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Mr. Amess: I must look at the Bill more carefully. I am delighted to learn that the matter is dealt with. That is splendid. I am sick to death of these people who move in and make other people's lives intolerable. I
The Bill goes beyond fuel poverty to encompass fire safety and general good conditions. The Chief Whip dealt with the point when she was a Housing Minister. She spoke about "death traps" and said that they must be improved.
Mr. Amess: There are many of them on the Benches this morning. They have also written to Conservative Members of Parliament to say that they wholeheartedly support the Bill. There are 600,000 students living in private rented accommodation, many of them in houses in multiple occupation. Young professionals also constitute a significant proportion of HMO residents.
There are 1.5 million HMOs in England. That includes some good accommodation, but the highest incidence of very poor accommodation is found among these properties. Of all sectors, this one has the highest proportion in fuel poverty39 per cent.
My hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) cannot be here today. I had a brief conversation with the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown about concerns raised by interest groups in Poole. I have read that into the record now. I understand that the hon. Gentleman intends to look into those concerns and try to respond positively.
Licensing of HMOs will ensure that we have proper fire standards. I am joint chairman of the all-party fire safety group, so I am very pleased about that. Proper amenities and energy efficiency will be promoted. Currently, 16 per cent. of student houses harbour pests, 50 per cent. report damp, 40 per cent. have mould and 20 per cent. do not even have a smoke detector.
All that information has been provided by young supporters of the Conservative party. I applaud their research. They are concerned about proper licensing and feel that it is well overdue. They say that for the Bill to be effective it must apply to all houses with four or more residents. As it stands, applying to five or more, it will certainly miss a large percentage of students living in HMOs.
The Bill's promoter is to be congratulated. Those of us who have had the good fortune to win the ballot know that a huge amount of work goes into preparing a Bill. The hon. Gentleman will have to thank many groups for their support. While some of us are engaged in saving the world, I am delighted that he has decided to save those less fortunate than us. I congratulate him.
Mr. Harold Best (Leeds, North-West): I join the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner). The Bill is important, to say the least. When it is enacted, as I am sure it will be, it will become a marker for what private Members can do.
The matters raised in the Bill are of great concern to my constituents. Many of those matters have already been discussed in some detail by previous speakers, so I now have the difficult task of trying to avoid being repetitious. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Perhaps I should just sit down now. It is difficult to do what one's constituents would want when so many good contributions have already been made.
The need for energy conservation is felt as much in my constituency as in any other. It contains housing that was built in the period when houses were being put togetherthat is an appropriate way of putting itand described as homes fit for heroes, in the post-first world war housing developments. That was followed by the vast post-second world war estates. Even with the Parker Morris standards, they were not designed for energy conservation and heating was given a low priority, but they met the desperate housing need of people returning from the war, and they repaired some of the damage done by war.
The problem for some of the housing in my constituency is that it is built on the weather side of the highest hill in Leeds, 610 ft above sea level. The Pennines are visible to the west. In an easterly directionalthough not visiblethe next mountain range of any significance is the Urals. In understanding the bleak nature of weatherside exposure, we become acutely aware of the need to do something about energy conservation. These houses are the coldest, wettest and dampest in my constituency, and they number several hundred.
The social need is no longer in dispute, and Members have mentioned the costs in terms of health and untimely deaths, as well as the direct burden on the NHS. I am not referring only to the housing stock built immediately after the first and second world warswe also have Victorian buildings, some of which lend themselves readily to conversion to houses in multiple occupation. However, they, too, lack the absolutely essential elementthe need to insulate and prevent energy loss.
It is my duty as a representative of people whose needs are desperate, to support the Bill. It is also a pleasure and something that I do with a sense of relief. Finally, we are getting round to tackling these issues. However, there is also another element that is not separate from the need for warm homes, namely, the question of HMOs in my constituency.
Some hon. Members may have visited the area where I live, not to visit me but to go to the famous Headingley cricket ground. We enjoy cricket in Leeds, especially when Yorkshire are doing well and England are winning test matches; then, it is wonderful. I live just outside the cricket ground and, in the past six or seven years, I have seen the area transformed. That transformation has been far from pleasurable.
The area is now famous for those icons associated with HMOs, including the growth in the numbers of licensed premises and cafes and the semi-permanent forest of "To let" signs blighting the street scene. The dramatic growth in crime in my constituency is clearly associated with the
Inner-city Leeds was not suitable for the dramatic expansion that has taken place and which has transformed Headingley and the surrounding areas. In the electorial ward of Headingley, more than 50 per cent. of residents are no longer held to be local. They are transients, in the sense that they come and go through the HMOs.
In the recent past, these homes were available to first-time buyers for family occupation. They are now reducedI use that word advisedlyto seasonal use only. We have term-time occupation, which means only eight months of the year. For the rest of the time, those properties are vacant. It will not be long before they are in that condition over the Christmas period, during which Headingley will lose more than 50 per cent. of its population.
The Bill does not deal with these planning issues but, as has been said, they have to be noted. We cannot separate cause from effect. HMOs create not just the consequences that we are debating this morning, but other things. A former family house with potentially one car, or maybe two, can now have people expecting to park as many as eight cars outside an HMO. That causes massive environmental damage, and the effect has been to drive long-term residents out of the area. Those people now have to travel back into the city centre, whereas previously they walked.
The change in character has turned Headingley and the immediate surrounding areas into a major competitorif such an unhealthy competition were ever to be heldfor the title of "Worst crime record in the UK". Armed robberies and violent robberies take place all too frequently and burglary is on a scale that beggars imagination. We are persuading our police that the problems have to be tackled, but they frequently draw my attention to the effect that HMOs have on the security of their occupants, as well as to the threat of criminality and the knock-on effects on the community.
Who takes responsibility for locking the house at night? Who makes sure that the windows are closed? Who makes sure that waste materials are in place for collection? The not-responsible attitudes that we find inside HMOs are plaguing substantial parts of inner-city Leeds that I represent. I still live in the area. The houses either side of me are both HMOs, one of which was the subject of a serious planning dispute that we finally won after a long and hard struggle.
The people most likely to suffer are not just those who have been obliged to move out of the area to look for peace in their lives, but those who still live there. The most vulnerable are those young people who attend our universities; they need some protection, too. The Bill provides for that kind of protection. It ensures that the health and safety of residents is secured by regulation and registration of property.
I do not want to waste the House's time, so I shall end by commenting on the way in which the housing stock in my constituency was built up by pioneers who planned, as best they knew how, to provide for the needs of the needy after two world wars. They did not foresee some of the problems of heat loss that now occur. We can use the broad consensus on the need for a speedy resolution of those problems to ensure that the pioneering spirit of that period is reflected in the swift passage of the Bill through Parliament and on to the statute book.
I look forward to hearing other hon. Members because I want to report back to my constituents personally, as they insist I do, on the approval being given to the Bill today. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown has become a hero to us all, especially those who have been struggling apparently pointlessly and without hope, for years on end. I wonder how he managed itit must have been divine intervention that enabled him to turn up with the sort of legislation that hon. Members find it wonderful to support.