HC Deb 29 April 1996 vol 276 cc873-5
Mr. Clappison

I beg to move amendment No. 44, in page 35, line 40, leave out from beginning to end of line 7 on page 36.

Madam Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss also Government amendment No. 52.

Mr. Clappison

The amendment has been somewhat foreshadowed. In Committee there was concern that exclusions to the houses in multiple occupation registration schemes in clause 63 were too extensive and would leave many houses in multiple occupation which were in a poor condition outside the scope of registration schemes. We have proposed that smaller HMOs and houses that have been converted entirely into self-contained flats should be exempt from registration as they are likely to be at a lower risk from fire than larger properties or to offer better facilities.

In the light of the concerns of which we heard in Committee, we decided that there was a case for looking again at the way the exclusions are framed. We have therefore decided to remove all the exemptions from the primary legislation. A similar set of exclusions will be included instead in the model registration scheme that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will prepare, subject to some changes which I shall mention in a moment. The model registration scheme will also exclude from registration other categories of property—for example, houses covered by specific regulatory regimes. We wish to exclude also those properties managed by institutions, which might include universities and properties managed by the national health service and housing associations—some of which were mentioned in Committee.

Removing those exclusions from the face of the Bill will allow local authorities more flexibility. In some areas, there may be justifiable reasons why they would wish to register a particular category of property that is normally exempt from the model registration scheme. It will also facilitate future changes to the excluded categories when the results of our proposed research into fire risks in houses in multiple occupation are available in a year or two.

In the model scheme, we are also minded to make some changes to the list of excluded categories currently set out in clause 63. We envisage that we will exclude houses where, apart from the household of the owner or the manager, there are no more than three other persons rather than four as we proposed originally. We are trying also to frame an exclusion to cover houses that have been converted entirely into self-contained flats, many of which are owner occupied.

As we discussed in Committee, the problem of framing an exclusion based on the tenure of the occupants has proved problematical. However, we are considering excluding houses where there is a significant percentage of owner-occupied flats—for example, where at least one third of the flats are let on long leases. We shall, of course, consult interested parties about the content of the model scheme, and consultees will be invited to comment on the proposed exclusions at that time.

The amendment demonstrates that we have listened carefully to, and endeavoured to meet, the concerns that have been put to us. I hope that all the amendments will be welcomed on both sides of the House.

10.15 pm
Mr. Raynsford

The Minister knows that we welcome the decision to withdraw the very restrictive provisions in clause 63(2). However, we are concerned about what will be put in its place.

The Minister has begun to flesh out his proposals in that regard. We are concerned that he has talked about exclusions similar to the existing provisions in clause 63. We are particularly concerned that he did not refer to the size of buildings. Do the Government intend to exclude buildings of two storeys or less? If so, the kind of property that I described in Harrow, where the dreadful fire occurred, would not be covered.

We welcome the decision to reduce the number of people from four to three in the category of houses that are occupied by no more than a specified number of people. We welcome the decision to distinguish owner-occupied, self-contained properties from tenanted properties where there are more likely to be problems—although we recognise the potential difficulties involved with a definition.

This is a complex issue that will require careful attention if we are to get the detail right. It will clearly be difficult for the Minister to do that in the Bill's later stages in the other place. I hope, therefore, that all interested parties—particularly the local authorities and the voluntary organisations, including the Campaign for Bedsit Rights, which has done much stalwart work in that area—will have an opportunity to look at the proposals in detail before the Government proceed. I hope also that the Government will listen to the responses to that consultation.

We need arrangements that will work and will ensure that people at risk in such properties have proper protection. While welcoming the Government's decision to remove the highly restrictive provisions in clause 63(2), we remain concerned that the Government's replacement provisions could be still too restrictive and would, unfortunately, leave some people at risk. I hope that the Minister will pay close heed to what is said by all concerned and will be flexible in his approach to the matter.

Amendment agreed to.

Forward to