee stage.

I have now dealt with the more formal parts of the Bill. It does not extend to Scotland or Northern Ireland, although it enjoys the support of many voluntary organisations in both places and there is an urgent need for similar legislation to be introduced there. I have already mentioned the substantial support that the Bill enjoys, not only from hon. Members who see the problems at first hand in their constituencies, but from organisations that are seeking to do something about a national scandal. All those bodies and hon. Members are in step. Why is it that only this Government are out of step?

1.33 pm
Mr. Timothy Wood (Stevenage)

I commend the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) for introducing the Bill. I accept that there are vast problems connected with houses in multiple occupation. One of the problems is that all too often the various fire and other safety standards are not properly adhered to and that all too often too little is done by local authorities that, given their present powers, could do much more. I dearly hope that the result of the debate will be that local authorities will much more energetically pursue the various wrongs that are to be found in houses in multiple occupation.

Although I commend the spirit and principle of the Bill, I have major reservations about the multiplicity of its details. There comes a time when one examines a piece of legislation and says, "Well, all right, I agree with those objectives, but to what extent will they be carried out effectively by a Bill in this form?"

My worries come in a variety of forms. I have looked through some of the details of and schedules to the Bill. In the past I have occupied flats and other places in houses of multiple occupation, to use the jargon phrase, that certainly did not conform to the constraints urged in the Bill. To be blunt, the places that I occupied were perfectly satisfactory to me at that time. Furthermore, in many instances, they would have been extremely difficult to adapt to meet some of the requirements imposed by the Bill.

I certainly would not wish, in supporting such legislation, that, as a result, a whole variety of perfectly satisfactory homes was put out of use and the amount of flats and flatlets and other accommodation was reduced. I am concerned that the Bill, as drafted at present, would have that effect. That would be an unfortunate effect.

As has been said, the other related concern is that local authorities have often been slack in pursuing and dealing with such matters under their present powers. Even if many more duties are put on local authorities, it will take years rather than months to deal with many of the potential problems that are identified in the Bill.

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

Is the hon. Gentleman not arguing that more resources should be given to local authorities so that they can get on with the task of registration and inspection and instituting court proceedings?

Mr. Wood

There are mechanisms within the rate support grant system which ensure that areas which have poor accommodation and poor housing receive greater amounts of rate support grant.

I hope that, within the present rate support grant system, local authorities will carry out their various duties more effectively and pursue matters under the existing powers. The resources available to local authorities is a much wider argument. Many local authorities are extremely wasteful of some of their present resources. However, I do not wish to divert the debate down that line for too long because my worry, like that of the promoter of the Bill, is to sort out some of the real problems that he identified.

I am concerned that the Bill, far from simplifying the position, complicates it. A mass of detail on potential room sizes, the covering on kitchen work tops and a multitude of other things is covered in the schedules to the Bill. Many of those things are not essential for providing decent accommodation for many people to live in, especially, in many instances, for young people for relatively short periods. It is wholly misguided to identify such items in extreme detail in a schedule to such a Bill.

Although it may be argued that there are matters of detail which can all be discussed in Committee, it worries me that the nature of the Bill is such that it implies a wish to go into inappropriate detail. Perhaps further powers and duties for local authorities should be introduced, but if one wishes to do that one should avoid some of the detail in the primary legislation. It is a wholly mistaken approach. That saddens me because I believe that there are major problems, particularly in cities such as London, where a multitude of people are disadvantaged in the accommodation in which they live and where things need to be done to resolve their problems.

I want to see some relatively simple legislation that may aid local authorities in their work and, indeed, urge them to pursue their efforts more effectively. I may be persuaded as the debate proceeds, but as things stand I have real doubts about whether the legislation in its present form will meet those needs.

1.40 pm
Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

I shall speak as briefly as I can for two reasons. The first is that I want it to become apparent that there is support for the Bill on both sides of the House, and it should have its Second Reading today. Secondly, it is important that we allow time for the Government to respond to the offer by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) that if the Bill has its Second Reading there will be no obstruction. We shall be as co-operative as possible in making sure that it becomes an Act of Parliament. I hope that we shall have a response in the same spirit from the Minister.

