Mr. Bacon: I may have missed this, but I should be grateful if the Minister would clarify the example that I gave. If four students chose to live together in a rented terraced house in Norwich—each having their own bedroom, sharing communal facilities and essentially living together as one household but without any sexual relationships—would that be considered an HMO?
Mr. Meacher: The crucial point concerns whether they are self-contained and the existence of another
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system of regulation or public control. If student accommodation is in the private sector and not self-contained or run by the university, as in the case to which the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire referred, it would be covered.
Mr. Bacon: I am speaking about a four-bedroomed, Victorian terraced house, which under my definition of self-contained would have its own entrance and be self-contained. That being the case and the four people having chosen to live together and rent the place from a landlord with their own bedroom but shared facilities, would that be classified as an HMO?
Mr. Meacher: I am always grateful for further advice. All examples will have to be clarified, and I am advised that it will depend on the threshold. We still have to establish where that threshold is. The hon. Gentleman chose the example of four self-contained units; we must decide where that threshold is drawn, and that will provide the answer to his question.
I hope that in light of my comments, the hon. Member for Billericay accepts that our policies will properly address the issue of definition and that our approach will provide the clarity that we all want. I hope that, if he is paying attention to what I am saying, he will be prepared to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Baron: May I seek clarification from the Minister? He has tried to tell us what a prescribed relationship would be, but I admit that, like my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk, I am uncertain about what would be defined as an HMO. Will the Secretary of State give detailed examples of what would be HMOs? New clause 7 says that they would be classified in regulations, but is the Minister willing to introduce them on Report? Would a three-bedroomed flat, with no locks on bedroom doors and a communal living area, be considered an HMO, or will that be clarified on Report?
Mr. Meacher: I thought that I had finished my speech. I invited the hon. Gentleman, in light of what I had said at considerable length, to consider withdrawing the amendment. The answer to his question—I hope that he will not continue to ask questions, but answer mine—is that we will not be able to resolve the issue by Report, which may be in a month or two. We will do our best to introduce further amendments on Report, but it would not be possible to answer all the detailed and complex issues within the next month, especially bearing in mind the consultation that we will need to have with relevant parties.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 2, Noes 8.
Division No. 2]
Bacon, Mr. Richard
Baron, Mr. John
Best, Mr. Harold
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Drew, Mr. David
Edwards, Mr. Huw
Lepper, Mr. David
Meacher, Mr. Michael
Simpson, Mr. Alan
Turner, Dr. Desmond
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Question accordingly negatived.
Clause 5 disagreed to.
Repeal of Section 346 of the Housing Act 1985
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following: New clause 2—Registration schemes—
'(1) The Housing Act 1985 is amended as follows.
(2) For section 346 there is substituted—
''346 Registration schemes
(1) Every local housing authority shall make a registration scheme which contains—
(a) provisions for the compilation and maintenance by the authority of a register for their district of houses in multiple occupation, and
(b) control provisions (see section 347).
(2) A registration scheme need not be for the whole of the authority's district and need not apply to every description of house in multiple occupation.
(3) But a registration scheme must apply to every house in multiple occupation in the authority's district of a description prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State.
(4) A registration scheme may vary or revoke a previous registration scheme; and a scheme which revokes a previous scheme may contain transitional provisions.
(5) A local housing authority shall make—
(a) a registration scheme containing provisions mentioned in subsection (1)(a) no later than the end of the period of one year beginning with the day on which section (Registration schemes) of the Home Energy Conservation Act 2002 comes into force; and
(b) a registration scheme containing control provisions no later than the end of the period of two years beginning with that day.
(6) Any power to make regulations under this section is exercisable by statutory instrument subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.''.
(3) In section 347(1) (control provisions), for ''A registration scheme may contain control provisions, that is to say,'' there is substituted ''In this Part ''control provisions'' means''.
(4) In section 348B(1) (special control provisions), for ''which contains control provisions may also'' there is substituted ''may''.
(5) In section 349 (steps required to inform public about schemes), subsection (5) is repealed.'
New clause 3—Model schemes and confirmation of schemes—
'For section 346B of the Housing Act 1985 there is substituted—
''346B Model schemes and confirmation of schemes
(1) The Secretary of State may prepare a model registration scheme, with or without special control provisions (see section 348B).
(2) A registration scheme which—
(a) conforms to the model scheme, or
(b) does not conform to the model scheme by reason only of containing provisions of a description prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State,
does not require confirmation by the Secretary of State and comes into force on such date (at least one month, but not more than three months, after the making of the scheme) as
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may be specified in the scheme.
(a) a registration scheme varies a previous registration scheme, and
(b) the scheme as varied falls within subsection (2)(a) or (b),
the registration scheme making the variation does not require confirmation by the Secretary of State and comes into force on such date (at least one month, but not more than three months, after the making of the scheme) as may be specified in the scheme.
(4) Any other registration scheme does not come into force unless confirmed by the Secretary of State.
(5) The Secretary of State may vary a scheme before confirming it.
(6) A scheme requiring confirmation comes into force one month after it is confirmed.
(7) If the Secretary of State varies or withdraws the model registration scheme, the registration scheme made by a local housing authority is revoked at the end of the relevant period unless during that period—
(a) the scheme is revoked by another registration scheme made by the authority,
(b) the scheme is varied so as to fall within subsection (2)(a) or (b), or
(c) the scheme is re-confirmed by the Secretary of State or the authority make a registration scheme varying the scheme which is confirmed by him.
(8) The relevant period is the period of six months beginning with the day on which the Secretary of State varies or withdraws the model registration scheme.
(9) Any power to make regulations under this section is exercisable by statutory instrument subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.''.'.
Amendment No. 44, in title, line 3, leave out from beginning to 'schemes' and insert
'amend the law relating to registration'.
Mr. Meacher: I propose the omission of clause 6. New clause 2 has the same effect as the clause, making it mandatory rather than voluntary for local authorities to introduce registration schemes within one year of commencement of the Act. In its more detailed drafting it provides consistency with new clause 4, which seeks to amend sections 345 and 348 of the Housing Act 1985.
The power to make regulations saying what types of houses must be included in registration, as provided in the new subsection (3), is one of the means that will be used to ensure consistency across registration schemes. So all HMOs must be subject to registration, save for the smaller ones proposed in clause 8, where local authorities will be left with discretion as to whether and where to introduce registration.
New clause 2 should be viewed in conjunction with new clause 3. It provides a set timetable for implementation of mandatory registration one year after commencement and for mandatory control provisions two years after commencement. It also proposes a power in subsection (3) for the Secretary of State to say what types of HMOs must be included in any registration scheme. That is because we are working with the existing legislation that, as it stands, allows local authorities to decide what kinds of HMOs are covered, and in what districts.
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New clause 3 will apply to registration schemes that are mandatory and to those that are subject to local authority discretion—the smaller HMOs. It will ensure consistency in registration schemes across the country. Although local authorities will be able to propose variants on model schemes published by the Secretary of State, in practice most schemes are expected to comply with the model scheme. The Secretary of State will have the power to confirm, or not to confirm schemes proposed by local authorities.
Amendment No. 44 is a technical amendment to better reflect the Bill's purpose.