HC Deb 22 July 1996 vol 282 cc41-2

Lords amendment: No. 82, in page 36, line 51, at end insert ("and to renew the registration as and when required by the scheme.")

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State fur the Environment (Mr. James Clappison)

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss also Lords amendments Nos. 83 to 91.

Mr. Clappison

The purpose of this group of amendments is to improve the working of local authority registration schemes for houses in multiple occupation. They deal principally with the content of schemes, publicity, and appeals against local authority decisions on applications for registration.

Mr. Raynsford

We welcome the amendments so far as they go. There is no question but that more effective powers are needed to deal with the problems of houses in multiple occupation. It is well known that multi-occupied houses contain not merely the worst conditions of any category of housing, but also the greatest risks to life from both fire and carbon monoxide poisoning. There is widespread agreement that action is long overdue to ensure that the worst conditions are tackled more effectively. We differ from the Government on the best way to do so.

There is an overwhelming case for a national mandatory licensing scheme to cover all areas and all multi-occupied houses, concentrating in the first instance on those in which there is the greatest risk on a proper risk assessment basis. The Government have proposed a more limited registration scheme instead, which will be discretionary, and so will not apply if a local authority chooses not to operate the scheme in its area, and will apply only to a more limited category of multi-occupied houses.

We have serious reservations about the likely effectiveness and scope of the Government's scheme. Nevertheless, a scheme is better than nothing, even if it is a limited scheme, so we welcome the amendments made by the other place, which give effect to some of the measures that we advocated in Committee.

In particular, we welcome amendment No. 88, which inserts as a ground for refusal of registration reference to the person managing or having control of the property not being a fit and proper person.

We also welcome the arrangements under clause 91 for keeping copies of the registration scheme and making them available to people on request on reasonable terms. Those are important provisions to ensure that people who are not fit and proper persons can be denied registration, and that people involved—I think in particular of the residents living in multi-occupied houses, who have a particular interest in the matter—can seek information from the local authority about how the scheme is framed and how it operates.

I put it to the Minister that, if there was a national mandatory scheme, life would be much easier, because there would not be the likelihood of variations from area to area in the way in which the scheme operated. The tenant would be able to contact the Department of the Environment, which could issue a national advice leaflet providing information applicable in all areas. That is something which we shall wait for the next Government to introduce, but in the meantime we welcome the steps that have been taken to improve the registration arrangements.

Mrs. Maddock

I and my hon. Friends welcome the amendments. Like the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford), I am disappointed that there will not be a mandatory scheme. I particularly welcome the fact that it will be easier for councils which have a registration scheme to get works done. That has always been a problem in the past. We discussed the matter at length in Committee, and I hope that what the Government propose will work.

In common with many people outside the House, we would like a mandatory scheme. The local authorities asked for a mandatory scheme. Despite the improvements in the amendments, the scheme will not be mandatory, and that is the real weakness of this part of the Bill. However, the amendments are an improvement on the position that we were left with in Committee, and I welcome them.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 83 to 91 agreed to.

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