The Government should be grateful for that offer because it is they who should be introducing the Bill; they should not simply leave it to my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East. The evidence for the need for the Bill has come from a Government Department. We are grateful for the briefing and assistance that we have had from the Houses in Multiple Occupation Group.

We are talking about 2.6 million people who live in almost one third of a million houses in multiple occupation. Ten per cent. of those homes are unfit for human habitation, 81 per cent. are possible fire traps because they do not possess satisfactory means of escape in the event of fire, and many others, possibly four fifths of them, are deficient in one respect or another. So the Government should be pushing the Bill forward, not resisting or delaying it, because they have the evidence in their own hands.

Secondly, the Government should be introducing the Bill because of the way in which the Department of Health and Social Security treats young people, forcing them into worse and more squalid accommodation as a result of the iniquitous bed and breakfast allowances that it introduced. The Government should be pushing for higher standards because it was the Secretary of State for the Environment who told us, in response to criticisms of the highest ever number of homeless families, that he regarded hostels and bed-and-breakfast accommodation as part of the answer to homelessness. If he is putting his money on hostels, he should put his support behind the Bill, which can control the conditions in those hostels.

The Government should agree that a duty should be placed on local authorities, which is an essential feature of the Bill. At the moment local authorities in urban areas—the vast majority of houses in multiple occupation are in urban areas — find themselves under extraordinary stress because of the operation of the rate support grant. Many local authorities find that if they add resources for dealing with homes in multiple occupation, they suffer a penalty.

The figures provided by the Government are adequate evidence of the need to act quickly in relation to homes in multiple occupation. Other evidence is legion. I asked questions last year about the number of fires and the number of people who died in fires in hotels, bed-and-breakfast accommodation and houses in multiple occupation. The figures are, frankly, frightening. There has been some adjustment in the way in which the figures are collected, but it is not unusual to find that more than 100 people have died in fires in detached and semi-detached houses in multiple occupation. Although the figures vary from year to year, sometimes 10 or more people die in hotels, hostels and similar institutions. Every professional body that considers these matters supports the Bill. The Institution of Environmental Health Officers, through its representative Mr. Battersby, has stated that the risk of a fire in a house in multiple occupation is eight or 10 times the risk in a single occupied house, and we know from other evidence of the problems of disease, vermin and even death.

The case for action in these matters is overwhelming. It is Labour party policy to deal with these matters when the Labour party forms the Government. We have stated our policy in the housing document "Homes for the Future". In that document we state that we will introduce urgent legislation to protect people in dangerous, unhealthy and overcrowded temporary accommodation; we will give priority to placing a mandatory duty on councils to enforce standards of fire safety, space, repairs, amenities and management in all multi-occupied bed-sits, hostels and bed and breakfast hostels. The document draws attention to the problems faced by inner city authorities in dealing with the problems of homelessness. There is a very strong link between homelessness and the need to act on houses in multiple occupation. From the last figures that I have received from Shelter, 12,000 households were awaiting housing from temporary accommodation in London and that is likely to be in multiple occupation property. There are also 2,000 families in hostels, 4,000 families in short-life accommodation and more than 6,000 families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. The need is massive.

What is a house in multiple occupation? My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East has defined that in the Bill. However, the Bill is long and he could not go into detail. However, one way to define a home in multiple occupation would be to describe it as a house which is not a home. It is a place where a person shuts the door at the end of the day but still does not have a place to call his own. That is the real essence of multiple occupation. Many of us representing urban constituencies know of places which not only carry the risk of fire, overcrowding, disease and death, but which create tension and destroy the lives of those living in such houses, particularly the children.

When I was first elected to this House, there were appalling homes in multiple occupation in my constituency. These homes were loved by the sociologists but hated by the occupants. They were in Somerleyton road and Geneva road in Brixton. Thank goodness that, through public intervention, we were able to end the scandal of those homes.

After the riots in 1981 and later, I had to try to explain to the Scarman inquiry what I believed to be the causes of the riots. My mind went back to what occurred 18 years or 20 years ago in those streets of houses which existed in the most appalling and squalid conditions. The main cause of tension and concern then was that people had to share kitchens, bathrooms and other facilities. The children grew up in the most appalling and insecure circumstances.

