HC Deb 23 March 1987 vol 113 cc7-8
7. Sir Anthony Meyer

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what discussions he has had with local authorities about enforcement of the fire and public health regulations in houses in multi-occupation in Wales.

Mr. Mark Robinson

I have asked my officials to undertake consultations with all local authorities and other relevant bodies in Wales with a view to bringing about improved safety and other standards in houses in multiple occupation. Those consultations are now under way.

Sir Anthony Meyer

I am grateful for that answer and somewhat reassured by it. Is my hon. Friend aware that the fall in standards accompanied by the increase in the number of houses in multiple occupation suggest that it is not just the resources that are made available to local authorities that are important, but that powers of entry are important, as landlords, are not always willing to allow inspections to take place to determine whether safety precautions are adequate.

Mr. Robinson

I am very much aware of my hon. Friend's point. There is indeed a far wider range of considerations, and that is why my officials are today discussing some of these problems with the Rhuddlan borough council.

Mr. Anderson

Does the Minister agree that it is not belated consultations that are needed, but action? The facts are well known to those who want to hear them, and were addressed in my HMO Bill. Does the Minister realise that more than £25 million is now spent by the DHSS in Wales on supplementary benefit claimants in bed-and-breakfast accommodation? Does he realise that that expenditure and the failure to monitor the quality of the accommodation for those claimants, have come about because the Government do not wish their woefully inadequate programme for young single people to be exposed?

Mr. Robinson

I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's interest in the matter. However, it is for local authorities and fire authorities to decide how they will use their existing powers. It is disappointing that only Swansea and Cardiff have so far taken advantage of the registration schemes available to them.

Mr. Rowlands

Is the Minister aware of the serious fire in Merthyr Tydfil only yesterday, in a property owned by a Mr. Elwyn Morgan? Eleven people were taken to hospital and four are still being detained. Is he further aware that the property had no valid planning permission and that Merthyr borough council, supported by the Welsh Office, had been trying to enforce orders for the best part of 15 months? Will the Minister investigate the particular circumstances of the fire? Does it not prove the need for better regulations and their more effective enforcement?

Mr. Robinson

I join the hon. Gentleman in expressing sympathy for those injured in the fire. The Welsh Office has supported the local authority in refusing planning permission for this house to be used for multiple occupation. The local authority had issued a statutory enforcement notice giving the landlord two months to stop using the house for that purpose. It is unfortunate that the accident occurred during that two-month period.