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Mr. Dismore: My right hon. Friend is going into considerable detail about the sort of buildings concerned. Is he suggesting that that level of detail is appropriate for the affirmative resolution procedure?

Mr. Meacher: The affirmative resolution procedure is another matter. I was addressing my remarks to amendment No. 4, which concerns whether registration should apply only to three and four-storey buildings that have at least four occupants or to two-storey buildings that have at least four occupants. There is no authoritative way of deciding that, except by looking at the design of HMOs, their distribution, the number of particular kinds and the number of occupants—the information that we have according to the number of storeys. I am sorry if I gave the impression of going into a lot of detail, but that is why I did so.

The risk of death or injury from fire varies significantly, as all the factors interact differently in each case. However, Entec concluded that in several types of HMOs, the risk of death or injury from fire was significantly higher than in houses of single occupation, which is probably hardly surprising. It found, for example, that an occupant in a house comprised of bedsits was six times more likely to die as a result of fire than adults living in an ordinary house. That raises the question dealt with by amendment No. 4 as to whether registration should also apply to two-storey buildings, which may well contain a number of bedsits.

I am sure that hon. Members will agree that that state of affairs is not simply unacceptable but a matter of great concern. However, other problems are associated with multi-occupation. Often those properties are overcrowded because they have inadequate facilities to meet the health and welfare of their occupants, and it is not uncommon in shared houses and bedsit-type HMOs to find up to 10 people sharing one bath, one WC and one kitchen.

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The English house condition survey revealed that more than 40 per cent. of houses occupied as bedsits had inadequate facilities for the occupants. It referred to a lack of adequate cooking, bathing and toilet facilities.

Overcrowding is a major problem in some HMOs. Rooms often do not meet minimum space standards for human habitation, and in areas of high demand for housing it is not uncommon for three or more people to live, cook and sleep in a single room. I agree that we should take firm action to ensure that people are properly protected, and that the registration system is adequate for the purpose.

Mr. McCabe: I hope that my right hon. Friend will forgive my ignorance, but could he explain to me what would happen in the case of single-storey extensions where there is multiple occupation? I am thinking of a garage that has been extended and used for accommodation.

Mr. Meacher: That is the type of problem that I mean. Unfortunately, HMOs are extremely varied. There are variations in the number of storeys, the number of occupants and the design. My hon. Friend gave one example. How can we ensure adequate protection for people who live, eat and sleep in buildings such as he referred to through the registration of HMOs? My concern is about whether amendment No. 4 will be adequate for that purpose.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) have raised the important issue of enforcement. Many HMOs have transient populations, and they may be licensed for a certain level of occupation, but as soon as the local authority officer has granted a licence, the previous over-occupancy persists. How will these regulations, excellent though they are, be enforced?

Mr. Meacher: I am pleased to respond to that important point, because that is what part 3 and these amendments are about. The hon. Gentleman was not on the Committee. His hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron) was eloquent on this issue. He made it perfectly clear that he was speaking on behalf of landlords. Of course, their interests must be properly reflected.

I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) that the first and prime requirement must be the health and safety of occupants, and the regulations must be effectively enforceable. There is no simple answer to his question about how to deal with a transient population, and ensure that people who are there one day and leave a few nights later are adequately protected. We can only ensure that the building that they occupy falls within the registration system, and that it is regulated by the local authority, so that even if there is a transient population, any persons who occupy that building or those rooms are properly protected from fire, overcrowding and any other risks.

We believe that the pressing need for the better regulation of HMOs will be achieved by the mandatory licensing of such properties. We are committed to introducing such a scheme as soon as parliamentary time is available to produce legislation to achieve that.

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The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble), made it clear that the Government had in mind a much wider Bill along those lines, and that they regarded part 3 of this Bill as a useful paving measure that would lead the way towards a much more detailed licensing system for landlords and for the better registration of HMOs. We believe that the existing powers available to local authorities to register HMOs, and in what circumstance, need to be amended. There is a pressing need to review the definition of HMOs, which is what the Bill will achieve.

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Local authorities already have a wide range of powers available to them to tackle and control standards of HMOs—the exact point made by the hon. Member for Cotswold—through part 11 of the Housing Act 1985 and the regulations made under it. However—the hon. Gentleman was quite right to raise this point—experience has shown that these powers have not always been fully effective in ensuring that acceptable standards are met or maintained. Much of that is because the legislation dates back many years and reflects the conditions and technology prevailing at the time. Many of the buildings go back to Victorian times.

The legislation sets detailed and prescriptive requirements, but fails to provide the flexibility required to deal with other problems because building design and technologies have changed dramatically over the past 50 or 100 years. That has inevitably hampered local authorities in performing their duties under the legislation.

I accept that the Bill is not the correct vehicle for addressing these defects. The Government regard this as a useful paving measure for a much more dedicated and targeted measure that the DTLR intends to introduce. Obviously that will require a much more complex and detailed set of measures than can be accommodated in a private Member's Bill, and it can be covered by Government legislation. However, it is important that we get the Bill right, and that it is consistent with the Government's wider intentions along these lines.

Mr. Sayeed: So far, the Minister has spoken for 109 minutes during this debate. The only particular change taking place is the introduction of amendment (a) to amendment No. 11, which the Minister described as window dressing. Is it the Minister's intention to talk out this Bill because of what he described as only a piece of window dressing?

Mr. Meacher: That is a bit ripe coming from the hon. Gentleman, who indicated that, having succeeded in the vote, he wanted to be rid of this Bill and move on to others. He was dissimilating enough to suggest that the reason for wishing to dismiss the Bill was to provide time for my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire), whereas it is clear from the intervention of the Opposition Whip, the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), that the Opposition's intention is to dismiss this Bill in order to have as much time as possible on the Pension Annuities (Amendment) Bill.

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My concern is to ensure that the Bill is properly debated. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman, contrary to his Back-Bench colleagues, does not seem to regard the registration of houses of multiple occupation and the risks to many vulnerable and defenceless people in them to be a matter for careful consideration. If he had applied himself to this matter and asked some serious questions, it would be another matter. He has just sat there twiddling his thumbs, waiting to get on to the next Bill. That is not a worthy way to present himself.

Mr. McCabe rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Before the Minister gives way to his hon. Friend, I ask him to concentrate on responding to the debate, rather than covering wider ground.

Mr. McCabe: I urge my hon. Friend not to stop debating the Bill and not to submit to the pressure. I want to know why he thinks that the affirmative resolution is necessary, particularly in relation to clause 3.

Mr. Meacher: On clause 3, I said that proposing the affirmative resolution procedure, which is used only rarely, is justified on a matter of sufficient importance, but not on one of a detailed or technical kind. I listened to what my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon said, but perhaps it is the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman) who has his affirmatives and negatives the wrong way round. I think that he is partly right and partly wrong.

It is justified for clause 3, which raises the more general and serious issues, to be subject to the affirmative procedure, but it is reasonable to discuss to what parliamentary scrutiny the more detailed and technical issues under clauses 4 to 6 should be subject. Currently, they are not subject to parliamentary scrutiny at all, so proposing the negative resolution procedure gives the Opposition or any Member of the House, the opportunity for a debate. That is a fair balance between the two.


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