If we wanted to breed children for riot or social instability — although I do not mean to suggest for a moment that everyone who lived in those houses became rioters or criminals, far from it; people struggled to make their lives decent and struggled against their surroundings—we could not have done it better than in such homes where the conditions were so appalling. The conditions of multiple occupation created the risk of breeding children for riot, instability and insurrection. Ever since I experienced those matters, I have dedicated myself to preventing those conditions from occurring. However, the truth is that, overall, the number of homes in multiple occupation has been growing. The solution is adequate legislation. We must place a duty, not an option, upon local authorities to deal with the problem. Such homes should be registered so that they can be identified.

We have a massive code for dealing with motor vehicles. We subject vehicles to a yearly test. We do not insist upon that for homes. We insist that those who drive vehicles take a test to assess their driving ability. We do not do that for the owners of homes in multiple occupation. We say that all those who own a vehicle must register with a Government Department. We would regard as unthinkable any suggestion that we set aside such regulations. It is unthinkable that the House should not press forward as quickly as possible to establish a registration system and control to improve the living conditions of over 2 million people.

1.50 pm
Mr. John Powley (Norwich, South)

It is a strange coincidence that I have a particular interest in two Bills that we are considering today. I hope that the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), who ably introduced the Bill, was not suggesting that we should not have had a proper and adequate discussion on the measure which preceded his Bill. Although there is wide agreement on that Bill, it is an extremely important measure which deserves the fullest consideration. I had an interest in that Bill, and I have a long-standing interest in housing. I have spoken about housing and local government in many debates.

When I first entered local government in 1967 I made a bee line for the housing committee. I have retained that interest and that is why I am pleased to make a contribution to this debate.

I have no wish to kill the Bill.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Fulham)

Then sit down.

Mr. Powley

The hon. Member may say that, but if I did sit down the House would not be giving adequate consideration to this important measure. With the hon. Gentleman's wide experience of housing matters, I hope that he appreciates that any legislation of this kind deserves the fullest consideration by all hon. Members, whatever their opinion. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not wish to deny the opportunity for that consideration.

I have a great deal of sympathy for many parts of the Bill. I hope that no one will disagree that we should attempt to improve accommodation standards. We should improve local authority houses, owner-occupied houses and privately rented houses.

We must consider the practical effect of the proposals. The Bill is extremely complicated. There is no doubt about that. The hon. Member for Swansea, East introduced the Bill succinctly, but it contains 37 clauses and 6 schedules, most of which have considerable implications. Even with the hon. Gentleman's expertise in the House, he did not do justice to all the points in the Bill. With my modest experience, I am well aware that the longer a Bill is, the more complicated it becomes and the more implications there are were the Bill to become an Act.

Mr. Porter

It is a long and complicated Bill. One of the shorter clauses is clause 28, which says:

There shall be paid out of money provided by Parliament—

  1. (a) any expenses incurred by a local housing authority or by the Secretary of State in the exercise of their powers under this Act; and
  2. (b) any increase attributable to this Act in the sums payable out of such moneys under any other Act.
In all my delvings into the Bill, I can find no sign of what it might cost the individual householder, the local authorities or the Secretary of State. More to the point, I cannot find any sign as to what effect it might have on the availability of such accommodation for those people who desperately need it, and, for those who are able to acquire it, what the effect will be on rents.

Mr. Powley

My hon. Friend is right to raise such an important question. I intended to pay attention to that matter, so perhaps I should refer to it now. Clause 28 is one of the briefest clauses i:n a complicated Bill, but it mentions very little indeed. There are severe financial implications for local authorities, for the Government and for the owners of such property, but little or no mention is made of any of them.

There are considerable implications for the local authorities. Having been through the local government scene I recognise the financial constraints within local government. Indeed, I support constraints being put on local authorities because of their very nature and the effect that they could have within the general economic scene. I receive representations from my local authority. I disagree with Norwich city council on some things but on others I agree with it.

I receive representations from my local authority about the financial effects of legislation that Parliament is imposing on it. It makes representations about its financial obligations to the various component parts of my constituency. There is nothing in the Bill about the financial constraints that should be imposed on local government — how it would find the money or how it would compete with the other priorities within the local authority area. Local authorities have other priorities to consider. The Bill, were it to be enacted in this form, would have to take its place within the priorities that the local authorities determine for such legislation.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Croydon, North-West)

The payment for bed and breakfast accommodation comes from the DHSS, which is Government money. As the Government are paying the money out to the DHSS for bed and breakfast landlords, have they not a duty to ensure that the standards of that accommodation are adequate?

