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Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that solar clubs are being formed in my constituency to support people using solar power and to subsidise its use? If he would like any information, I would be pleased to send him details.

Mr. Hopkins: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that helpful intervention and I shall certainly contact him after the debate.

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We have a long way to go in this respect, certainly in my constituency. The problem is one of finance. Solar panels are still uneconomic, even in the long term, but they could become economic if they were adopted as a mass exercise. If there were mass production and mass installation, the economics would become much more feasible. However, even if they became economic in the longer term, there is still a problem of front-end heavy investment and long-term payback. There might be a 20-year payback, which would be prohibitive for most people.

We need Government action to promote a much higher rate of installation and a major Government programme of investment in solar panels. It is too late now, but if the Government had decided a long time ago to develop solar panels instead of nuclear power, the vast amount spent on nuclear power—which is not going to be returned to the Government; it is a net payment by the Government to the nuclear power industry—could have been invested in solar panels, which would have been much more economic for the nation and more beneficial to individuals in their homes. I do not have the figures to hand, but such a programme could become a reality with the right investment.

I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown to consider this matter in Committee. I also urge those on the Front Bench seriously to consider the future of solar panels, as they would bring enormous benefits to householders and enormous economic and environmental benefits to Britain and to the world.

1.39 pm

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner), not least because he has sat through the whole of the debate. I also welcome the measured support given by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) on behalf of the Opposition.

I want to focus my remarks on part 3 of the Bill, which deals with houses in multiple occupation, because I think that that is the most important section. Also, I have a slight lack of knowledge and understanding of parts 1 and 2. I shall try to define the HMO sector. According to the figures that I have received, there are about 1.5 million people in about 0.5 million HMOs. An interesting feature of the debate has been that almost every hon. Member who spoke gave a different number of people in HMOs. That shows the problem of defining who we are talking about. However, we are all united in the view that the poorest and most dangerous housing conditions are in the HMO sector.

I make no apology for going over some of the figures that have been quoted, because it is important to get a measure of the problem. According to the English house condition survey, under its definition 10 per cent. of all HMOs and 20 per cent. of flats and bedsits failed the fitness test. Forty per cent. of bedsits failed the test because there were too many people living in the accommodation. As the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire said, 80 per cent. of HMOs lack an adequate means of fire escape. People in bedsits are six times more likely to face the risk of fire than people in an ordinary semi-detached house. If people happen to live in an HMO of three storeys or higher, the danger of fire is 17 times greater. Added to that, a large number of vulnerable people live in HMOs. That is the scale of the problem.

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I do not want to go into the issue of management because that has been touched on throughout the debate, other than to say that many properties have no management. There may be a keyholder, but there is no management, and we need to sort out that problem.

I can mention further problems and difficulties. The worst houses in multiple occupation have major deficiencies. There is much disrepair, some of it structural and dangerous. Dampness is a problem, and hon. Members have talked about the difficulties that that causes. Many HMOs have inadequate or non-existent heating and lighting and no proper ventilation, which add to the risk of fire. There is a great lack of basic amenities—there are often no proper kitchen facilities and washing facilities are rudimentary at best. It is difficult for people to look after themselves properly in some of those properties.

Some HMOs are dangerous and pose serious risks to health and safety. There is obviously the risk of fire. A considerable number of people are injured or die in fires at HMOs. Carbon monoxide poisoning is another danger. Those are major issues. Many hon. Members have attested to the utter inadequacy of the remedies that are available to local authorities for people who live in houses in multiple occupation.

The definition of an HMO has been challenged on a number of bases. I was interested to read that, in a challenge to a local authority in Sheffield, the court pronounced that a house occupied by a group of students was not an HMO. Within a year, however, following a challenge by Islington council, it was discovered that a household consisting of a group of students who had just qualified constituted an HMO. There has been enormous legal confusion about what does constitute an HMO, and all it has achieved is a continuation of the current terrible practices. According to the Department's recent consultation document, the present situation is "vague". That has prevented the worst practices mentioned today from being stopped.

Another problem is that all the schemes now available are discretionary, which means that coverage is not universal. Although some local authorities have done their best to take up the discretionary schemes and work with the private rented sector, standards have varied. Some authorities have tried to impose proper standards but others, owing to the weakness of the legislation, have been able to aim for minimum standards. Authorities have not been able to design their own schemes because of the requirement for approval from the Secretary of State. The real difficulty with the discretionary schemes, however, is that very few authorities have taken them up, for a simple reason: it is hard to use such schemes to enforce even minimum standards in the private rented HMO sector.

Existing legislation does not help. It, and the notices for which it provides, can secure only works to the fabric or the fixtures and fittings of the buildings concerned; fire risks, and the other dangers posed by HMOs, cannot be dealt with.

I welcome the all-party support for the Bill, although we must look closely at the terms of each part, and the issues must be handled sensitively. I represent a constituency in London where there is high demand, so we do not wish to lose any of the accommodation that is currently available in the private rented sector.

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The Department's recent consultation paper mentioned the difficulties involved in the delivery of even minimum standards. The confusion that has been created has allowed landlords to evade their responsibilities. We need a proper definition of HMOs and we have already discussed today what that definition should be. We must end the confusion and the ambiguity, and I think the Bill's definition will achieve that.

Unlike the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron), I think there should be not just a mandatory scheme but a discretionary one. The mandatory scheme would cover larger houses, where most difficulties occur, but local authorities would have flexibility to introduce a discretionary scheme allowing them to deal with some of the problems at the other end of the HMO market. As has been pointed out, many students share their accommodation with three or four people. I hope that local authorities will bear that in mind.

The reality of the legislation is simple. Tenants who currently live in HMOs have very little power to influence their landlord to improve standards, not only because most are very mobile and move frequently from HMOs—students rarely stay more than a year—but because they do not have any security. Most of them are on assured shorthold tenancies, which give them only a maximum six months' security. If they live with a resident landlord, they do not have any security at all. The great fear is that if they raise a complaint, that will lead to difficulties with the landlord and possible eviction from the property.

We need to involve local authorities. It is through that mechanism that we will get the opportunity to improve basic standards. It will also achieve something else—tenants' awareness of their rights and what they can achieve with the local authority to improve minimum standards will be raised.

I commend in particular part 3 of the Bill. It is critical. It will provide some minimum standards, especially for the most vulnerable and those who are in danger because they live in HMOs. Why should we wait for the Government to come forward with legislation? The Bill needs to be passed now. I welcome the fact that it is a private Member's Bill. We do not need to wait. A minimum of 1.5 million people will be positively affected by the Bill and I commend it to the House.

1.51 pm

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): During the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner), I had the opportunity to raise one issue in relation to Wales. I would like to talk a little more about the importance of the Bill for Wales. It is undoubtedly necessary. Strategies to achieve energy efficiency and to register houses in multiple occupation have so far been optional. With this Bill, we will have a chance to make that compulsory.

The National Assembly for Wales has been in charge of the home energy efficiency scheme for about 30 months. In Wales, 7,496 grants for households have been approved under the scheme, of which 390 were in my borough of Bridgend. The total spend in Wales has been £2.6 million and in Bridgend county borough council £135,000. In Wales, 220,000 households are eligible for grants under the scheme. At the current rate of take-up,

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it will take about 67 years for all the families who are eligible for help because of fuel poverty to take advantage of the scheme.

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