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Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton): Is not the important point that my hon. Friend is making that councils need a change in the law? The current law is totally inadequate to deal with the problems in houses in multiple occupation, and we need part 3 of the Bill to get to the bottom of all those difficulties.

Mr. Lepper: My hon. and co-operative Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) has anticipated my next point. Brighton and Hove has, for the past year or so, been running a pilot registration scheme for houses in

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multiple occupation. The scheme is, admittedly, including only a very small part of the city and encouraging landlords to register under a voluntary scheme. The feedback from the landlords after the year or 18 months of the scheme is quite interesting. Many have welcomed it, because they see it as a way of improving the standing of their role in the community. They see it—I quote from a report—as a way to

The landlords also see the scheme as a way of dealing with some of the more disreputable landlords. Such landlords are in a minority, but unfortunately it is often a minority that owns large stocks of housing. They may be small in number, but their influence is great. The local voluntary registration scheme in Brighton and Hove is seen by the landlords who have taken part as a way of improving the standing of their profession, as well as improving the quality of the housing stock. The city council is now considering extending the voluntary scheme across the whole city over the next year or so. Obviously, part 3 of the Bill will be an incentive for it to do that. It is also offering quite substantial grants towards the improvement of housing stock to those landlords who come forward.

Despite the concerns expressed in the November 2001 issue of "Residential Renting"—which may have been distributed to other hon. Members; I have been sent copies by four or five landlords in my constituency—that registration would drive out landlords and decrease the available housing stock, that has not been the experience of the Brighton and Hove pilot scheme. We have seen no diminution in the number of flats or bedsits in housing in multiple occupation available to local people.

I am sure that the Bill will receive wide support across the House. It deserves that support. It will strengthen the hand of the many responsible local authorities and landlords, and it will provide more extensive and stronger measures both to deal with councils whose approach to the HECA initiative is not wholehearted and to ensure that unscrupulous landlords are brought to book.

10.40 am

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): I congratulate the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) on achieving such a high position in the ballot, and on introducing a potentially valuable Bill. If my opening remarks show a degree of envy, that is because since 1983, when I was first elected, I have applied every year to be high on the ballot, but I have never appeared above the waves.

The Home Energy Conservation Bill has three distinct parts. One part we support wholeheartedly, one part we support in principle—although it exposes weaknesses in the Government's overall energy strategy—and the other part needs much attention to its detail and possible effect before we can consider giving it our support. I intend to deal with the three elements of the Bill individually.

Part 2 is about the elimination of fuel poverty. It has the unreserved support of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition. We know that the most vulnerable people in our society are hit hard by the winter and often lack the income to keep warm. Office for National Statistics figures for

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October 2001 show that last winter 298 people died of hypothermia in England alone: 298 people died of cold in a rich, civilised and generous society. That stain should be removed.

As Help the Aged has said, behind the mortality statistics that are reported each year, people suffer enormous misery and illness. The Bill seeks to deal with fuel poverty and, as I said, in that it has the support of the Conservative party. My party has made many efforts to eradicate fuel poverty. The percentage of United Kingdom households with central heating rose under Conservative Governments from 60 per cent. in 1981 to 90 per cent. in 1997–98. Figures from the House of Commons Library show that since the Gas Act 1986, which privatised British Gas—incidentally, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor voted against that—domestic gas prices are estimated to have decreased by 29 per cent. in real terms.

It was a Conservative, my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), who introduced the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000, and in that he was supported by our party. That Act sought a reduction in the high number of excess winter deaths in the UK, and a reduction in illnesses exacerbated by cold and damp, with a consequent cutting of costs in the NHS by helping to reduce pressure on hospitals during winter months. It is estimated that fuel poverty costs the NHS £1 billion a year. Another aim of that Act was to reduce the costs of maintaining properties by about £350 per property. That measure is reinforced by the Bill before us.

In 1991, a Conservative Government introduced the home energy efficiency scheme, which is a grant programme created to improve the energy efficiency of the homes of people living in cold conditions. More recently, the new HEES-plus is aimed at people aged 60 and over who receive an income-related benefit—income support, minimum income guarantee, income-based jobseeker's allowance, council tax benefit or housing benefit. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has estimated that as many as 3.7 million households are eligible for the new HEES-plus.

However, the Department of Social Security figures for 1999–2000 showed that between 39,000 and 77,000 people did not claim income-related benefits to which they were entitled, so they would not be able to claim the new HEES-plus. I urge the Government to ensure that those who are eligible are aware of the fact, and are assisted and encouraged to apply for the scheme.

Despite all those measures, there are still too many people who cannot afford to keep warm. The common definition of a fuel-poor household is one that needs to spend in excess of 10 per cent. of household income to achieve a satisfactory heating regime, which is specified as 21 deg Celsius in the living room and 18 deg Celsius in other occupied rooms. The latest available figures quantifying fuel poverty in the UK are for 1996, when at least 4.3 million households in England had to spend more than 10 per cent of their household income on fuel.