Mr. Powley

I made that point briefly earlier on when I said that we are all concerned about standards of accommodation, whether it be bed and breakfast, bedsit, or any dwelling.

As I understand it, allowances are not paid by the DHSS to landlords. The DHSS makes the payment to the tenant of the accommodation and the tenant then transfers the amount to the landlord. I am sure that in the majority of cases that is what happens.

In Norwich there are houses in multiple occupation. Landlords complain to me that some tenants—only a small minority—do not transmit the money that they receive from the DHSS to the landlord to whom they should pay rent. As a result, a number of landlords in Norwich have been denied the money rightly and properly paid by the DHSS to tenants for the accommodation. That is another part of the financial problem to which my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) referred.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

The hon. Gentleman referred to the differences between claims to the DHSS and rents. He is right to draw attention to clause 28. In my constituency, the housing department in the local authority pays £.4.5 million for 750 families to live in sleazy hotels. The weight of that does not fall only on the DHSS—it falls also on the ratepayers.

Mr. Powley

That is a valid point. I have often referred to the rate implications for the local authorities. I agree with the hon. Gentleman's point and I hope that he will agree with mine. There are financial implications for both the local authority and the owner of the property. Where a local authority or fire authority rightly and properly insists on certain work being done, that would impose a financial obligation on the owner of the property. Fire regulations should be applied. However, the practical effect of imposing so many could be that there would be no accommodation, because the owner is in no position to afford the cost of the improvement in standards and fire precautions, and as a result has to take the accommodation off the market.

I am not suggesting that any landlord should allow accommodation to be occupied when it is in a slum condition, or when safety standards and cleanliness are ignored and facilities are not provided. However, the financial effect on the landlord could be an inhibiting factor in the provision of the accommodation.

Mr. Porter

Is not the whole point that the Bill lacks financial information? Any responsible housing authority knows now where its rotten houses in multiple occupation are, or at least it should. However, we do not know what it would cost to put houses in order, what work would have to be done, how much would have to be paid or what conditions would have to be met and so on. If we did, I would have some sympathy with what the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) is proposing. However, we do not know, and it would be an unwise virgin who would go into such a forest without having such information available.

Mr. Powley

I agree with my hon. Friend. I have said that, while the hon. Member for Swansea, East was succinct in introducing his Bill, he did not explain properly the point that my hon. Friend makes.

Mr. Stuart Holland (Vauxhall)

This is a Second Reading debate.

Mr. Powley

I think that it is important, even on Second Reading, that the financial effect of any legislation is spelt out to the House. In that way we can judge the merits or otherwise of proposed legislation. It is irresponsible if the financial effects on the Government, local authorities or individuals are not explained. I believe that any legislation should have a financial tag. I am not saying that just in relation to this Bill because I said that the financial consequences of the preceding Bill should be more fully explained.

Because I am pointing out the difficulties associated with the legislation, for which I have a great deal of sympathy, I hope that no one believes that I am condemning the legislation. I welcome the legislation, but it must be explained and the details examined as closely as possible.

As the House is aware, I have had my problems with Norwich city council, but I commend it for the action of which I was advised in a letter written to me on 5 February by the chief executive of Norwich city council. It states: The last six monthly progress report to the Housing Committee showed there to be 325 registered H.M.O's within the City."— For the benefit of the House I should explain that my constituency covers only three quarters of the city, but I am talking about the city of Norwich, and hon. Members will have to make their judgment on the figures. The letter continued: Over the last 18 months, the Housing Committee has been developing a more positive policy towards dealing with this type of property and have included provision of £50,000 in next year's Housing Investment Programme to help grant aid improvements to such properties. The Environmental Health Department also have two members of staff with specific responsibility for H.M.O's. I commend the action that my local authority has taken. it shares my concern to raise the standard of houses in multiple occupation. It is for the local authority to determine whether the provision of ?50,000 is too high or too low. I clo not know how many properties will be improved as a result of that £50,000. That brings me back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South when he said that such expenditure must take its place within the priorities determined by the local authority, based on the competing claims for available resources.

There is no doubt that there are problems within my constituency. The local newspaper has reported that in one of the pleasant roads of Norwich, Unthank road, in my constituency, a number of residents are rightly concerned about the state of some of the properties in multiple occupation. The gardens have become unkempt and some of the houses have taken on an air of disreputability. The other residents are commenting not on the internal standards within the houses, but on the outside of those properties which leaves a lot to he desired and is lowering the standard of some of them.

I have covered only a few difficulties associated with the Bill. I repeat again, for the benefit of the House, that I do not condemn anyone who seeks to improve the standard of housing accommodation. I share the view that it is right and proper to try to improve standards and I support any measure to raise those standards. However, I draw the attention of the House to the legislation's complexity and the number of clauses and schedules contained within it.I draw attention to the implications of some clauses in a constructive spirit so that we understand fully what is under consideration before we commit ourselves.

2.9 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Richard Tracey)

It is clear that hon. Members have diverse views about the Bill, its complexity and its purpose, and it may be for the convenience of the House if I say something about the Government's view of the Bill.

I commend and congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) on bringing this matter forward for us to debate and on what he said about improving the lot of people who live in houses in multiple occupation. Hon. Members are aware that the Government have taken steps to improve knowledge of the subject by commissioning research, which has been mentioned several times today.

The Government, following the results of the postal survey published last year and the findings of the physical and social survey published last month, are also concerned about the conditions in what is a considerably neglected element of the housing sector. Standards are lower than they should be, as the research has made clear. There are widespread needs for repair and for better management.

In addition to having sponsored research and consolidated legislation on this subject into a single Act and an advisory circular, the Government have their own views on how to bring about an upgrading of standards in this area. Much of what the hon. Member's Bill proposes already exists in current legislation, albeit in discretionary form. It is not, in the Government's view, the existing legislation that is a fault. It is wide ranging and capable in one form or another of meeting most situations, if not every situation. The powers are there for local authorities to use.

Our research has shown that the application of current legislation varies widely. Some authorities have been successful and effective within existing powers and available resources, others, unfortunately, have proved less active. In the Government's view, the approach should be to concentrate effort on encouraging the wider application and knowledge of existing powers, not just among local authorities, but among landlords and tenants, many of whom remain unaware of their individual rights. In the Government's view, local authorities remain best placed to consider the use of discretionary powers in the context of their knowledge of the housing situation in their areas. We intend to assist and advise them further when doing that.

My Department has written to a number of local authorities and similar organisations with the intention of seconding, for up to two years, an environmental health officer. His job will be to disseminate examples of good practice, to help design HMO guidance for authorities, to liaise with authorities over particular problems and to consider what extra discretionary powers local authorities might need.

The Government are particularly concerned to achieve greater consistency of approach to HMOs. One means of doing that will be to reconsider, in consultation with the local authority associations — which are important in this process — and other interested parties, the present definition, which is: A house which is occupied by persons who do not form a single household". This is capable, as our research has shown, of wide interpretation. If a consistent understanding of the terrn can be achieved, with clear boundaries as to application, the more effective will existing legislation be. By doing that, and combining it with other measures, such as asking local authorities to include HMOs as one of their target groups for grants and perhaps the preparation of a code of practice regarding the placing of homeless people in HMOs, the Government hope to improve the manner in which the existing legislation will operate.

On more detailed matters, as I have said, much of the Bill is not new; it is very similar to a Bill introduced in 1983 and in parts to other previous private Members' Bills. The Government remain committed to the principle of improving conditions in HMOs. As in previous private Members' Bills, however, the resource implications and impracticabilities must be to the fore. These have been singularly pointed out by my hon. Friends. Increasing the frequency of inspections and the conversion of discretionary powers into duties still remain a matter with substantial resource implications for local authorities.

I do not know what estimate the hon. Member for Swansea, East has made of the costs of this measure. He certainly did not tell us. There is the question of the thin dividing line between the provision of cheap rentable accommodation and any proposals which might deter prospective landlords from providing it. That must be considered too. The Government believe that the imposition of rigid standards such as those in the schedules are too detailed to he practicable and might serve only to produce the deterrent effect to which I have referred. There are existing provisions for the application of management codes, where necessary, to ensure proper state of repair, clean condition and general good order. Local authorities can establish at their discretion what standards to apply where overcrowding in an HMO exists.