It is universally agreed in the House that any Bill that seeks to address the issue of fuel poverty deserves cross-party support. Age Concern estimates that 77 per cent. of single pensioners and 43 per cent of older couples, with at least one of them of pensioner age, are fuel poor. It is estimated that those households spend £700 to £800 a year less than they should to provide adequate warmth. Dying of cold should not happen, and we will help, as we have helped in the past, to ensure it does not happen.

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Part 1 is concerned with home energy conservation. The Home Energy Conservation Act 1995 gave energy conservation authorities—district, metropolitan district, London borough and unitary councils—the target of achieving a 30 per cent. improvement in energy efficiency in residential accommodation by 2010. At that time, the House took the view that improving the energy efficiency of residential accommodation was important for two reasons: first, because of the environmental impact of energy use in the domestic sector, which was estimated to be responsible for more than 25 per cent. of emissions of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide; and secondly, because of the obvious desire to establish access to affordable warmth for all.

The helpful explanatory notes to the Bill give us five reasons why the target of a 30 per cent. improvement by 2010 is very unlikely to be met. First, achieving the target is not a statutory duty; secondly, energy conservation authorities have insufficient powers of monitoring; thirdly, energy conservation authorities have insufficient co-ordination powers; fourthly, authorities have inadequate powers to deal with inefficiency in the private rented sector, especially houses in multiple occupation; and fifthly, the 1995 Act reporting system is unsatisfactory. We agree with those five reasons and seek reassurance from the Government that the implementation of this Bill will enable them to guarantee that the targets in the 1995 Act will now be achieved by 2010.

That pledge is necessary as the Government have so far not shown themselves to be as committed to achieving their environmental objectives as their fine promises indicated. The Energy Saving Trust is of the view that current Government policies will not enable them to meet their targets for reducing CO 2 and other household emissions. Then there is the Government's target of 10 per cent. of electricity generation from renewable resources by 2010. The current lamentable figure is only 2 per cent. Energy efficiency matters, and Government action is essential. Our general support for part 1 is conditional on the Government's reaffirmation of their commitment to the targets of the 1995 Act.

Part 3 deals with the licensing of homes in multiple occupation. I must admit that I am concerned about many aspects. I want to be reassured that the problems encountered in Scotland since the scheme went live there in October 2000 will not be repeated in England and Wales. I welcomed what the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown said about that.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) said on 22 October 2001, in column 117 of Hansard, the Conservative party broadly supports the licensing of houses in multiple occupation. In both its 1997 and 2001 manifestos, the Labour party promised to provide protection for tenants in such houses. It then said that a proper licensing system for local authorities was needed to benefit tenants and responsible landlords alike. It is regrettable that, more than four years on, it has taken not a Government Bill but a private Member's Bill to present proposals for such a system.

This month the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs issued a consultation paper on the selective licensing of private landlords, in which they reiterated their long-standing intention to protect the community from bad landlords and bad tenants, as well as ensuring acceptable management standards for tenants, through the licensing of houses in multiple occupation.

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In general, HMOs are the preserve of younger people: more than 50 per cent. of occupants are under 30. The 1996 English house condition survey found that the age of occupants was reflected to some extent in the fact that nearly a third were in full-time education, but—notwithstanding stories to the contrary—more than half are working, and only about 5 per cent. are unemployed.

In a document entitled "Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation", published in April 1999, the Government highlighted a number of risks that HMOs can present to the health and safety of those who live in them. We have all heard stories in our constituencies that illustrate the deficiencies experienced by some HMO tenants. In particular, there has been widespread concern about fire safety standards. The EHC survey found that 40 per cent. of houses that had been divided into bedsits were unfit for the number of occupants. In more than 40 per cent. of cases that was due to inadequate kitchen facilities, but about 80 per cent. of houses also lacked adequate means of escape from fire, and other fire precautions.

Faulty gas installations are a well-documented problem. They often lead to the production of carbon monoxide. According to the National Union of Students, since 1992 at least 10 students have died and thousands more have been made ill through exposure to the gas.

Although local authorities have a range of powers enabling them to improve standards in HMOs—most recently contained in the Housing Act 1996—it is generally acknowledged that too many tenants, notably students, have little or no support against negligent landlords. The NUS estimates that at least 600,000 students rent accommodation in the private sector, and that the vast majority live in multi-occupied properties.

We want safe, secure and decent housing; we want to get rid of bad landlords and dangerous properties; but we also want a flourishing, profitable, quality rental market, and what we do must not drive good providers out of business. The renting sector has obvious concerns—many representative organisations have expressed their disquiet about the Bill, and the licensing system has been described as "unnecessary regulation" that

Nor are reports about a licensing system that came into force in Scotland on 1 October 2001 at all reassuring. A publication called "Residential Renting" describes the rather pessimistic outlook of Scottish landlords:

Elsewhere it states:

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