Mr. Malins

The problem with bed-and-breakfast accommodation—it is surely a scandal—is that there are only powers and no duties to enforce. What is more, most local authorities say that their powers are not adequate to rid us of the overcrowding scandals that are so damaging to children, to which the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) referred.

Mr. Tracey

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I have already said that we believe after considerable study that the discretionary powers are adequate. The trouble is that there is inconsistency in operation. That is why we intend to second an environmental health officer to study these matters and to tell local authorities how they can best perform their discretionary duties.

A most important aspect of HMOs is the problem of fire. At present, local authorities possess a duty, through a statutory instrument, to provide means of escape in respect of those HMOs with at least three storeys, excluding basements, and where the combined floor area exceeds 500 square metres. An informal investigation was undertaken by the Department of the Environment late last year concerning the practicalities of extending the scope of the duty to all those properties of three storeys or more with a combined floor area of 250 square metres. Unfortunately, this again proved impracticable on resource grounds because the fire authorities indicated they were having difficulty inspecting all the premises falling within the current duty.

The Government therefore propose to concentrate on the encouragement of local authorities to meet their existing duties, and the effective use of discretionary powers with regard to fire, on which it is known that activity has been low in the past. In the meantime, the Home Office is producing a guide for certain types of HMO which, it is estimated, will apply to about 60 per cent. of affected properties.

I note that the intentions of the hon. Member for Swansea, East are to update, strengthen and simplify procedures with regard to HMOs. As I have said, the Government are not convinced that strengthening is required in the manner suggested. Nor do we agree that the details provided by the Bill necessarily simplify matters. The Government have never said that they would be averse to updating legislation where this is considered necessary — the consolidated Housing Acts are a good example of that. In the case of the HMO legislation, however, the line that must be adhered to is that the wide array of powers and duties already available are sufficient. Nonetheless, the Government intend to take the steps that I spelt out earlier to ensure that application becomes more effective. This, after all, is the same intention as the Bill.

Let us not forget that in many cases HMOs provide homes for those in the more vulnerable categories of society or who simply cannot afford better. The Government's aim is to upgrade standards and improve management. That is a substantial challenge and one which, given time, we hope will be successful in counteracting the problems that are associated with such accommodation.

Although I congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea, East on bringing this matter before the House, I must advise him that, unfortunately, the Government cannot support the Bill as it stands.

2.20 pm
Mr. Nick Raynsford (Fulham)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) on introducing this extremely important Bill, which seeks to tackle one of the most serious housing crises of our time. I should equally like to congratulate all those voluntary organisations which are concerned with the homeless and which have worked with enormous persistence over many years to try to get action taken to remedy this problem.

I do not add my congratulations to Her Majesty's Government, because during the past seven years they have prevaricated and put obstacles in the way of all those who have attempted to tackle the problem. I find it remarkable — I do not blame the Under-Secretary of State who is present — that the Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction has not thought it appropriate to be here today to deal with an issue which one of his predecessors described as the central challenge to housing. It is significant that the Minister does not treat this matter as being worthy of his presence today.

The Government's record is matched only by the records of some, but not all, Conservative Members who have spoken at great length, but to little effect, about many matters, including some who have contributed to both debates this morning and made it difficult for the Bill to proceed, by allowing it insufficient time.

Mr. Stuart Holland

While he is discussing double standards, may I ask whether my hon. Friend agrees that that is illustrated at local authority level? In my constituency there are Access hotels on Clapham common for 147 Vietnamese persons that are overcrowded, where fire regulations are not properly regarded and where the leader of the Tory group on Lambeth council has been the legal adviser to the company that is exploiting those people.

Mr. Raynsford

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting that disgraceful fact. Those Conservative Members who spoke at length this morning, and who may have prejudiced the prospects of the Bill receiving its Second Reading, would do well to ponder, when the next serious fire takes place, as it will, in a multi-occupied house, whether the loss of life or the injuries that were suffered by the people involved might have been prevented if they had allowed the Bill to have a greater debate today.

Mr. Malins

Will the hon. Gentleman, with his experience in housing matters, accept that many of my hon. Friends would have loved to see the Bill go forward and that we are very disappointed?

Mr. Raynsford

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his persistent and continuous support for the Bill and wish that other Conservative Members had shown similar concern.

The objections that have been raised to the Bill can be summarised under three headings. First, the Bill is too complex. Frankly, any hon. Member who visits a house in multiple occupation will be only too well aware of the need for standards to be clearly defined. Those hon. Members will have seen the squalor, appalling sanitary conditions, disgusting kitchens, broken banisters and the hazards that risk lives in those houses. They will also have seen the inadequacy of the fire protection in so many of those properties. That was confirmed by the Government's own research, which showed that four out of five houses in multi-occupation are not adequately protected against fire. Having seen that, one can understand only too clearly the need for proper regulations. As my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) so rightly stressed, if there are detailed regulations to cover safety in cars, similar regulations should be introduced for housing.

The second objecton relates to the financial effects of the Bill on local authorities and, perhaps, the Government. Do those who talk about the possible extra cost consider the cost of the loss of human life, the damage to property, the human misery, the injuries and the disease suffered by those who live in such houses? Have they considered the subsequent cost to the NHS? All that must be taken into account.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Raynsford

Time is short.

Do those hon. Gentlemen not consider the gross waste of resources through the DHSS subsidising hoteliers who keep people in squalor but charge them a fortune? Do they not accept that we can use our resources far better by imposing decent standards and ensuring that people are not exploited by unscrupulous hoteliers who rake in huge profits?

Mr. Tracey


Mr. Raynsford

I shall not give way to the Minister; he was not prepared to give way to the Opposition when he spoke.

Thirdly, Conservative Members object because they say that the Bill will dry up the supply of houses. They should recognise that the Government have been responsible for the largest ever loss of rented acommodation in our history. During the past seven years 900,000 homes have been lost to renting. That is the Conservative party's responsibility and hon. Members should recognise that before they talk about the Bill drying up the supply.

The Government's record is abominable. We need more decent homes to rent and proper controls on the death traps that exist in multi-occupied houses. The objections are not sound and there is an overwhelming case for giving the Bill a Second Reading today. It is particularly appropriate that we should debate it in the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless. I only wish that the Government's reaction to that opportunity was more positive than it has been to date. When the eyes of the world are looking to see what can be done to help homeless people worldwide, we are seeing indifference, apathy and positive neglect from the Government. It is a disgrace, and the Bill would do a great deal to remedy that.

2.26 pm
Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

I am grateful for this opportunity to make a brief comment on the Bill. I have already made some interventions about clause 28, which deals with finance.

The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) prayed in aid in great detail the Department of the Environment report of January 1987 on houses in multiple occupation. He was selective in his quotations and did not quote its conclusion. It is proper, sensible and correct that the House should be aware of that conclusion, which underlines my mistrust of the Bill. Indeed, "mistrust" is the very word used in the conclusion. It states that such a catalogue of suspicion, mistrust, poor returns, and unacceptable housing conditions might seem to argue for the eradication of HMOs. On the face of it that appears to be true. There is certainly much which is intrinsically satisfactory about the nature of the tenure, but to be a tenant in someone else's house is a formula for conflict.

However great the shortcomings of the sector, HMOs continue to meet a housing need that is not being met elsewhere. There remains a demand for furnished accommodation, for houses that can be rented and shared on a short-term basis, and for accommodation that is cheap and provides only the minimum facilities.

Mr. Anderson

rose in his place, and claimed to move, That the Question be now put; but MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that question.

Mr. Porter

I am obliged, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Until that need can be met through affordable, accessible self-contained accommodation, shared housing will continue to play an important role at the bottom end of the housing market. The challenge is to upgrade standards and improve management without reducing what the tenants see as the positive benefits of the sector—the lack of restriction and the relatively low cost.

With the greatest respect to Opposition Members, whose views and knowledge on housing matters I respect, not one hon. Gentleman, including the hon. Member for Swansea, East, addressed himself to the conclusion of the Department's report and the relatively low cost of multiple housing. If the Bill were given a Second Reading and became law, it would have many effects. It would employ many inspectors and it would provide office accommodation and officers to local authorities. However, it would not maintain a flow of relatively low-cost, non-restrictive housing. Until the House is satisfied that the—

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

Do the hon. Gentleman's constituents know about this?

Mr. Porter

They will know, because I shall tell them. Of course my constituent will know. If the hon. Gentleman does not stop abusing me from a sedentary position, I shall seek your protection, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If anybody had made the slightest attempt during the debate to state the cost to the public purse—both central and local — to landlords, present tenants and incoming tenants, I should have had a great deal more sympathy—

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to he resumed on Friday 20 February.

Mr. Anderson

On a point or order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I know that you and your fellow occupants of the distinguished Chair seek to protect the interests of Back Benchers. As you know, over the years the power of the Executive has been allowed to grow at the expense of Back Benchers and those who do not sit on the Treasury Bench. This has occurred particularly with private Members' Bills. Today we debated a Bill which, although in the form of a private Member's Bill, was in effect a Government Bill. The Bill was a consensual measure, supported and drafted by the Government, and the discussion of it had the effect of pushing out a Bill that has the support of many hon. Members.

It is a matter of protecting what has traditionally been the right of private Members to introduce private Members' Bills, and the erosion of that right as against the increase in power of the Executive. I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to examine the situation in which private Members' rights are increasingly obliterated in respect of private Members' Bills. By their action today the Treasury Bench may have killed the Bill, but the problem will not go away without immediate action.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. As the hon. Gentleman and the whole House know, it is the job of the Chair to ensure that the rules of the House are observed. The rules have been observed. If the hon. Gentleman is dissatisfied with the present rules, he may consult the Select Committee on Procedure. I suggest that he make his comments to that Committee and asks whether it is prepared to consider the points that he made.

Mr. Pavitt

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) made a differentiation. You quite rightly ruled that this is the kind of issue—you are still within the rules of the House—that must be considered by the Committee that deals with such matters. My hon. Friend raised the important point that you are aware of the difference between private Members' Bills that have the support of the Government and those that have not. If this matter goes before the Committee, will it be possible for the occupants of the Chair to give evidence about the way in which the rules operate in connection with a Bill to which the Government have given the green light and a Bill that the Government are determined shall not pass?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman will realise that it would be highly dangerous if the Chair were to make any value judgments about any matter before it. If the Select Committee decides to consider this matter, and if it wishes to have the views of Mr. Speaker before coming to any conclusion, I am sure that Mr. Speaker will carefully consider such a request.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What guarantees do we have in respect of the hon. Members who represent the Treasury Bench on the Procedure Committee? What sympathy will there be from those who are already in multiple occupation—for example, from the Prime Minister? She has Downing street, that flat down in Kent, subsidised by the National Trust, a £500,000 house in Dulwich and another one at Chequers. She really knows about multiple occupation. My hon. Friend's Bill is being frustrated by those who, representing the Prime Minister, are filibustering on the Conservative Back Benches. What chance is there that Conservative Members of the Select Committee on Procedure will by sympathetic towards something like this?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is a great pity that the hon. Gentleman is casting aspersions on a Committee of the House.

Mr. Skinner

You bet I am.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I cannot take the matter any further now.

Mr. Wareing

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Without wanting to put the onus on you or any other occupant of the Chair, is there not an element of discretion in matters such as this? Is it not rather odd that a debate on an order relating to the prevention of terrorism should be followed by a vote after an hour and a half on a matter that affects a small number of people, but that my hon. Friend's Bill, which affects a large number of people, including people on Merseyside, should be talked out? They will be astounded to find that the hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) was instrumental in talking out the Bill. As the Bill has been discussed for nearly an hour and a half, surely there ought to be a vote on it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. This happens regularly on Friday. Sometimes the hon. Member who feels that he has a grievance sits on one side of the House, and sometimes it is an hon. Member who sits on the other side. The remedy is in the hands of the House. If it wishes the procedure to be changed, that is not a matter for the Chair. The job of the Chair is to administer the rules and regulations that we have at any one time. The remedy lies in the hands of hon. Members. If they are dissatisfied with the present procedure, they can put their points to the Select Committee on Procedure.

Mr. Lawrence

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have been in the House for nearly 13 years, and I wonder whether you can help me. Did we hear any of this hypocritical claptrap when the Opposition were in power?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I do not think that we can take this matter any further now.

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